The Back Alley Big Band

What better way to kick-start the 2014 Halifax Jazz Festival than with the swingin’ sounds of a homegrown big band? The Back Alley Big Band’s Paul Barrett spoke with us recently about what audiences can expect at tomorrow night’s show on the Halifax waterfront.

What inspired you to take up music?
My mother was a part time piano teacher in Truro during my early years and so music was always around the house and I always enjoyed listening to all kinds of music. I took lessons from her for a while but didn’t practice, lost interest and stopped learning to play the piano. When I was around 12 years old ta group of folks from the Truro Concert Band started a youth group and they were contacting the parents of children who they had heard were potentially musically talented and so they contacted my mother although rather late in the recruitment process. When I went to the Legion to try our an instrument there was only one left – a trombone. I have been a trombone player ever since. My real inspiration to make a life out of music came from my friend and mentor - music education legend Ron MacKay.  When he took over the Truro School Band system I was an avid student and soon became interested in all the different instruments. I learned to play several of them and started writing – my first arrangement was done when I was in Grade 11 I have done a lot of writing since then.

Are they the same reasons you do it today?
What keeps me inspired these days is still the enjoyment of performance but also the process of creating or arranging a piece of music from nothing and seeing it through to the final performance – that’s exciting and gratifying. I am also driven by necessity – music and music education is my business and although I am retired from teaching public school music I still continue to teach and grow as a musician and a teacher.
What are the challenges of the vocation?
There are many challenges in the life of a professional musician –m all of which can be overcome with much work and time investment. I think with any type of musical ensemble the most difficult aspect is personnel. With an educational group like a concert band or jazz band keeping the appropriate instrumentation in place is a challenge – trying to make sure you have enough players on each instrument to make a balanced sound. In the professional world, keeping a band together presents a different kind of problem – working musicians must keep the gigs happening to survive and with a large group like the Back Alley Big Band there are a lot of personnel changes from rehearsal to rehearsal and gig to gig. Last minute changes are also inevitable and so a network of substitute players – subs – must be maintained. Email is n amazing tool to use in this regard – the telephone just doesn’t do it anymore! I think the other biggest challenge with live performance is equipment – music stands, chairs, amplifiers, drums or percussion equipment – getting it from place to place, setting up and tearing down – all very time consuming but essential in a successful performance and/or gig.

What are the rewards?
I think the most immediate - and yet intangible - reward is audience response – it always makes you feel good when the audience has a positive reaction to a performance and the applause is enthusiastic – it is of course the best for a listener to let a performer or group of performers know that they enjoyed a particular piece of music. Another reward of course is press – newspaper articles, internet postings, radio and TV spots – like that. Once again it’s always gratifying when a performance goes well or a composition or arrangement turns out well – it’s a kick.

What have been some career highlights?
My personal career highlights I guess have been varied and go back to the very beginnings of my musical life. I have been involved as a performer and as a leader in a variety of musical genres and a diverse number of musical roles. The things I have done include teaching and directing top notch high school concert band, jazz band and vocal jazz ensembles; being the musical director for a number of full scale “broadway style” musicals as well as being a keyboard player in many; being a “rock and roller” in a professional rock fusion band; being a member of “horn sections” for various groups: working with amazing Cuban musicians in a number of different ways and being the leader of the Back Alley Big Band – a challenge unto itself.

Why are festivals like this one so important for artists?
I think festivals present the opportunity to musicians who may not otherwise get to experience large audiences and give musicians he inspiration to put together different projects specifically for festival that they might not have otherwise done. It also presents the opportunity for musicians to hear each other and to interact – many times it’s only at festivals that you see your associates.

What can audiences expect at your show?
Audiences can expect the show this Friday to be exciting and entertaining. The group is a large one – 23 total – 6 woodwind players on saxophones and flute, 4 trumpet/flugelhorn players, 4 trombone players, piano, guitar, bass, drums, 2 Cuban percussionists and 3 singers. The featured vocalist Augusto Enriquez is a master singer of both classical and Latin music and a born entertainer. His rapport with the audience is amazing as he draws everyone into his musical world. Although all of the music is Latin flavored there is also great variety in the material. It will be great.

The Back Alley Big Band
(w/ Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Septet)
Friday, July 4, 8pm
Festival Tent, Halifax Waterfront

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