Bassist, composer and bandleader Leigh Barker was born and raised in Canberra, where he spent his formative years studying with American bassist Eric Ajaye at the Canberra School of Music. Before his move to Melbourne in 2003, Leigh quickly gained the attention of the more experienced musicians living in Canberra, playing on many occasions with CSM faculty members and internationally renowned musicians Mike Price, Dave Panichi, Colin Hoorweg, John Mackey and Miroslav Bukovsky. In November 2002 he appeared with German/Australian guitarist Peter O’Mara, playing with an all-star band at Café Side-On in Sydney and Tilleys in Canberra.
His move to Melbourne in 2003 provided much professional experience, with Leigh proving to be a popular accompanist for the cream of the contemporary and traditional Jazz scenes, frequently appearing with Jamie Oehlers, Dale Barlow, Scott Tinkler, Julien Wilson, Mark and Nichaud Fitzgibbon, Julie O’Hara, Paul Williamson, the Bennetts Lane Big Band, Michelle Nicole, Heather Stewart and many others.
In January 2004 Leigh travelled to the US for five weeks, where he pursued formal studies with bassists Ben Wolfe, Eric Revis and Reginald Veal, as well as spending valuable time with mentors Branford Marsalis and Doug Wamble. Last year Leigh collaborated with celebrated pianist Tom Vincent on the soundtrack for the hit ABC television program ‘The Collectors’, which airs on Friday nights. Vincent and Barker discovered an immediate rapport which culminated in a six-week tour early in 2006 with the Tom Vincent Trio, with pianist Vincent and Netherlands based drummer, Marc Meader.
Despite being in constant demand as a sideman, Leigh Barker has always had as his first priority his own working band playing new original Australian music. “I’ve always had a tendency towards band leading, even back in High School when I’d get together with mates and try and make a blues band. Somehow it always fell to me to do the organizing!” After five years of gigs and only two line-up changes, the Leigh Barker Quintet has developed into a unique unit with a mature sound which belies the age of all the members. “Back when I was studying in Canberra I wanted to form a Quintet that would deal with the sort of music that I was into at the time, which was a contemporary Jazz sound based on all the classic recordings we loved like Miles and Keith Jarrett and all that music you like when you first discover Jazz. Most of the guys our age were happy playing funk and just jamming on one chord, luckily I met some other students who were all into swing and Jazz and good interactive music.”
Five years on the band explores a great range of music drawing on all the greatest elements of Jazz music, from Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and Ellington, to the classic small group music of Davis, Coltrane and Monk through to the contemporary developments of the Australian and international improvised music scenes. The wide ranging tastes of all the members and their respective contributions to the repertoire mean that the ensemble covers a wide textural and emotional range, an exciting brand of Jazz that draws on many sources.
“I always have trouble explaining the sound of the group, but it’s all in there, whether you like hard swing, blues, beautiful ballads, great melodies, hot Jazz or world music. It’s a testament to the composing abilities of Al Mcgrath-Kerr (drums), John Felstead (saxophones), Eamon McNelis (trumpet) and Matt Boden (piano).”
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