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Alias Mad Bab
Jazz Big Band Integration Pioneer


(1913 - 1991)

Uptown Roots

Charles Daly Barnet was born in New York City on October 26, 1913 to an upper-class family. They were connected socially with the higher echelon of the City, and they expected their son, who was technically a millionaire, to join that society, and stay in school to eventually become a lawyer. To their chagrin bordering on horror, he instead rather loved studying music, adopting the saxophone, so by the time Charlie Barnet was 16 he had joined some musicians playing gigs.

On His Own

Starting with the soprano saxophonist, almost unique to him and Sidney Bechet, and then working with the tenor like Coleman Hawkins and finally alto sax following Johnny Hodges, he formed his first band in around 1933. He was even known to play clarinet. He would go on to earn more money playing music than he would have staying in business like his folks. He joined forces in the studio in 1934 with Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson and other "all-stars" led by Red Norvo. Though he had his own group in 1936 which featured the Modernaires (eventually popular with Glenn Miller) at the Glen Island Casino, he struggled a little bit in the years preceding 1939.

Hitsville

1939 was the year 26 year-old Charlie got some breaks. He recorded at Bluebird records where his recording of "Cherokee" became a financial success, and he was featured at New York's prestigious Famous Door: his name was now marqueed.

Big Band, Big Stand

In this zenith period up until 1942, he was accompanied by excellent trumpeter and oft-time soloist, Bobby Burnet, another horn-man, Roy Eldridge, and guitarists Bus Etri and Barney Kessel. His drummer was Cliff Leeman, piano was provided by Dodo Marmarosa, and the clarinetist was Buddy DeFranco. He loved the music of Duke Ellington, which became his biggest influence, and deeply admired Count Basie as well. In addition to doing Ellington's and other's music, Barnet brought in black musicians to play along side of him, in spite of the fact that many clubs would not allow them to play and he was snubbed for broadcast advertising opportunities. This rare progressive action was also shared by Benny Goodman. He had the superb new black singer Lena Horne join his vocalists in 1941, and record four sides (she would record with him, "Stormy Weather"), which included Francis Wayne and Kay Starr. He was always humble in commenting about himself regarding his vanguard place in equalizing the races.

Rippin' Reputation

Through the years Mad Mab would be the consummate party animal. He was married so many times, no one has seemed to kept track. To find work their bands traveled all over the place, and they needed some diversion for all the pain suffered. In 1984 he described his participation in one facet of the 'Jazz Age':
Liquor was very much part of the scene in those days. Artie Shaw is credited with having said that jazz was born in a whiskey barrel, was reared on marijuana, and was currently expiring on heroin. In that era, just about everybody was a lush...

Drinking was like a fashion, the thing to do, but I was also into pot while I was still with Winegar. ... But the first person I ever saw smoke marijuana was Louis Armstrong. ... Louis had even made a record called "Muggles," a nickname for marijuana cigarettes.
1
His wild days around the Depression extended to being in some of the rowdiest situations as he recalled again in 1984:
In the meantime, Scoop and I spent a few weeks in Kilgore, Texas, in what they called a "keg" house -- a dance hall with hostesses. These places were all over the oil fields, and Kilgore was the heart of the East Texas boom. ... You couldn't buy any think but sugar whiskey, which was about two hours old. It was rotgut made out of fermented sugar with a little coloring, and it sold for two dollars a gallon. The first fight usually started at 8:15.

I got hit over the head in a brawl one night, and I still have the scar. I was talking when I should have been listening, and I was lucky I didn't get killed, because life was very cheap in those oil fields. My mother never knew about the incident. I wound up in jail, one with a dirt floor and a bucket for a latrine. ... I had an offer from one fellow in jail with me to do away with the guy who clobbered me with the bottle. All he wanted for this service was a bus ticket to Omaha.
2
Though he missed New York, and returned there to play some, he had to hit the road again; nevertheless, he reminisced,
There were no great players in that band, but we had a ball and I look back on those days as some of the happiest in my life. We were on the freebie list with all the local ladies of the evening, and marijuana was plentiful and cheap. But I did have one particularly disturbing experience when a tenor saxophonist from Dallas, the son of well-to-do parents, came through town with Hogan Hancock, in whose band Harry James played a little later. The saxophonist turned the whole band on to heroin, but it scared the hell out of me and I've never wanted any part of it since. I guess it was pretty pure stuff, because it hit me like a sledgehammer. My knees sagged; I sat down and didn't want to do anything.3

The War Years

Charlie continued his slightly 'rougher' style than was coming from his contemporaries in the mid-forties Big Band era recording for Decca, most notably, "Skyliner." He made a few movie appearances during this time, (his peers tended to be more cinematographic prolific). In 1944 he was in Music in Manhattan and Jam Session. He was featured in 1946's Idea Girl, and finally two years later, A Song Is Born.

.

Post War Adjustments

By 1947 the 'in' jazz-men were moving away from orchestral type arrangements, and jumping into the wildly improvisational be-bop. It's elitist attitude, and junky jumpiness did not endear it to the buying customers, however, but though he procrastinated, he had to adopt it, and by 1949 he featured the blaring trumpets of Clark Terry, Maynard Ferguson, Doc Severinsen, Rolf Ericson and Ray Wetzel. Ferguson's crazy rendition of "All the Things You Are", and a specially penned, Rhapsody in Blue got yanked from their Capitol recording because of legal squabbles. They are quite the collectible as bootlegs. However, Barnet later bemoaned the scene lamenting,

The boppers became quite clannish and didn't want to play with anyone but their fellow cultists. This began to destroy the great fellowship that had previously existed among all jazz musicians. In addition, a large proportion of the boppers were into heroin and were literally unmanageable, unpredictable, and thoroughly unreliable. A lot of those guys not only destroyed themselves, they gave the whole music business a bad name. Outside of top exponents of the music like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and a few others, the boppers were a bunch of fumblers who were obviously incapable of handling the new idiom. In conjunction with Stan Kenton's so-called progressive jazz and Petrillo's recording ban, this effectively delivered the death blow to the big bands as we had known them. The music was now not danceable, too loud, and incomprehensible to the general public, whose interest switched to rock (a simpler form of music). The public is always ready for a change when it cannot stomach a situation. We still have a few big bands today, but they are all concert-oriented and scarcely ever play any dance music. The few that do are mostly riding on Glenn Miller's coattails and they offer nothing new, only the tried-and-true.

Duke Ellington never swerved from
his musical path, continued to produce music in the Ellington manner, and survived 'way past the bop era until 1974, when he died. ...Duke would surround you with warm, melodic tones and a variety of beautiful colors, all vibrantly complemented by his superlative soloists.4

Fading in the Fifties

Disillusioned, he broke up the band in 1949. This last year, though there were some successful tours, one last hurrah was when he was together that summer with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton (whom he disdained) at The Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California. He recalls that Kenton had just recovered from illness, and that Herman's band had some members still with heavy drug problems, but most tragically practically no one showed up for the free concert, open even to beach-goers. Deciding to stay in San Diego, he would occasionally come out of his partial retirement (during which he was a dilettante in not only music publishing, but as a restauranteur) to do some engagements featuring Swing. One highlight in the mid sixties was a couple of weeks at New York City's Basin Street East. Unfortunately, he never recorded anything past 1966. He lived in Southern California until his death on September 4, 1991.


Filmography

Syncopation, 1942.

Jukebox Jenny, 1942.

Jam Session, 1944.

Music in Manhattan, 1944.

Freddie Steps Out, 1946.

Idea Girl, 1946.

The Fabulous Dorseys, 1947.

A Song Is Born, 1948.

Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra in Redskin Rhumba, 1948.

Make Believe Ballroom, 1949.


Discography

Swing and Sweet, History: 1934.

Barnet, Vol. 1, EPM Musique: 1935-1939.

Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, Bluebird/RCA: 1936.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 1, Bluebird: 1939-1942.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 2, RCA: 1939.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 3, RCA: 1939.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 4, RCA: 1940.

One Night Stand, Clef: 1939.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 5, Bluebird: 1940-1941.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 5, Bluebird: 1940-1941.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 6, Bluebird: 1941-1942.

Complete Charlie Barnet, Vol. 1, Bluebird: 1939-1942.

Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra, Swing: 1940.

Orchestra, Circle: 1941

Transcription Performances, HEP: 1941.

A Legend, Shady Lady, BH: 1942.

Hop on the Skyliner, Decca: 1943.

On the Air, Vol. 2 (Live), Aircheck: 1944.

One Night Stand with Charlie Barnet, Vol. 2, Joyce: 1945.

Charlie Barnet's Jubilee, Joyce: 1945.

Charlie Barnet's Dance Session, Vol. 2; 1946.

Charlie Barnet's Dance Session, Vol. 1; 1947.

1949, Alamac: 1949.

Charlie Barnet Plays Charlie Barnet, Mercury: 1952.

Dance with Charlie Barnet, Clef: 1952.

Redskin Romp, RCA: 1954.

Rockin' in Rhythm, RCA: 1954.

Town Hall Jazz Concert (Live), Columbia:1955.

Four Big Ideas, Victor: 1955.

Lonely Street, Verve: 1956.

Dancing Party, Verve: 1956.

For Dancing Lovers, Verve: 1956.

Cherokee, Evidence: 1958.

More Charlie Barnet, Evidence: 1958.

On Stage with Charlie Barnet, Crown: 1960.

Jazz Oasis, Capitol: 1960.

Charlie Barnet, Ava: 1963.

Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra, Jazz Bird: 1981.

Swing Back with Charlie Barnet, , Canby: 1991.

Just for the: Featuring Julie Christine, Canby: 1995.

With June Christy and Lynn Franklin, Total: 1996.


Footnotes:

1 Excerpted from Those Swinging Years: The Autobiography of Charlie Barnet (Baton Rouge: Louisiana St. University Press, 1984) by Robert Gottlieb, ed. Reading Jazz (New York: Pantheon Books, 1996) p. 166.

2 ibid. pp. 167-8.

3 ibid. p.168.

4 ibid. pp. 169-170.


Sources:

Reading Jazz: A Gathering of Autobiography, Reportage, and Criticism from 1919 to Now, ed. Robert Gottlieb, New York: Pantheon Books, 1996.

http://www2.utep.edu/~jsambran/c_barnet.html

http://www.shapirobernstein.com/mbr/tour/charlieb.htm

Yanow, Scott, "Charlie Barnet" biography and discography for All Music Guide.

Erickson, Hal, "Charlie Barnet" biography and filmography for All Movie Guide.

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