Charlie Barnet - alto and soprano saxes; Nat Pierce - piano; Harold Ashby - tenor saxophone, clarinet; Russell Procope - clarinet; Paul Gonsalves - tenor saxophone; Harry Carney - baritone saxophone; Clark Terry - trumpet; Cootie Williams - trumpet; Cat Anderson - trumpet; Mercer Ellington - trumpet; Herbie Jones - trumpet; Laurence Brown - trombone; George "Buster" Cooper - trombone; Chuck Connors - trombone; Jimmy Cleveland - trombone; Money Johnson - trombone; Jeff Castleman - bass; Steve Little - drums
Swing era star Charlie Barnet had a decade of prominence on the jazz scene, from 1939 (the year he introduced his hit version of Ray Noble's "Cherokee") through 1949. He continued leading big bands through the '50s and '60s, recording his last album in 1967. So his appearance at the 1968 Newport Jazz Festival on Friday night's "Schlitz Salute to Big Bands," in which he fronted the Duke Ellington Orchestra on some medleys of his hits from yesteryear, was something of a last hurrah for the saxophonist-bandleader.
Barnet hit the stage at Freebody Park to the strains of "Take the A Train," then explained to the audience he was not, in fact, Duke Ellington before launching into his most famous song, "Cherokee," playing soprano sax in front of the mighty Ellington aggregation. Continuing the medly, Barnet then downshifts the ensemble into a bluesy version of "Southern Fried" before swinging into up-tempo mode on "East Side, West Side," which features some high note trumpet blasts from Cat Anderson. They close the first medley with a rousing rendition of the Ellington signature tune, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be."
Barnet's second medley begins with his exhilarating "Skyliner" and segues smoothly into the bluesy "Pompton Turnpike," followed by a swinging rendition of the old Tin Pan Alley nugget, "Smiles" ("There are smiles that make you happy, there are smiles that make you blue"). This tightly arranged second medley closes with a tip of the hat to Count Basie on Barnet's "The Count's Idea," which contains some familiar Basie-esque piano motifs played by Nat Pierce." Barnet concludes his set with Bill Holman's energized swinger "Introduction to an Ending," which appeared on his final recording as a leader, 1967's Live at Basin Street East. This dynamic number builds to a wild climax with the trumpets of Cootie Williams and Cat Anderson wailing over the top of the fray, bringing Barnet's first and final Newport appearance to a rousing close.
One of the few jazzmen to be born of privilege (his grandfather was a prominent banker and vice-president for the New York Central Railroad), New York City native Barnet was a something of a playboy who married several times throughout his life. A pioneer in leading integrated bands (as early as 1935), he was one of the first to embrace the music of both Duke Ellington and Count Basie during the Swing era. Chiefly a tenor saxophonist, Barnet also played alto and soprano sax, a rare feat during the '30s and '40s. While his family wanted him to become a lawyer, Barnet was already playing professionally by age 16 in 1929 (the first year of the Great Depression). He began leading his own bands by 1933 and he appeared as a sideman the following year on a Red Norvo date that also includes clarinetist Artie Shaw and pianist Teddy Wilson.
By 1939, Barnet became a household name on this strength of his hit recording of "Cherokee." His popularity continued to soar through the 1940s following his best-selling record from 1944, Skyliner. By 1947, Barnet experimented with a bebop band that featured his star trumpeter Clark Terry and included Maynard Ferguson and Doc Severinsen in the trumpet section. Near the end of 1949 he broke up his band and remained semi-retired throughout the remainder of his life, occasionally doing brief tours and making his last recording in 1966. In 1984, Charlie Barnet was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. He died on September 4, 1991 at the age of 78. (Milkowski)