On the Wild Side


With guest soloist Bud Shank, featuring Pat and Joe La Barbera, and Clay Jenkins. Buddy Rich composer/arranger John La Barbera leads an all-star, studio big band through standards & originals with fresh new treatments. Highlights include Elmer Bernstein’s “Walk on the Wild Side” suite originally scored for Buddy Rich by La Barbera but never recorded.…



With guest soloist Bud Shank, featuring Pat and Joe La Barbera, and Clay Jenkins.

Buddy Rich composer/arranger John La Barbera leads an all-star, studio big band through standards & originals with fresh new treatments. Highlights include Elmer Bernstein’s “Walk on the Wild Side” suite originally scored for Buddy Rich by La Barbera but never recorded. The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” Miles Davis’ “So What,” the La Barbera classic, “Tiger of San Pedro,” and a big band version of Joe La Barbera’s “Message from Art.”

John La Barbera’s Big Band CD “On The Wild Side” (JazzCompass 1007) has placed #12 on Jazz With Bob Parlocha’s “Top 25” list.


  1. Mayreh (H. Silver)
    Solos: Bud Shank, Alto; Clay Jenkins, Trumpet
  2. So What (M. Davis)
    Solos: Clay Jenkins, Trumpet; Pat La Barbera, Tenor
  3. Tiger Of San Pedro (J. La Barbera)
    Solos: Wayne Bergeron, Trumpet; Pat La Barbera, Tenor
  4. Message From Art (Joe La Barbera)
    Solos: Bob Shepard, Tenor; Bruce Paulson, Trombone; Joe La Barbera, Drums
  5. Walk On The Wild Side Suite (E. Bernstein)
    (Walk On The Wild Side / Night Song / Rejected / Walk On The Wild Side Reprise)
    Solos: Pat La Barbera, Soprano-Tenor
  6. Cachaca Gotcha (J. La Barbera)
    Solos: Kim Richmond, Alto; Joe La Barbera, Drums
  7. Eleanor Rigby (Lennon/McCartney)
    Solos: Pat La Barbera, Tenor; Clay Jenkins, Trumpet; Joe La Barbera, Drums
  8. Cloth of Silver – Threads of Blue (J. La Barbera)
    Solos: Clay Jenkins, Trumpet; Bill Cunliffe, Piano
  9. Highland Crossing (J. La Barbera)
    Solos: Pat La Barbera, Soprano; Dennis Farias, Trumpet


John La Barbera Big Band

Bud Shank – Alto
Brian Scanlon – Alto, Soprano, Flute, Piccolo
Kim Richmond – Alto
Bob Shepard – Tenor
Pat La Barbera – Tenor (replaces Peterson on 2,3,5,9)
Tom Peterson – Tenor
Bob Carr – Baritone, Bass Clarinet

Wayne Bergeron (lead 2,3,4,5,6,7)
Dennis Farias (lead 8,9)
Bob O’Donnell (lead 1)
Clay Jenkins

Bruce Paulson
Alex Iles
Andy Martin
Bill Reichenbach (replaces Paulson on 2,3,5,9)
Ken Kugler (Bass)

Bill Cunliffe – Keyboards
Tom Ranier – Keyboards (replaces Cunliffe on 2,3,5,9)
Tom Warrington – Bass
Joe La Barbera – Drums
Scott Breadman – Percussion on “Gotcha”


Produced by John La Barbera, with help from Talley Sherwood & Tom Peterson.
Recorded & Mixed at Citrus Studios, Glendora, CA,
January 7 & 8, 2002 & March 11, 2002 .
Recording & Mixing Engineer: Talley Sherwood.
Assistant Engineer: Mike Sherlock.
Mastered by Entourage 5.1.
Engineer: Stacy Carson.
Mastering assistance: Talley Sherwood.
Photos by Alex Solka.
CD design by James Frank Dean.


Pop played piano, found the gigs, and called the tunes; mom fixed the sandwiches, made certain that everyone was properly attired, and, oh yeah, played bass. The rest of the La Barbera Family Band consisted of eldest brother Pat on saxophone, John on trumpet, and Joe, the youngest, on drums. This was almost five decades ago back in Mount Morris, New York, a small village on the outskirts of Rochester, less than an hour from Buffalo to the west and Syracuse to the east. And as unlikely as it may sound, the La Barbera brothers grew up in one of the most jazz-fertile regions in the country, in an upstate New York area that produced musicians such as Sal Nistico, J.R. Monterose, Don Menza, Mel Lewis, Jim Hall, Roy McCurdy, Steve Gadd, Joe Romano, and the Mangione Brothers.

In a very real sense, the genesis of John La Barbera’s “On The Wild Side” can be traced to these beginnings for even as a youthful trumpeter, already under the sway of Miles Davis, Joe Gordon, and Dizzy Gillespie, he was listening to and learning from the melodies and arrangements of Count Basie, Horace Silver, Benny Golson, and Quincy Jones. And with brother Pat in one room dealing with the challenge of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Charlie Parker, and brother Joe in another working through the lessons of Shelly Manne, Philly Joe Jones, and Art Blakey, not to mention the upcoming weekend gigs with Mom and Pop. The only question for John was how best to apply his talents and his inquisitive and analytical nature in the context of all the music swirling about him.

The answer became progressively apparent as he went the educational route through SUNY/Potsdam, Berklee, and eventually Eastman, discovering that not only did he love the idea and challenge of writing for large ensembles but also that he could bring to it the early lessons and inspirations of his youth: the swing of Basie, the drive of Blakey, the melodic inventiveness of Silver, and the nuance and controlled urgency of Miles.

Along the way after countless sessions and trumpet section gigs with the Buddy DeFranco led Glenn Miller Orch. and Buddy Rich, John La Barbera began to establish himself as one of the jazz world’s leading composer-arrangers. His reputation grew through his work as principal arranger with the Buddy Rich Band for more than fifteen years, as contributor to the big band books of such storied leaders as Harry James, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme’ Bill Watrous, Doc Severinsen, and Diva (a band which he helped launch in 1993), and through his work as a music educator in institutions such as Alfred University, Cornell, and the University of Louisville, where he continues today to teach arranging, ensemble performance, computers & music, and the essentials of the music business.

As many jazz fans know so well, younger brother Joe went on to fame playing with Woody Herman, Chuck Mangione, and eventually pianist supreme Bill Evans – followed by a lengthy stint with singer Tony Bennett – and has since graced the small groups and large ensembles of some of jazz’s most illustrious names. Big brother Pat has spent a good chunk of his professional career being featured with two of the fabled names of jazz drumming in Buddy Rich and Elvin Jones, with whom he is currently touring. Sadly, Pop has passed away and though Mom at ninety-three no longer plays bass, she still listens to John Coltrane!

All of which brings us to the release of “On The Wild Side,” John La Barbera’s unofficial tribute to the heroes and mentors of his past as well as his own long-overdue documentation of the state of his art. It should come as no surprise that along for the ride and playing major roles throughout are brothers Joe and Pat. They join up with a cast of handpicked stellar musicians among whom are tenor saxophonist Bob Shepard, trumpeter Clay Jenkins, pianist Bill Cunliffe, and saxophone grand master Bud Shank, as well as a number of other dynamic players – some of whom have associations with John going back to his earliest years of performing with and writing for Buddy Rich. It is a band that consists of the La Barberas performing with a bunch of friends who just happen to be among the finest jazz musicians on the west coast.

So ingrained, perhaps, are the lessons of his youth that the Ellington maxim of “It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” is relentlessly applied throughout; the result is a big band which swings with the flow and drive of a small group but has all the colors, flair, and excitement of a large jazz ensemble.

The salute to Horace Silver with John’s arrangement of “Mayreh” not only reminds us of the beauty of this rarely played classic but also serves as advance notice that “On The Wild Side” will take no prisoners nor cut listeners any slack. This big band swings its way through an intriguing collection of John La Barbera originals, some jazz classics (all outfitted in new and, in some instances, unlikely garb), and one Joe La Barbera composition, “Message From Art,” his tribute to and remembrance of the late Art Blakey. Since much of the band’s nucleus – the entire rhythm section along with Jenkins and Shepard – also functions independently as the Joe La Barbera Quintet, there is little mystery why this big band plays with the verve and elan of a small group. Little wonder, indeed!

Highlights abound in “On The Wild Side.” The compositions and arrangements provide an interesting look at the musical mind of John La Barbera, at times near-symphonic and in other instances playfully devious and almost obtuse. John unearths a classic with the entire “Walk On The Wild Side Suite,” originally arranged for Buddy Rich’s Big Band.

Those familiar with John La Barbera’s work over the years will welcome his Latin-based originals, an idiom which has served him so well in a variety of musical settings, and a style which takes full advantage of brother Joe’s versatility.

For those who treasure that post-bebop insouciance and New York hard drive of the fifties, sixties, and beyond, “On The Wild Side” with its nods to Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Miles Davis will definitely be a delightful romp, one studded with echoes of Mingus and Gil Evans and more heroes from John’s youth. In addition, this recording stands first and foremost as a testament to the imagination, daring, and compositional acumen of that first trumpeter of the La Barbera Family Band all those many years ago.

Pop would be pleased; Mom most assuredly is; and the Brothers La Barbera and their super-talented friends have every right to feel proud about this recording. Everyone had a grand time in making “On The Wild Side,” the newest collection of musical surprises from John La Barbera, a man with deep roots and uncommon musical vision.

Hal Miller, Albany, N.Y., 7/03


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