There have been numerous musical icons who hailed from the British Isles, but there is one icon and pioneer who is unknown to those outside the world of Big Bands – Chris Barber.

Earlier this month musical pioneer, trombone player, and band leader Chris Barber announced that after over 65 years, he is retiring from music full time.

Barber started with a small Jazz band in 1954 but by the end of the decade, he had traded the small clubs in for large concert venues all across the United Kingdom and Europe.

He made his first appearance in the United States in 1959 after his hit “Petite Fleur” sold a million copies.

Barber’s musical passion went beyond Jazz to Afro-American, Blues, and Gospel. This musical fascination saw numerous American stars share the stage with Barber and his Big Band including Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Louis Jordan, Sonny Boy Williamson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. But his legacy goes further still, his music also had a a big influence on the music on the European continent.

But Barber went beyond just playing his own music; along with partner Harold Pendleton, the duo opened the Marquee Club in 1958. Among the many artists who performed on the stage were a very young Rolling Stones.

Now that Chris Barber is no longer leading the band, The Chris Barber Big Band will continue making music as a tribute to the band leader.

Born in Welwyn, Herfordshire, a young Chris Barber was a big fan of Duke Ellington and a musical collector long before he began to play. He was 18 years old before he got his first trombone and formed a band.

He studied the trombone and double bass at the Guildhall School of Music where he formed his first professional band in 1953. Many of those band members remained with Barber for many years including Blues singer and wife Ottilie Patterson.

In recent years, Barber added to his Big Band, including younger players and renamed the group The Big Chris Barber Band.

Barber may have retired, but over the years he and the band were prolific recording artists and there is plenty of music around to pass on the legacy. One of those many albums is the double album “Memories” – a career spanning collection of collaborations – is being re-released on CD October 11.

Barber received an OBE in 1991 for his contributions to music.


feature photo credit: By Eastfrisian – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,