Jazzology

Lucien Barbarin (1956-2020)
Date Posted: 2020-02-03



(reprint from Keith Spera - staff writer @ NOLA.com - view article)

Lucien Barbarin, a veteran New Orleans trombonist whose spirited playing and personality enhanced the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and earned a prominent role in Harry Connick Jr.’s band, died Thursday of prostate cancer at his home in Slidell. He was 63.

"A piece of the trombone just went on home," trumpeter Nicholas Payton said via Twitter. He said Barbarin "was a legacy unto himself. From the first note, you’d know it was him. A New Orleans original."

Born in New Orleans in 1956, Lucien Barbarin hailed from an extended family of musicians. His great-uncle was Paul Barbarin, leader of the Onward Brass Band. Lucien made his debut with that band at age 6 as a drummer.

But it was the trombone, coupled with his irrepressible spirit, that would take him around the world. Well-versed in the traditional New Orleans jazz repertoire, he toured with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and often appeared at its namesake club in the French Quarter. As both a leader and sideman, he was a mainstay at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe and other local venues and festivals.

To many music fans the world over, however, he was most recognizable for his work with Connick. Their association dates back at least as far as Connick’s 1991 big-band album, “Blue Light, Red Light.”

Throughout years of touring, Connick would spotlight Barbarin more and more onstage. In Rat Pack terms, Barbarin became a Sammy Davis Jr.-style sidekick to Connick’s more comic Frank Sinatra.

More recently, Barbarin was designated a "featured" member of the band who would come onstage at various points in the show for trombone solos and to interact with Connick. Skilled as a musician and a charismatic entertainer, Barbarin was more than up to the task.

During a concert at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts in April 2011, they squared off for a campy duet on “How Come You Do Me Like You Do.” Connick serenaded Barbarin in a coy, pouty voice.

Later, after adjusting one another’s lapels, they turned their backs and shook their backsides as they danced across the stage, much to the delight of the audience.

Barbarin was a member of the house band for Connick's daytime talk show, "Harry." During the show's two-season run from 2016 to 2018, he lived in New York City, where "Harry" was taped.

Barbarin released only a few albums under his own name, including 2007's "It's Good to Be Home." But he contributed to numerous Connick albums, up through 2019's "True Love: A Celebration of Cole Porter." He also appeared on recordings by the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Kermit Ruffins, Dr. Michael White, Leroy Jones and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

He was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer in early 2018. In November 2019, the Palm Court Jazz Cafe hosted a benefit concert and auction, called "Love for Lu," to help Barbarin with medical expenses.

"Lucien Barbarin is the embodiment of New Orleans tradition," trumpeter Mark Braud, a longtime bandmate, said at the time. "He is a master of his craft and one of the most unique stylists of New Orleans trombone playing. He has been a mentor and inspiration to so many musicians, myself included. Lucien has brought joy all over the world."

Two days after the benefit, saxophonist Geoff Burke tweeted a video of a smiling Barbarin singing the New Orleans standard "Lil' Liza Jane" while undergoing chemotherapy. Other patients joined in.

"To understand the genius of Lucien Barbarin," Burke wrote, "is to see how easily he lifts our spirits in any situation with his inimitable style of wit, energy and enthusiasm."

Connick expressed his "profound sadness" on Thursday in a Facebook post that included two photos he took of Barbarin at their final recording session together, in Los Angeles in January 2019. "His battle with cancer has concluded," Connick wrote, "but his life with God has just begun, just as he always wanted."

urvivors include his wife, Sheryl; two sons, Robert and Paul; two daughters, Alissa and Darlene; two brothers, Jerry Walker and Charles Barbarin; two sisters, Diane Abram and Angela Barbarin Foy; and seven grandchildren. Another son, Lucien Joseph, died in 2017.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

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