Anne & Jeff Barnhart: Dynamic Duo of Syncopation

Anne & Jeff Barnhart: Dynamic Duo of SyncopationBill Hoffman: Regular TST readers know how you, Jeff, got in involved in music, but they are probably not aware of how Anne did. Please put us wise.

Anne Barnhart: It really started out as an act of petulant revenge; I wanted to become a chef, but my father forbade that notion, telling me, “being a chef isn’t a ‘real’ job!” So, I became a musician instead! Now he gets to watch all those celebrity millionaires with their own shows on the Food Network—and elsewhere—and gets to watch me toil in genteel poverty.

Jeff Barnhart: I’ll interject here and say how proud I am of Anne and how far her journey into jazz has taken her thus far. She’s devoted a ton of time, energy, and dedication into developing as a jazz flutist and singer; at her alma mater, they sure weren’t teaching that stuff!

AB: (laughs) No, they weren’t! I was strictly classical until I started playing with Jeff. Before we move onto that subject, I will say I feel everyone has something that comes naturally to them. For Jeff, it’s impromptu, improvisatory playing, singing, and even speaking in front of a crowd. For me, it’s cooking. In some ways the kitchen is my concert hall.

JB: In that venue, she performs for a smaller, but very appreciative audience: her family, friends, and ME! However, she has gone much farther in creating impromptu music then I’ll ever manage in the kitchen; I can’t even boil water!

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AB: You’re getting better…you’ve become a first-class baker.

JB: Yes ma’am, and I have the stomach to prove it!

AB: Sorry, Bill, we got off track. So, it was either creating meals or music and I chose music. For a time, I did toy with becoming a biomedical or genetic engineer…

JB: I’m sure we’re all glad you didn’t go and practice your improvising chops in that arena…

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AB: Yes, dear…anyhow, Bill, I went to the Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, where I earned my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music. At that time, sight-reading and performing the hardest classical flute pieces of every era summed up my focus, although I was teaching as well. After I graduated and married (my first husband), I gigged around CT in chamber groups, directed church choirs and taught nearly 40 weekly students. My life was pretty stable.

JB: Then…

AB: Yes, then I met you…although nothing seemed portentous at the time.

BH: Did you meet through music or did the musical collaboration come later?

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JB: Well, Bill, we met through music in that we were teaching at the same community music school back in the early 1990’s, but we’d wait quite a long time for much more than just the musical collaboration. There were…how shall we say…hurdles. For instance, the first time I encountered Anne, she floated into the school secretary’s office to sign some paperwork while I was in there finding out in which room I’d be teaching that day. I’ll never forget how my heart flip-flopped; Anne was wearing a long, dark-green velvet gown and had the most sparkling eyes and smile I’d ever seen. After she left the office, I turned to the secretary and exclaimed, “Now, she’s for me!” She smirked and said, “Well, you’ll have to talk to her husband about that…”

AB: Yeah, that slowed you down, fly-boy!

JB: So, I bided my time. We would see each other at school functions—recitals, holiday parties and such—and our contact was casual and infrequent. Until a fateful day we ended up at the same airport in Rhode Island, taking the same airplane to Chicago O’Hare. I was heading to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival in Sedalia, MO and Anne was going to a master class in New Mexico. As things were much more civilized back then, and the plane was half-empty, I invited her to move up to exit row with me so we could catch up. The 2 ½ hour flight was over in about 45 seconds and we vowed to get together upon returning from our separate trips to do some playing (music, that is) together. One thing led to another; I’d go see her play one of her gigs, she’d slum it at one of the bars brave enough to engage me and in about a year Anne informed me that she was divorcing her husband. In the same breath she announced she had rented an apartment less than 1/10 mile from my house!

AB: Strictly coincidence. It was and still is a fantastic apartment in an historical house in downtown Mystic. At first, our musical worlds had little crossover; Jeff would fumble through the piano accompaniment of classical flute pieces and I’d play jazz melodies with all the swing of an anvil…and at that point, NO improvising! Then, we found ragtime to be a good bridge, especially the Classic Rags of Joplin, Scott, and Lamb. Rhythm merged with lyricism, formality with fun, and we were off!

JB: And just keep going! From there we added tunes from the 1920s and ’30s that fit our “sound” and were good for my singing voice, if you’d even call it that…Once Anne was able to take the time to rediscover her singing voice, the repertoire took another leap forward.

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AB: I’d sung in college, but again only the classical/broadway pieces. Trying to learn a new language on the flute, learning to cogently improvise, and keep our travel logistics straight allowed no time for me to entertain trying to get my singing voice back. Finally, all these new elements coalesced to the point I could start paying attention to that part of my musicianship. Jeff never lets up: if he had his way, I’d also be playing guitar, alto sax and tuba!

JB: AND (singing) “bringing home the bacon, frying it up in a pan, and never, ever, ever letting me forget I’m a man…’cause you’re a woman…”

AB: All right, e-NOUGH!!

BH: You mentioned “logistics.” Under normal circumstances, you two are on the road about 40 weeks of the year. How do you manage the logistics of such frequent travel? I know you have a booking agent, but that only off-loads part of the work from you.

AB: That’s a great question, Bill. So often, people see you onstage and they seem to think they’re watching a film or television show rather than a live performance. They get it into their heads that before the curtain opens and after it closes a performer simply doesn’t exist. I remember one time a well-respected, quite busy musician friend (and bandmate) of ours in the UK was taking the rubbish from his Airbnb out to the bin at the end of the driveway and someone recognized him and said, “You, you’re _________! I never thought you’d take out garbage!!”

We tell people that our business is 90% travel (and all the prep and breakdown that goes with it) and 10% music.

JB: True. When people ask why we charge a certain fee, instead of mentioning the thousands of hours of practice, study, and rehearsal we’ve undergone so they’d want to hire us in the first place (a stance I used to take that resulted in people’s eyes glazing over), I now simply tell them the music is free; it’s all the attendant folderol leading up to it and after it concludes that they’re paying for.

AB: To answer your thoughtful question more directly, Bill, we manage by splitting up responsibilities between us. I’m the “Office” and Jeff is the “Talking Head.” All the behind-the-scenes procedures, booking the flights and hotels…or Airbnb’s…or Vrbo’s…and mapping out when and where they will happen falls into my lap.

JB: And schmoozing on the phone or in person, as well as programming the sets and most of the after-show chat, falls into mine. We’re a good team, but sometimes there are so many balls in the air, one can get dropped.

AB: At least we haven’t lost one yet!! We’ve always managed to locate it lying there before it’s too late. We do sometimes get lucky and are able to stay at a single location and drive from there to and from the gigs we have booked…a sort of “local tour” away from home, if you will. That’s always a great relief and one of the only chances we get to slow down the pace a little.

JB: Much more comfortable than jumping from gig to gig and bed to bed six or seven nights on the trot.

BH: Since you mention that, Jeff, what percentage of your jobs are multi-day festivals vs. one-off gigs?

JB: If you’d asked us that question at the beginning of 2019, we’d have given you a different answer. This enforced “virus vacation” from which we’re all emerging at different speeds and times across the globe has turned everything inside-out. In 2017-18, and this would have been true for 2019 as well. I was performing internationally at about 12 three-to-five-day festivals a year, with Anne joining me on most of them. So, the ratio was about 30-70% festivals vs. one-offs (the remaining time in the 40 weeks-away-from-home was devoted to getting to and from these gigs). As an example, our UK tours—each lasting from 4-7 weeks on average—had been anchored around one large festival, with 20-25 club, house or concert series gigs supplementing the work. At this stage it’s impossible to give you an accurate answer to this question; ask us again in a couple of years and we can discuss how things have gone. Things are definitely changing.

AB: Well, Jeff, your role is changing on the scene as well.

JB: True. Over the past six years or so, I’ve taken on more consulting and artistic director positions at festivals and concert series than earlier in my career. From the Eagles and Ivories Festival to the Jazz Concert of the Essex (CT) Winter Series to the Templeton Ragtime Jazz Festival to the Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay (of which I work on with my good friend, Brian Holland, who has himself taken on more administrative and creative work at events—and with whom I’m looking forward to offering these services as a team on a wider basis to interested parties.), I’m kept busy behind as well as on-the-scenes. Anne tends to help me with the organizational work for these (she is “The Office,” as we mentioned), which frees me up to work on presenting the most exciting and balanced programs possible each year.

BH: What future do you see for festivals?

JB: When I came onto the festival circuit in the early 1990s, it had already been going strong for over 30 years. People would continuously complain about the aging of the audience for classic jazz back then! But no-one in attendance then was any older than the crowds at the traditional jazz festivals or swing parties of today. The numbers have simply dwindled. Admittedly, there is a national attrition at play, but there’s also more going on to compete with going out to enjoy live events than there was 30 years ago (never mind the continuing specter of the virus). The entire world is now at your fingertips, by computer or phone; why go anywhere?

AB: It’s not all doom and gloom. In European countries the festival scene is still strong. Audiences of all ages attend jazz festivals in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Switzerland, to name a few countries with a vibrant classic jazz scene. There is less of a schism between styles at these foreign events. You’ll hear everything from ragtime to ska, with all styles in-between.

JB: That’s right. The festivals that will survive going into the future will be the ones with an energized organizational base, from directors through to board members and volunteers, that is willing to downsize and diversify as needed to keep interest at a high level. Some festivals have already begun doing this. If things fully open up again sooner rather than later, you’ll most likely see them around five years from now, as well as other festivals and parties that start to operate as I described above. I discussed this very subject at length in the September edition of TST in my column “My Inspirations,” along with myriad possible ways to extend the life of as many festivals as possible going forward.

BH: Do you have any ideas for increasing the percentage of young people in your audience?

JB: Regarding festivals, one way is to embrace the continually growing national swing-dance scene. Reaching out to the organizers of these events and incentivizing them to bring their members—via discount tickets or a venue dedicated to their use on a pre-festival night would go toward creating the kind of outreach necessary to help the festival scene continue and perhaps even grow. For our part, Anne and I are looking forward to collaborating with like-minded musicians to continue to bring American music from 1900-1950 into the schools; you never know what impact the music might have when a young person hears it live for the first time!

BH: Finally, to both of you, do you wish for a greater home life, recognizing that the bulk of your work is on the road?

AB: We’ve been discussing that for a while now. We really started to focus on it during most of 2020 and 2021, as we’ve been in Mystic, CT now, in our own home, since March 15, 2020, and have now officially spent more time here during these past 20 months than we have in the past nearly 10 years! We’ve grown to love our home and its quirks, as well as finally notice all the things that need being done to keep it standing!! We’ve really enjoyed the chance to make meals together in our own kitchen and not rely on the fattening food of the road. As a result of a healthier diet, we’ve both shed pounds and sleep better. But…

JB: …But there’s that yearning to get back on the road, back in front of live audiences. We’re in touch with our good friends Stephanie Trick and Paolo Alderighi, whom I remember you interviewed earlier this year, Bill. On top of their grueling travel schedule, they’re maintaining two homes thousands of miles apart on two continents! Anne and I have two buildings as well, but they are about 40 feet apart on the same property!

AB: Well, Steph and Paolo are much younger than we are, Pops.

JB: Good on ‘em for being able to go at such a pace. I think every musician (really performing artist of any kind) has ambivalent feelings about how much to go back to a pre-covid rhythm. There is something delightful about nesting in your own space. Most likely, we’ll emerge from this pandemic with some additional foci; for instance, our lecture series on Jekyll Island, GA (a program originated by our good friend Tex Wyndham and his wife Nancy) is booking into 2023 with two of our four 2022 already sold out. We’d also like to re-explore teaching, as it is a passion for both of us.

AB: We’re looking forward (into 2023 and beyond) while also taking everything one day at a time. We’ll just keep open minds and hearts about what the future will bring.

BH: Thank you both very much for such an enlightening interview. I’m sorry it couldn’t be in person, but that might’ve resulted in a piece that would fill the entire paper!

Read more about Ivory & Gold®, and follow the Barnharts’ itinerary at ivoryandgold.net. Visit Jeff Barnhart on the web at jeffbarnhart.com.

Bill Hoffman is a travel writer, an avid jazz fan and a supporter of musicians keeping traditional jazz alive in performance. He is the concert booker for the Tri-State Jazz Society in greater Philadelphia. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA. He is the author of Going Dutch: A Visitors Guide to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Unique and Unusual Places in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and The New York Bicycle Touring Guide. Bill lives in Lancaster, PA.

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