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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32 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 11.16 place, but such a different one. e jazz studies department at U of L is the only program in the state and one of the first in the country to implement a degree program combining music education — for aspiring music, band, orchestra and choir teachers — with jazz studies. But when La Barbera got here, there weren't even computers. He became a staple of the department, teaching music industry, film scoring, technology and jazz compo- sition and arranging. And he directed Jazz Ensemble I, the school's top jazz group, a big band I played in as a student. When he retired, the university had to hire him back part-time to cover composition lessons and a few other classes, and it took a couple years for the department to find a satisfactory replacement. A tangle of metal eighth notes arranged, some say, into an abstract cardinal, hangs above the entrance to the north wing of the school. La Barbera heads beneath it for the billionth time and up the elevator to an old colleague's office. He's going to advise him about the publishing world. La Barbera knows the music industry like a conductor knows a musical score. He's even testified as an expert in several legal cases involving copyright law. After that, it's time to head home and enjoy retirement with a swim. Except people like John La Barbera don't just enjoy retirement. He still records a radio show about jazz for WFPK every week, he writes blogs on arranging technique, he conducts bands, he helps mix records. A melody whispers to him from nowhere in the middle of the night, and he jots it down, so sure of his internal ear that he doesn't even need to work his ideas out at the piano. You don't retire from being who you are, and who La Barbera is is a musician. When I meet him at his big house out in the woods of southern Indiana, he and his wife, a hos- pice nurse named Marie, have just gotten back from Paris after a short vacation on the Rue Daguerre. Before they left, John updated his new score, an innovative piece combining jazz, classical and Brazilian music for an orchestra. La Barbera and 15 other jazz composers were chosen to participate in the Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Readings, which provide artists combin- ing jazz and orchestral music the oppor- tunity to hear their music performed and get feedback. La Barbera was the oldest composer in his group of seven, which La Barbera's work. But the drummer down on the stage, little snow bluffs of hair on his face and head, he's even more well-known here than La Barbera. He's real-deal famous. Eighty-seven-year-old Jimmy Cobb, the last living musician from Miles Davis' iconic Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz record of all time, sits at the drum set. La Barbera's pale blue-green eyes crinkle as Cobb stirs the snare like a cauldron, starting the spell. His cymbals splash light, his sticks smacking out an invisi- ble architecture for the whole ensemble. People sit forward in their seats, but La Barbera sits back, a foot tapping now and then, a knee bouncing, as if he's sitting in a recliner at home, listening to a record. e audience is star-struck, but La Barbera is an astronomer, peering through his wire-frame glasses at a supernova, the last light of a lost constellation burning brighter than ever in its twilight. After the applause dies down, Cobb takes questions from behind his kit. e first question: "Is that the same cymbal from Kind of Blue?" People laugh for a short moment, and Cobb says no. "at cymbal was stolen." A musician in the audience asks him to tell the crowd about his musical upbringing. "I was born in Washington, D.C., about 100 years ago," Cobb says. It's a familiar story: He liked the sounds he heard around his neighborhood, banged on things with his knuckles till that hurt, switched to his mother's silverware, which she didn't like too much. He got whatever jobs he could — including carting 50-pound ice blocks on his back up stairs for iceboxes — to pay off a drum set, and eventually became one of the most important musicians ever. "ere was no Fridgidaire back then," he says, and La Barbera chuckles, a nostalgic, raspy sound. Before the band kicks back up, La Bar- bera heads out the top level and outside into the courtyard. It's such a familiar A melody whispers to him from nowhere in the middle of the night, and he jots it down, so sure of his internal ear that he doesn't even need to work his ideas out at the piano. La Barbera in his home office. Photo by Bill Luster.

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