Kay Shackelford introduces a bold new force on the jazz drumming scene: Jonathan Barber
When listening to Jonathan Barber, there’s an earful of innovative and thoughtful rhythmic execution that causes pause. Barber is technically well groomed, focused and a little fussy over what drum products will deliver the ‘right’ sonic landscapes from his drum set. In addition, Barber is far from self-limiting as it relates to contributing to the musical conversation between jazz and postmodern music. He’s delving into new trends in the realm of electronic drumming, and his open-mindedness is paying off. Recently Modern Drummer Magazine asked their readers this question: “Who is The Up and Coming drummer of 2018?” The results came in and Barber took home the celebrated award. 2018 also marks another milestone for Barber as he will release his debut album, Vision Ahead, which is also the name of his band. The album comes out May 11, 2018.
The 28-year-old drummer is performing a lot, and is often pegged by notable jazz musicians. Barber has provided time keeping for Marcus Strickland, JD Allen, Jeremy Pelt, Terrace Martin, Stanley Jordan, Erykah Badu and the list goes on. In between gigs, the very driven Barber is back in New York, hosting late night sessions at the prominent Small’s Jazz Club in Greenwich Village.
Recently, Barber was chosen to be an artist for Sunhouse, a company that specializes in sensory percussion. He is featured in multiple videos that showcase Sunhouse products, such as the Galactic Brine collection, an assortment of twenty kits with a total of over 2000 sounds. The videos featuring Barber have become viral on social media, and shows the greatness that millennial drummers have to offer. Creating new possibilities in artistic expression for today’s drummer, Sunhouse’s “modern take on electronic drums” has also been employed by many contemporary and inventive drummers such as Marcus Gilmore, Antonio Sanchez, Mark Guiliana, and others. Yet Barber’s recent success is far from superficial.
It was personal tragedy that forced Barber into a new dimension of life resulting in illuminative choices concerning his band, career, and also propelled him to write more. “Two years ago in November 2016, I lost my brother unexpectedly. I didn’t have a name for my band. And I really wanted a name – I didn’t want it to be just The Jonathan Barber Quintet. So I was searching for a sound and a brand if you will. So once that experience happened, I went through the obvious emotions of being devastated and hurt, but after I took some time away from the scene, the phrase Vision Ahead was like a light bulb that went off in my head.”
Barber’s band have navigated together through personal and professional changes during the years. This close relationship has resulted in a winning brew of musical synergy. “For about 6 years the band has been playing together. The group consists of myself, pianist Taber Gable, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, and bassist Matt Dwonsyzyk. We all went to The Jackie Mclean institute of Jazz at The University of Hartford. From that college experience, it really formulated a sound and chemistry. We watched each other develop, pushing and influencing each other musically. And we also moved to New York together.”
Looking to bring a new ‘colour’ and a person to challenge the band with their ability, Barber sought out saxophonist Godwin Louis about two years ago, who completed the talented group. Barber says the chemistry of the group is “undeniable.”
Vision Ahead’s collective musical dexterity shines through on the album’s first release, a cover of Eldar Djangirov’s “Airport” which also features Barber on vocals. The piece is a good start to get to know his work. “Airport” has lyrics that provide wisdom about living a successful life which I would say stems from Barber’s personal faith journey, and some tasty guitar work by Andrew Renfroe. While in New York, Barber met Djangirov, who is a jazz pianist and leader of The Eldar Trio, when both were a part of JD Allen’s album recording of Grace. From there, Barber and Djangirov kept in touch, and he even accompanied Djangirov on a Midwest tour.
However, it was while watching Djangirov’s trio perform “Airport” on YouTube that a deeper affinity for Djangirov’s work occurred. Djangirov’s technique and harmonic idiom on “Airport” entranced Barber. “I was like, “Wow, what is that.” I was a fan of his work already but ‘Airport’ really captured me. That style was different from most of the work he’s known for. When I first heard the song, I felt the vibe and pulse so strong and the melody was so singable. Eldar played 8th notes chords on his left hand while playing the melody on his right hand. It was rhythmic, and had elements like playing the drums. ‘Airport’ became one of my favourite songs and when I was on a plane, the lyrics came to me. I just kept writing, writing, and writing. After writing the lyrics and presenting it to the band, I asked who’s going to sing it? And my band was like – you!”
The album Vision Ahead features twelve songs with eight original compositions by Barber. You will also find the treat of sensory percussion on the tracks “Statement of Vision,” “Time Will Tell,” and “Carry On.” The album also features vocalists Denise Renee and Sasha Foster.
Drums Around The World European Tour coming soon….
I’ll be apart of 2 European tours: The Jeremy Pelt Quintet & Marcus Strickland Twi-Life.
If you area come out and support live music.
Excited to revisit some of my favorites music venues as well as looking forward to perform for the first time in some these venues.
21 shows…. Let’s Go!
Jeremy Pelt Quintet
March 16th- Piazza Express. London, UK
March 17th- Casa Della Palazzolo Sull’Olio. Brescia, Italy
March 18th- Milan Masada. Milan, Italy
March 19th- Workshop: Modena Academia. *Jam Session featuring Jonathan Barber
March 20th- Smallet Jazz Club. Modena, Italy
March 22nd- Audi Forum Theater. Ingolstadt, Germany
March 23rd & 24th- Jazzhus Montmartre. Copenhagen, Denmark
March 25th- Bergamo Jazz Festival. Bergamo Italy
March 28th- Hot Club de Lyon. Lyon, France
March 29th- Mademoiselle Simone. Lyon, France
March 30th & 31st- Duc Des Lombard. Paris, France
Marcus Strickland Twi-Life
April 6th- La Petite Halle. Paris, France
April 7th- Sudhaus. Tübingen, Germany
April 8th- Quasimodo. Berlin, Germany
April 10th & 11th- Ronnie Scotts. London, UK
April 13- Officina Degli Esordi. Bari, Italy
April 14- Torrione Jazz Club. Ferrara, Italy
Hartford, Connecticut-native Jonathan Barber is proud to announce his arrival with the Friday, May 11th release of his highly-anticipated debut album Vision Ahead. Featuring pianist Taber Gable, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, saxophonist Godwin Louis, bassist Matt Dwonszyk, and vocalists Denise Renee and Sasha Foster (collectively and eponymously known as the album title), Vision Ahead is Barber’s product of six years spent cultivating a distinct and immaculately tailored sound with like minded musicians who, together, now present themselves as an undeniable, sonically-solid unit. Vision Ahead serves as a showcase of the fresh prospects that can be envisioned and the greatness that can be achieved when one is forced to face unanticipated, desolating life-challenges.
Upon hearing the devastating and unexpected news of his one and only brother’s death in November 2016, Barber struggled to comprehend life, and the purpose of his own, individual foreplanned and foreseen envisage slipped out of his understanding.
“I became confused with the direction that life was taking me and numb to the new norm that instantly presented itself to me; for it was that stand still moment the words “Vision Ahead” became the theme of my next chapter in life.”
Sonically, Vision Ahead not only paints a picture of fresh perspective but one of perseverance. Aside achieving goals through adversity, it is a creation of polished craft and art that strives to breakthrough in a music industry that lacks the attention of an intellectual artist.
“My music not only helped me through my grieving process, but sparked a fresh musical style in hopes of carrying on the spirit of this American art form; jazz.”
Eight out of the twelve tracks on Vision Ahead were personally composed by the young musician, named best “Up & Coming” drummer in the 2018 Modern Drummer Readers Poll. “Think On These Things” was the first composition that Jonathan Barber wrote for the album back in 2015. At the time there were no lyrics written but Barber wanted to write a ballad that reflected upon positive thinking. Inspired by the scripture Philippians 4:8, Barber aimed to portray the message that “you are what you eat and you become what you think.” After the passing of his brother the lyrics came to him.
The rhythm of the title track’s intro played by Andrew Renfroe lays perfectly with the syllables of the name “Vision Ahead” (spelling out the word “Vision” and saying the word “Ahead”). As the title track lifts into solos, the band provides an open section for Renfroe to let his fiery lines ring in the air. Towards the end of Renfroe’s solo he gives a call and response cue for Godwin Louis to step up to the plate and swing over the classic chord changes of Benny Golson’s “Stablemates”. Once Louis is finished telling his story he cues the band to go to the bridge of “Vision Ahead” which is looped for Taber Gable’s solo. Lastly, the solo section ends with Barber soloing over the intro creating a pulsating vamp. Keeping the “Vision Ahead” theme Barber sets a whirlwind of rhythms on top of this syncopated vamp. Collectively these musicians demonstrate how to take the language played by Jazz Masters and interprets it into an original composition.
Originally written by pianist Eldar Djangirov, the seventh track off the album, “Airport” lifts off into the sky from the start. While flying to Europe on a music tour Jonathan Barber was listening to this song played by Djangirov and his trio, and inspired by the melody played in the high register on the piano, Barber began to set lyrics to this classic gem. The lyrics have a double meaning. In one sense they shine light on the function of an airplane; flying all over the world, transporting people to various destinations and living its purpose in the sky. The second message behind the lyrics is one of encouragement, to chase dreams. “Airport” is well executed, presenting a song that expresses vision and freedom.
“Believing in the Reunion” was the last composition that Jonathan Barber brought to the band. Its initial propose was designed to be the final statement to another composition. At the time it just seemed like a blueprint. Close to the end of day one in the studio, Barber wanted to record this sketched track, just to have it on file. Still unsure of the total outcome, a plan was made at that very moment. After hearing the completion of this composition in the mixing process, Jonathan knew that this song had to be a song by itself. For 1 minute and 40 seconds these musicians challenge the concept of time; There’s no time signature to this composition. This closing track is played off of the present moment. Barber began to reflect about the afterlife and what reuniting with loved ones who have passed away might sound like. Would it be confined into 4/4, 3/4 or 7/8 time? Or would it sound like this composition – no time just motion.
“Collectively we capture the deep emotion and the intention that encompasses the compositions of these songs.”
This tightly-knit ensemble has successfully created an album of hope and positivity. Whether itʼs graduating from The Jackie Mclean Institute of Jazz or being natives in the State of Connecticut, the seeds that were planted in one of the smallest states in the U.S. has already made an erroneous impact in the music industry; a vision that is still growing.
“It’s only a matter of time. It brings me great excitement to announce that I won the Up & Coming category in the 2018 Modern Drummer Magazine Readers Poll. I would like thank everyone who voted for me. I greatly appreciate the support. Teamwork makes the dream work. Lastly I would like to thank Ken Micallef for doing a write-up on my career in the MD magazine last year.
I am honored to receive this award.
From the January 2017 issue of Modern Drummer
Q: What surprised you about the New York music scene once you arrived?
A: That I had to constantly push and play at a high level. In Hartford [Connecticut], some gigs are meaningful, others are not. But in New York you always have to bring your “A” game. You never know who’s going to be there. Even playing Smalls at 1 a.m., I’ve had Kamasi Washington, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Peter Bernstein come by to hang. The intensity you feel in New York City every day grows on you. Moving here made me a better musician.
Jeremy Pelt Quintet Fall Tour & Live Recording
Jeremy Pelt- Trumpet
Jonathan Barber- Drums
Victor Gould- Piano
Vicente Archer- Bass
Jacquelene Acevedo- Percussion
9/27- Blue Note Poznan, Poland
9/29 & 30- LIVE RECORDING!!!!!!!!Sunset-Sunside. Paris, France
10/1- Camino Jazz. Louvigny, France
10/2- Caribbean Jazz. Kiev, Ukraine
10-3- Blue Note Milan, Italy
10/4- Gregory’s Jazz Club. Rome, Italy
10/5- 12on14 Club- Warsaw, Poland
10/8- Clamores. Madrid, Spain
10/10- Jazzkeller. Frankfurt, Germany
10/11- Zig-Zag. Berlin, Germany
10/12- Jazzclub Unterfahrt. Munich, Germany
10/13- Jazzclub Singen. Singen, Germany
10/14- Zaragoza Festival. Zaragoza, Spain
I am thrilled to announce my 1st International Tour under my own name. This tour will be in one of my favorite places in the world….. Japan.
I shall call this tour the “Drums Around The World Tour”. Joining me is Pianist Taber Gable and Bassist Joshua Crumbly. Grateful for this opportunity to share and spread my musical voice across the world.
May 12(fri) Lifetime / Shizuoka city
May 13(sat) Body & Soul / Tokyo
May 14(sun) Le club jazz / Kyoto city
May 15(mon) Le club jazz/ Kyoto city
May 17(wed) Star eyes / Nagoya city
May 19(fri) Swing hall / Musashino city Tokyo
May 20(sat) Pit inn / Tokyo
This is just the beginning… Vision Ahead 2017
More details coming soon.
Canopus Drums, Evans Drumheads, Promark drumsticks, Sunhouse Percussion.
New Vision, New Music and New Band… Vision Ahead
Jonathan Barber makes his Third appearance in Japan October 7th-16th with Pianist Miki Hayama and Bassist Mimi Jones.
Oct. 7(fri) Pit inn / Shinjuku Tokyo
Oct. 8(sat) Body & Soul / Minami-Aoyama Tokyo
Oct. 10(mon) Le club jazz / Kyoto city
Oct. 12(wed) Left Alone / Ashiya city
Oct. 13(thu) Swing Hall / Musashino city Tokyo
Oct. 14(fri) Lifetime / Shizuoka city
Oct. 15(sat) Star eyes / Nagoya city
Oct. 16(sun) Into the blue / Machida city Tokyo