ABOUT THE LEGACY…aspects of the truth

For many years since my father’s unexpected death in 1977, I have been contacted by friends and fans and students and hundreds of wonderful strangers from around the world (many of whom were barely babies in ‘77, or were born after he died). I have been asked to keep his work alive, to tell the story that hasn’t been told — not just to complete Dad’s work, but to continue it.

Music is a living, breathing gift, and my father was blessed with the rare inspiration that breeds true genius. He loved exchanging creative energies with his peers and, especially in his last years, he adored giving his all to his students. He’d be giving still, but for the fact that he too quickly used up his heart. So…it was left to me and my late mother Evelyn to curate and collate his life and his work in one authoritative (and continually evolving) collection. It’s a huge undertaking.

I’ve been a writer and producer for over 20 years, and have always wanted to find a compelling way to tell these amazing untold tales, to mine the deeper history of American music through the life of one of its pioneers.

The time is ripe: there is fresh interest in Barnes’ work–and with full access to his stunning inventory, the multi-faceted career of this influential musical innovator can be enjoyed via emerging technologies and social media, allowing the story to unfold as a transmedia property over multiple platforms, in interactive as well as traditional formats.

I have many precious, rare and revelatory materials in hand–and I am gathering the resources to access those that have fallen out of the family’s hands. Beyond the material that was commercially produced during Dad’s career, we have hours of personal recordings–including teaching methods, conversations, homemade tapes of jam sessions and rehearsals–as well as manuscripts of unrecorded original compositions and arrangements, diaries, photographs, letters. Generous glimpses into the life of a master; a comprehensive musical history that must be shared.

Dad loved giving back the gifts he’d been given. Over the course of his career, he produced several different teaching methods that I believe are at the core of this collection. It’s one thing to love a musician’s work, and quite another to learn it from the inside out, to understand its inner workings. His desire to guide musicians to excellence was his deepest motivation.

When Dad died, he was writing a book of reminiscences about music and musicians; the manuscript is being edited for publication. He was in the midst of composing a cycle of instrumentals inspired by his recent spiritual explorations; those lead sheets will be part of a program of study and available for performance. His recording of The Bach Fugue in G Minor is available on The Art of Sound label, and his handwritten score for that piece will also be made available for study and performance.

THE GEORGE BARNES LEGACY COLLECTION offers a unique program of study from the beginners’ to the professional level. In panels and performances at colleges and festivals, the legacy of his work will edify and inspire new generations of jazz aficionados and students, expanding their musical vocabulary and invoking a level of excellence that was the trademark of this exceptional artist.


Composer Alec Wilder and George Barnes were musical brothers long before they met. Barnes’ exceptional compositions and arrangements for The George Barnes Octet were inspired by Alec’s extraordinary octet compositions from the late 1930’s. As kindred creative spirits, they enjoyed many marvelous conversations over good whiskey well into the wee hours, and their few co-creations were evidence of the shorthand between true friends and masters.

Alec Wilder Wikipedia

This letter from Alec to George, in which Alec accesses his customary eloquence to laud his longtime friend, was written in 1972, when George and his then-partner, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, were the featured performers at New York’s prestigious St. Regis Hotel:

Alec Wilder Letters Aspects1 Alec Wilder Letters Aspects2

Alec Wilder Letters Aspects3 Alec Wilder Letters Aspects4

Dear George:

Most Americans are embarrassed by loving remarks. Since I am about to make a few, I’ll have to risk embarrassing you.

You may ask how anyone who hears you play so seldom could feel so intensely about your musical communication as I do.

Two reasons: I didn’t know for a long time that you and Bucky were working in New York, and when I did learn, I was unable to be here.

What you do is much more than be a brilliant musician. Your statements, comments, attitudes are all what caused me to suggest the album title: “Aspects of the Truth.”

Very few players have provided me with more than their music: [Bix] Biederbecke, [Stan] Getz, [Gerry] Mulligan, [Paul] Desmond, Hank Jones, Toots Thielemans, [Art] Tatum, and only a few others, like Joe Wilder.

And what are their extra elements? Reassurance, reaffirmation, wit, warmth, conviction and, best of all, hope!

So here I am, thanking you from the bottom of my head and heart.

I stopped by and Bucky told me you had the flu. I hope it clears up fast.

My best to Evelyn and Alexandra.


Dear George:

I haven’t finished.

What happens when you and Bucky play is make strangers turn to one another and smile, strangers not in the habit of smiling.

When you two play, I start in believing again–as opposed to denying that a good thing might exist in a darkening world.

Quite outside of the superb music is this magical element that opens locked doors, dissipates gloom, recalls former faith and sets me, for one, out again on the quest for miracles.

I’m serious, my very dear friend. And if no one has told you this, it’s because they’re either too self-centered, planning tomorrow’s swindle, or too insensitive to be open to what’s really happening.

If I could do what you do, I would consider it a great joy and as great a responsibility.

Anyone who can bring even a pin prick of light into a dark landscape is obligated to do so.

Forgive me if I sound like a pompous preacher. I don’t mean to. I think sometimes we creators don’t realize what we’re really doing, or trying to do.


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  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday George Barnes | One Man's Guitar

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