One of the top New Orleans drummers, Paul Barbarin was also quite significant as both a bandleader (his groups almost always boasted high musicianship) and as a composer (he wrote "Bourbon Street Parade" and "The Second Line"). Part of a large musical family, Paul's father Isadore played brass instruments; three of his brothers were musicians (including Louis, who was also a fine drummer), and his nephew was banjoist Danny Barker. Paul started on clarinet before saving up enough money to buy a set of drums. He played in many important New Orleans groups, including the Silver Leaf Orchestra and the Young Olympia Band, and early on developed a basic, straightforward style that was perfectly suitable for both parades and dances; the press roll was his specialty. In 1917, Barbarin moved to Chicago, playing with local groups (including some that he led) and with Freddie Keppard and Jimmie Noone. From 1923-24, he returned to New Orleans, where he performed with the Onward and Excelsior bands, before moving back to Chicago late in 1924 to join King Oliver (1925-27). After more time back in New Orleans, Barbarin relocated to New York in 1928, where he joined Luis Russell's notable band, staying until 1932 and anchoring one of the top jazz groups of the era. After leaving Russell, Barbarin freelanced in both New York and New Orleans and then rejoined Russell in 1935, staying with the pianist when the orchestra became Louis Armstrong's backup band. In 1938 he left to lead his own group in New Orleans, and after a short stint back with Armstrong in 1941, he became a member of Red Allen's sextet (1942-43). Other than a period with Sidney Bechet in 1944 and some work with Art Hodes in Chicago (1953), Barbarin mostly led his own bands from this point on (including the Onward Brass Band, which he founded in 1955), staying based in his hometown. It was somehow fitting that, when he passed away, it was while taking part in a New Orleans street parade.
- by Scott Yanow
All Music Group