Louisville Magazine

NOV 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 11.16 31 By Dylon Jones e life and music of U of L professor John La Barbera, who became one of the greatest jazz composers and arrangers of his time. The Duke of Louisville It takes him a while to get through the lobby. Every few steps, someone stops him. ere's the girl he taught way back when. She's a teacher now. ere's that saxophone player he directed, and the bass player, and the pianist. Somebody has a new album out. Somebody has a new musical score. It's summer, but the University of Louisville School of Music is packed with jazz students, hobbyists, masters. Every year, jazz camps draw hundreds of musicians to Louisville from all over the world. For John La Barbera, it's like having every class he ever taught in the same room with half the players he's worked with and half the players he's always admired, though, at this point in the 70-year-old's lifelong career, those last two categories overlap quite a bit. He packs himself into an already full elevator, and a man pressed up against the back wall recognizes him. "Hey, John. Gonna be a great concert." "Yeah," La Barbera says. He pushes the but- ton and the doors close. "Imagine the royalties he still gets." e man whistles. La Barbera steps out of the elevator, heads down a hallway and pulls open a set of wood- en double doors. is is the stage entrance to Bird Concert Hall, a narrow space set up like an amphitheater with the curves sliced off, pull-down theater seats arranged in parallel rows on an incline, sloping down to the stage floor, so that the performers look up at the audience. Graduate students and professors fiddle with wires. Already the seats are filling up, people filing in from the audience entrance up top, but La Barbera moves easy, not at all out of place walking up from the bandstand. He taught here for 23 years before he retired in 2014. And after the stages he's played on, this one doesn't scare him. He finds a seat about halfway up, just a tad to stage left, and sits back, comfy as ever in his usual get-up of khaki slacks and a loose blue button-down. He knows the pianist, the bassist, the guitarist, most of the people in the audience. John La Barbera knows everybody, and every- body knows him, either as a teacher or a com- poser and arranger, perhaps the most prolific big band writer of his generation. La Barbera's work is standard repertoire for big bands throughout the country, and his own group, the John La Barbera big band, has put out three albums — Fantazm, Caravan and Grammy-nominated On e Wild Side — and a "Best of " LP. Even those of you with no ties to the jazz world know La Barbera's work. Remember Sammy Davis Jr. singing for Alka-Seltzer? Plop plop, fizz fizz? at band killing it behind him was playing

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