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Jazz legends relish 'homecoming'

Two jazz legends returned to Dublin last night when Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band and the BIG Chris Barber Band played the National Concert Hall. And for Chris Barber, born in 1930, it was a type of homecoming.

He traces his ancestry back to Tedavnet, Co Monaghan, and playing with him last night was his 23-year-old granddaughter Amy Roberts on alto sax and clarinet -- and with his 10-piece band he treated the audience to the sounds of Duke Ellington.

"At the moment we are concentrating very much on the Twenties stuff made famous at the Cotton Club in New York. We have Bob Hunt and he has that growl trombone style," said Chris as he prepared to do his soundcheck before the concert. "Bob can really do that sound made famous by Tricky Sam Nanton."

Nanton was responsible for the distinctive Duke Ellington "jungle" sound that evolved during the band's late-Twenties engagement at the iconic Harlem club.

While it's always difficult to prise Acker Bilk from his beloved Somerset these days he is always game for a trip to Dublin. "My favourite audiences are in Dublin, Cork, and Birr," he said.

Meanwhile, Chris is happy reminiscing about a rich musical journey which began professionally in 1953.

In 1959 the Chris Barber Band recorded a version of Sidney Bechet's Petite Fleur which spent 24 weeks in the UK singles chart, selling more than a million copies.

He was also the man who brought many blues greats to the UK for the first time, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee as well as Muddy Waters. "When Brownie McGhee went back to America he wrote a song about my band, which was a nice gesture," Chris recalled.

He is still listening to new music and admits he had a soft spot for Amy Winehouse who died tragically last month.

"A troubled soul but a wonderful voice," he says.

Sunday Independent