Here is one of the most acclaimed television recordings of jazz ever made. This 1957 program featured some of the best musicians of that era. Billie Holiday is in the spotlight as the vocalist in what a number of critics argue is her must see encounter with Lester Young. Among the ensemble is New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker, who was living in New York at the time.
In later years I got to know Danny Barker. Tom Dent and I would often sit in Danny’s front room as he regaled us with stories, sounds and memorabilia. We would bask in Danny’s insights about the early days of jazz. Danny came from a family of New Orleans musicians and on top of that had a fabulous gift of gab–nobody could match Danny telling tall tales and reliving important moments of the music. Even though he was what is now known as old school, once you got to know him, he might knock you out with a picture he kept in his wallet of a session he was on with Charlie Parker.
Although Mr. Barker made his mark as a guitarist up in New York, he spent his early years in the Crescent City, to which he returned to live out the last eighteen years of his life. Danny would school us, let us know what was really what. He would smile wryly, remembering that session with Lady Day–a session we never tired of him reliving and sharing with us.
“The Sound Of Jazz” was a special event. Before or since, there has never been a television program that so wonderfully captured the jazz of it’s era, especially the iconic interaction of Billie Holiday and a notable coterie of jazz greats (including tenor saxophonists Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins). Here is the entire session.