Friday, November 1, 2013

The Philadelphia Sound

Instructor Bill Barron offers a few pointers on clarinet technique during a class at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in 1972. By the early '70s, Bill had pretty much left the New York scene and was headed for a successful second career in academe. BCM photo

A blogger friend got in touch and wanted to know if I had a particular album by the late composer, teacher and reed player Bill Barron. When I said I did, he asked that I digitize it and send him a copy. No problem, says I – and then I decided I might as well also post the result for all our visitors here at Gems. Two birds with one stone – or one upload.

Bill Barron has long been one of my favorite tenor players. I first became aware of him when I came across a beat-up copy of his seminal recording "Modern Windows" on Savoy in a thrift shop in Cambridge. His use of dense harmonies and chromatic melodies wrapped in fiercely driving rhythms brought to mind the sonorities of Cecil Taylor or John Coltrane. I suppose that shouldn't have surprised me as Bill played with Cecil (briefly) and was Coltrane's roommate in Philadelphia in the '40s when they were both starting out.

Bill and Ted's excellent adventure in music:
Messers. Curson and Barron in the early '60s.
But though Barron's music sounded out, it also remained in. Bill never went completely free. For half a decade he teamed up with the late trumpeter Ted Curson and experimented in an Ornette mode, always writing and arranging in a forward-thinking fashion. The Curson/Barron quartet made some of the best music of the '60s, though few jazz fans are aware of that today. You only have to sample "Tears for Dolphy" on Freedom and I think you'll agree.

The same year the photo above was taken, Bill Barron recorded the album offered here. He was already devoting much of his time and energy to teaching, and in 1975 received his doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts. Several years later he was chairman of the music school at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. That's where I was fortunate enough to meet him.

Bill was a reserved man, quiet and thoughtful. Though he could be quite humble, he also had a dignity about him that let you know you were in the presence of a master. I saw him perform numerous times on campus and off and he was always superb. His lines were never "pretty" or superficial; he had a distinctive sound that took a little getting used to because it was so sinewy. But once it was in your ear, he never let you down. I think you'll find that to be the case with this record.

"Motivation" is a late recording for the Savoy Records label, done in 1972. It features Bill's younger half-brother, Kenny Barron, on piano along with his good friend, Chris White, on bass. The drummer is Al Hicks. The tunes are all Barron originals, with the exception of "Cosmos," which is by Kenny.

As always, the music in these files comes from the original vinyl. There was no cleaning of the sound required. These are .wav files, so they'll take a while to download.

By the way, my jazz blog friend, Hector, has a very fine site called Quintaesencia. He offers some very nice downloads, and you can brush up on your Spanish when you visit.

Bill Barron Quartet
Savoy 12303

Bill Barron, ts; Kenny Barron, p; Chris White, b; Al Hicks, d.
New York, NY; 1972

1. Motivation
2. Land of Sunshine
3. Blues for R.A.
4. Cosmos (Kenny Barron)
5. Hold Back Tomorrow
6. Mental Vibrations

All composition except 4. by Bill Barron.

Find it here:


  1. David, your generosity is truly amazing!
    Thank you very much!

  2. WOw! Love Bill Barron....thank you so much

    1. You're most welcome. Hope you enjoy the album, pepper67.

  3. As a sax player myself, I would really like to hear this. Any chance you could re-link this to Mediafire at some point?

  4. Your wish is my command: Enjoy!