Barney Bigard Day

March 3, 1906 – June 27, 1980

The clarinetist gained fame with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong

Clarinetist Barney Bigard was born Mar. 3, 1906 in New Orleans.

He grew up as part of a musical family, studied clarinet with Lorenzo Tio, and was also a fine tenor-saxophonist.

When he first moved to Chicago in the 1920s, Bigard actually worked more often on the tenor, his main instrument with King Oliver, Johnny Dodds, and Luis Russell.

That changed when he joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra where he primarily played clarinet.

During his 15 years with Ellington, Bigard took clarinet solos on scores of recordings, displaying a distinctive style and great fluency.

After leaving Duke, Bigard worked with Freddie Slack’s orchestra and freelanced in the Los Angeles area including with Kid Ory.

Bigard was a founding member of the Louis Armstrong All-Stars, touring the world during 1947-54.

Other than rejoining Armstrong briefly in 1961 (including for an album that teamed Armstrong with Ellington), Bigard spent most of his later years based in Los Angeles where he led his own combos.

Barney Bigard passed away on June 27, 1980, at the age of 74.

This performance from 1968 teams the clarinetist with pianist Art Hodes on “Caravan,” a song he helped introduce on a record date in 1936.

-Scott Yanow


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