Obituary: Carl Barriteau

Steve Voce
Monday 31 August 1998 00:02

DURING THE years of the Swing Era, most European clarinet players tried to model their playing on that of Benny Goodman. Carl Barriteau, who had come to Britain from Trinidad in 1937, based his style instead on that of Goodman's perceived rival Artie Shaw. With hindsight it is obvious that Shaw's playing was more sophisticated and harmonically more adventurous than Goodman's.

It's a fair reflection of Barriteau's outstanding ability that he was able to cope convincingly with his idol's style. Barriteau led the band of stars that recorded the famous First English Public Jam Session in London in November 1941. Sure enough, the Shaw influence is very obvious, but close listening reveals that where Shaw was precise and immaculate in some of his uniquely complex runs on the instrument, Barriteau cleverly skidded over the points where such ambitious work was required.

None the less it was he and the newly emerged trumpet star Kenny Baker who dominated the concert and, like the trombonist George Chisholm, each easily dominated the English scene on his instrument.

Barriteau spent his early years in Maracaibo, Venezuela, before being taught to play the tenor horn at the Belmont Orphanage in Trinidad. He played in the Trinidad Constabulary Band for some years and during this time switched to clarinet, showing his outstanding skills on the instrument when he worked with Bert McLean's Jazz Hounds and with another of the island's leading jazz groups, the Williams Brothers' Blue Rhythm Band.

In 1937 Barriteau moved to Britain and joined the West Indian Swing Band band led by Ken "Snake Hips" Johnson, a jazz trumpeter with whom he toured variety halls and played night club bookings. They made several recordings including a successful version of "Tuxedo Junction" (1940). Late 1939 the band began a residency at the Cafe de Paris in London. The band was playing there when the building was bombed during an air raid in March 1941. Johnson was killed and Barriteau was badly injured.

He made a good recovery and went on to work as a featured soloist with a series of wartime bands including those led by Lew Stone, Ambrose, Chappie D'Amato, Eric Winstone and Joe Loss. From 1942 he played regularly at the weekly Sunday jam sessions held in London at the Feldman Club at 100 Oxford Street. Barriteau formed his own West Indian Dance Orchestra which worked and broadcast from London. He made a double-sided recording of Artie Shaw's Concerto for Clarinet that displayed his great agility on the instrument. His playing here came closer to Shaw's than anyone else's had.

Barriteau spent the rest of the war years touring with the band and recording for the Decca label. As the war ended took the band on a tour to play for British forces in Europe. He took the band into the Embassy Club in London. He was the star of the Melody Maker's 1947 "Jazz Rally" and the 78rpm records of the concerts outsold any other British jazz records of the time.

In 1949 he began a two-year residency at the Eldorado Ballroom in Leith, Scotland. This may not have been financially rewarding: a visitor to Barriteau's flat in the town remembers that he was loathe to leave it as he benefited from a free gas supply. He had modified the gas meter so that he could put a shilling in the slot and then, when it had been credited, could persuade the meter to regurgitate the coin.

Returning south in 1951 he joined Cyril Stapleton's band for a year. He worked as a soloist and with his own band, which he re-formed as needed, and again toured Europe, North Africa and South East Asia, entertaining American troops there between 1958 and 1966. During this time he worked as a double act with the singer Mae Cooper and also led his band for a tour with the Platters vocal group.

He emigrated to Australia in 1970, became an Australian citizen and settled in Sydney, using this as a base for widespread touring throughout Australasia and the Orient.

Steve Voce

Carl Barriteau, clarinet and saxophone player and bandleader: born Trinidad 7 February 1914; died Sydney, Australia 24 August 1998.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments