Larry Barker Jazz Ensemble
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Smithgall Arts Center, 331 Spring St., Gainesville
How much: $30
More info: 770-534-2787
By day, many of our area’s mild-mannered school music teachers are busy helping kids explore the world of percussion and wind instruments.
But by night (and weekends), these elementary, middle and high school teachers cut loose at weddings, private parties and even public performances, where their talents shine in a completely different light.
Take Larry Barker, a Gwinnett County elementary school music teacher who cut his teeth in the jazz scene in St. Louis, Mo. He’s played piano with the likes of Charles Glenn, the Glenn Miller Band and the U.S. Army band and has a standard following playing classical piano at private events. And introducing his students to the world of music is second on the list to playing jazz.
“It’s a great thing; teaching has energized me quite a bit,” said the Gainesville resident. “I absolutely love being with the kids and getting to teach them.”
But after marrying a Gainesville girl — Ann Reynolds — Barker eventually made his way back to Gainesville. He will be performing his brand of jazz piano and other standards on Saturday night at The Arts Council’s Smithgall Arts Center as part of the Evenings of Intimate Jazz series.
Now that he has settled in — the couple moved to the area in 2006 — he’s worked his way into the music scene around Atlanta and said he has been enjoying getting to know the other artists. In fact, the four musicians joining him for the Saturday performance are all people he’s played with since he started performing in the area.
Trumpeter Ken Watters, Barker said, has played for Tony Bennett. He and Barker met after playing in a few classical music settings, then reconnected at a jazz gig some time later.
“I said, ‘I never realized you played jazz,’” Barker said. “We had a fabulous evening of playing together. It just brought out a side of music that was never exposed before in the previous situations.”
John Marsh will play trumpet and sing, Neal Starkey will be on bass and Chip Lunsford will be on drums.
“Chip was the first person that I was connected to with some of my friends in St. Louis,” Barker said. “We had a lot of friends in common and they suggested I call Chip, and I did. ... I’m always looking forward to the chance to play with him.”
Barker said he used to play a regular jazz gig at an upscale hotel in St. Louis, and one day he and his partner had an A-list audience.
“Theo Peoples was the singer, keyboard player and saxophone player, and we had a duet job at a hotel,” he said. “One day The Temptations walked into the lounge we were playing ... they liked what they heard and they hired Theo.
“So, I lost my partner to The Temptations.”
Peoples has since become the lead singer for The Four Tops.
Barker said as a working musician you have to be versatile, but it’s jazz that really calls to him.
Last weekend, for example, he played during the day for a wedding ceremony that was all classical music. In the evening, he played a six-hour big band gig.
“And it’s pretty much that and everything in between,” he said. “(It’s) the privilege of being able to work in a lot of different contexts and a lot of different types of bands. I really enjoy it all.”