Tributes for Two New York Tuba Legends
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Part I: Bill Barber
Tribute to Bill Barber
by Allan Langstaff, Trombonist, St. Petersburg, FL
I first met Bill Barber in 1947 when I was with the Claude Thornhill band and Gil Evans was writing the arrangements for the band. Gil had written some arrangements that called for three woodwinds plus tuba in addition to his regular instrumentation. At the conclusion of an engagement at the Glen Island casino we went on the road.
Bill Barber (tuba)
Bill and I were roommates and became life-long friends. Recently Bill visited me in Tampa Bay, and we had a very nice nostalgia session. Bill told me how back in 1947 he had been asked by another tuba player if he would like to go on the road with Claude. The opportunity was there because this tuba player did not want the gig and it turned out to be a major turn in the road for Bill.
He had always wanted to be with the Claude Thornhill band and jumped at the chance to play with the group. Claude’s band has always been considered ahead of its time with many notable musicians having passed through including Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan.
Bill and I enjoyed our time on the road together and after Bill left Thornhill’s band he developed a long and mutually productive relationship with Gil Evans. He went on to record on the now legendary Miles Davis/Gil Evans series including Sketches of Spain , Porgy and Bess , Quiet Nights , and Miles Ahead .
Having known Bill for all those years I can testify that he is one of the finest human beings I have ever known. His sensitivity is always present in his playing and in the way he has lived his life. Bill paid his dues and I remember the days when he delivered phone books and drove an ice cream truck before he played in the pit for The King and I and joined the New York Ballet Orchestra.
Bill Barber earned his success and deserved the wonderful career he had. Through Gil Evans’ insight Bill brought the tuba to a new dimension of expression in jazz and this unique sound achieved a lofty place in the history of American jazz. I am proud to have known, loved, and played with Bill.