Donald Christopher 'Chris' Barber (born 17 April 1930, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England) is best known as a jazz trombonist. As well as scoring a UK top twenty trad jazz hit, he helped the careers of many musicians, notably the blues singer Ottilie Patterson, who was at one time his wife, and vocalist/banjoist Lonnie Donegan, whose appearances with Barber triggered the skiffle craze of the mid 1950s and who had his first transatlantic hit, "Rock Island Line", while with Chris Barber's band. His providing an audience for Donegan and, later, Alexis Korner makes Barber a significant figure in the British rhythm and blues and "beat boom" of the 1960s. The son of a statistician father and headmistress mother, Barber was educated at Hanley Castle Grammar School, Malvern, to the age of 15, then St Paul's School in London and the Guildhall School of Music.Barber and Monty Sunshine (clarinet) formed a band in 1953, calling it Ken Colyer's Jazzmen to capitalise on their trumpeter's recent escapades in New Orleans: the group also included Donegan, Jim Bray (bass), Ron Bowden (drums) and Barber on trombone. The band played Dixieland jazz, and later ragtime, swing, blues and R&B. Pat Halcox took over on trumpet in 1954 when Colyer moved on after musical differences and the band became "The Chris Barber Band". In April 1953 the band made its debut in Copenhagen. There Chris Albertson recorded several sides for the new Danish Storyville label, including some featuring only Sunshine, Donegan and Barber on double bass. In 1959 the band's version of Sidney Bechet's "Petite Fleur" spent twenty-four weeks in the UK Singles Charts, making it to No. 3 and selling over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. After 1959 he toured the United States many times. In the late 1950s and early 1960s Barber was mainly responsible for arranging the first UK tours of blues artists Big Bill Broonzy, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and Muddy Waters. This, with the encouragement of local enthusiasts such as Alexis Korner and John Mayall, sparked young musicians such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. British rhythm and blues powered the British invasion of the USA charts in the 1960s, yet Dixieland itself remained popular: in January 1963 the British music magazine, NME reported the biggest trad jazz event in Britain at Alexandra Palace. It included George Melly, Diz Disley, Acker Bilk, Alex Welsh, Kenny Ball, Ken Colyer, Sunshine, Bob Wallis, Bruce Turner, Mick Mulligan and Barber. Barber stunned traditionalists in 1964 by introducing blues guitarist John Slaughter into the line up who, apart from a break between April 1978 and August 1986, when Roger Hill took over the spot, played in the band until shortly before his death in 2010. Barber next added a second clarinet/saxophone and this line-up continued until 1999. Then Barber added fellow trombonist/arranger Bob Hunt and another clarinet and trumpet. This eleven-man "Big Chris Barber Band" offered a broader range of music while reserving a spot in the programme for the traditional six-man New Orleans line-up.
The banjo seems to have been the most reviled instrument in traditional jazz, blamed for the plodding “thunk” that characterized the rhythm sections of many of the less-than-professional bands of the “trad boom” of forty years ago. In the right hands, however, the banjo is a wonderful instrument, able to drive and swing a good traditional jazz band. The Chris Barber band has been fortunate to have enjoyed the talents of several outstanding banjo players, not the least of whom was Eddie Smith, occupant of the banjo chair from 1956 to 1964. Despite his apparent diffidence – at least on record – Eddie Smith created an unmistakable sound that as much as anything else helped to provide continuity through the transition from Monty Sunshine to Ian Wheeler. I mention all of this because Eddie rarely took a solo (his contribution to the 1957 recording of “When The Saints Go Marching In” on Chris Barber Plays, Volume 4 was a notable exception), but he makes an outstanding contribution to “Some Of These Days,” an often-played feature for trumpeter Pat Halcox (exceptionally well executed in this version recorded in 1962). Chris Barber In Budapest is a rather unusual LP (and now CD), consisting mainly of re-recordings of tunes that appeared on other discs at around the same time, but always competently played and in some cases giving us the best available version.