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 35 e family moved into a town of Si- cilian immigrants in New York. Eventu- ally, Pasquale relented and followed. He befriended an Irish priest in town and, knowing he had little time left, asked him to care for his family. After Pasquale died, the boys had to move into the parish orphanage to ease the strain on the family. e orphanage shaved Giuseppe's head, deloused him, put him into quarantine. And then he heard the most beauti- ful sound in the world: a euphonium horn. It's name means "true sound." e boy had scarcely heard music outside of funerals, and this sound was a revelation. When he got out of quarantine, he joined the parish band. When he was 14, he went to work on the railroad, sending most of his money back to his mother, using the rest to buy musical instruments. "By the time I was born," La Barbera says, "he had just about everything but a harp. "Pop taught just about the whole town." Clarinet, trumpet, saxophone, piano, drums, bass, guitar — if you've heard it, Giuseppe taught it to someone in his majority-Sicilian community. When La Barbera was about six years old, he and his two brothers — Pat, the eldest, and Joe, the youngest — came home from school to find instruments on the couch. Pat picked up the shiny alto saxophone, and John took the cornet. at left the drums for Joe. eir father taught them all to play clarinet — the usual starting instrument in the Italian tradition — and piano, though John was the only one who really took to the keys. eir little family band played weddings, clambakes, parties. His father organized parade bands and clown bands and funeral marches. ey played out so often that La Barbera's mother got sick of being left behind, so she tacked up a bass fingering chart over the sink, memorized it while washing dishes, bought herself a bass and joined them. At military funerals, little John La Barbera would take his trumpet off into the woods and climb a tree. From his perch, he'd watch a grownup raise his horn to his lips, solemn and important. "I wanted to be that guy playing 'Taps,'" he says. Instead, he played the echo, his notes like ghosts. Sicilian women rarely wore makeup, and funerals were the only places he ever saw the stuff. "Now, when I see a woman in makeup, I think of a corpse," he says. Every night, Giuseppe made the boys practice. "We were kids, we didn't want to practice, we wanted to go out and have a good time," La Barbera says. "But by the time we were in middle and high school, we knew that was the best thing he could have done for us." e La Barbera boys trounced all the competition. ey were far ahead of their peers in high school and in college. e boys became less and less interested in swing and popular music and more and more attuned to jazz. ey listened to Gerry Mulligan, Dizzy Gilles- pie, Miles Davis. "I have vivid memories of John in the basement, taking down Lee Morgan's solo from 'Locomotion,'" Joe says. It's a blistering piece, far beyond the capabilities of most young musicians. "He had it, too," Joe says. John would write out the parts of Miles Davis tunes by ear so his brothers could play their favorites with him. Joe and Pat remember John as a scraw- ny kid with a propensity for science. "He was the Einstein of the family," Joe says. "By the time he was sixteen, he could take an engine apart and put it back together. Left to right: La Barbera rehearses with Dizzy Gillespie at Cornell University, 1991; posing with bandleader Woody Herman ( far left); with saxophonist Stan Getz.

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