I know it's hard to believe, but yes, it's 2002. With all the hoopla over Y2K and 2001, wondering in which year the millennium actually begins, it's a relief to slide into 2002 as just another new year. It's not just another new year for Bill Barnes, however. Late in 2001, Bill released his first album as a trio leader with Zensibility. It's not a bad first outing; in fact it shows a lot of promise for Bill as a guitarist and a trio leader.
Recorded at Birchwood Studio (OK, it's drummer Larry Abrams' house, let's not get picky!) last July, Bill was joined by Larry on drums and young bassist Ed La Barbera of the amazing musical La Barberas (thinking about father John, and uncles Pat and Joe - when is the big family album coming out?). Two nights of recording presented an album of standards with a couple of originals thrown in for good measure. But wait, you say ... who is this Bill Barnes character anyway?
Born in Pittsburgh, Bill was raised in North Carolina, and while in Atlanta for five years, worked in road bands and house bands playing R&B, rock `n' roll, and whatever came along. In 1979, he began a 13-year tenure in New York, playing club and studio dates. In 1992 Bill moved to Louisville. He laid out of playing jazz for a while, working as a fill-in guitarist with various groups. For the past six years, Bill's been with The Heat, playing everything from rock `n' roll to "lite" jazz. A year of jazz matinees at Joe's Palm Room helped prepare him for a return to jazz as a leader.
Bill hooked up with Larry Abrams while working with a Monday night rehearsal band called "All That Jazz" (later renamed "Round Midnight"). After a while, Bill and Larry decided that they liked working together so much that they branched out and formed a trio to work out some musical ideas that had come up. It was a bit intimidating for Bill to step to the front of the band as a leader. He had spent many years as a sideman, working in the '60s with the likes of Arthur Conley, The Drifters, Eddie Floyd and the Platters in "pick-up" bands. After getting over the responsibility of setting everything as a leader, Barnes found that "there was an incredible amount of freedom to be in a trio. It's basically a three-legged stool. If everybody holds up their end, it doesn't really wobble that much."
Bassist Ed La Barbera filled out the trio, bringing what Bill calls an "early Charlie Haden" feel to the group. The July recording date came about at a good time for Bill, as Ed was available during the summer before leaving for Bloomington to study composition at Indiana University. With Ed in school, Rob Whitmer has stepped in to anchor the trio. Rob and Bill have played together for several years, and Rob's presence is helping the trio to evolve, a prospect that excites Bill. Recording Zensibility took only two nights at Larry Abrams' house, but it was not without difficulties. They'd start at four in the afternoon and wrap things up around nine or ten, whenever they got tired. Recording in a home studio during a July heat wave, certain creature comforts had to be omitted, like air conditioning. "Every time we did a take, we had to turn off the air conditioner," Bill remembered, "so it was truly a sweat shop."
One of the great things about the recording for Bill was that it was done in real time, with no overdubbing - "That's more or less the way I wanted it - I've always felt that jazz should be a live event." As opposed to his New York studio recording experience, where he would come in and lay down tracks over a click track or prerecorded parts, the live trio setting allowed Bill to get the interplay between musicians that only live recording can really capture. When asked why he plays and enjoys jazz, Bill replies that while he may be a "Baby Boomer," he really considers himself a "Bebop Boomer." His father was a stride piano player who exposed him to the music as a young child. Bill's first band was an English rock band, but moved past that pretty quickly, gravitating to the R&B side of things for its harmonic challenges. At 19, Bill started listening to Pat Martino, John McLaughlin, Kenny Burrell and other jazz guitarists. He found that "this was the brick wall I wanted to hit; the music I was more emotionally drawn to." While he still listens to great guitarists like Martino and Jim Hall, Bill doesn't limit himself to guitarists alone; you'll also find him listening to pianist Bill Evans, Dexter Gordon and many other saxophonists for inspiration- "I don't like to limit myself to just guitar players, I like to listen to a lot of sax players ... in fact, sax players give you great ideas when it comes to soloing." With the first CD behind him, Bill Barnes is getting ready for the next one
He considers Zensibility his "real book recording," where he took several of his favorite tunes and ones that you don't usually hear in a trio setting and tried them out. On his next disc, Bill plans to record at Steve Davis' studio in Nashville, Indiana and include much more original material, with the goal of national distribution. For the time being, he's committed to the trio as his primary instrument of expression: "It hasn't gotten stale on me yet, and it hasn't stopped being a challenge. There's an infinite amount of possibilities in this format. I'd like to try make it a little more edgy than your average guitar trio, and I'd like to try to push the envelope in terms of what you can do. It's an ongoing learning experience.