Bert Barr, who founded The Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band in 1971, passed away of cancer on April 17th, he was 74. Inspired by Turk Murphy, who he would watch as a teenager at Earthquake McGoon’s, his band plays West Coast Revival Style Jazz of the highest order. It is sometimes referred to as “Seattle Style” or even “Barr Modified West Coast Revival.”
Bert played in high school bands and along with Jerry McKenzie and Tom Jacobus, got his first paying job in a group called “the Jazz Beaus,” playing three nights a week at Red’s Pizza Parlor in Vallejo, California. He attended the University of Oregon where he majored in music and played in the band. He also found time to play in the Emerald City Jazz Band in Eugene that included Jacobus and Jan and Phil Stiers. During service in Vietnam, he led a Dixieland band known as the Hot Rats that played around the base in Saigon.
He returned home to Seattle in 1971 and worked selling pianos during the first years of Uptown Lowdown. Bert knew what he wanted and set high standards for the band. Over the years he recruited musicians who could read and improvise, hear harmonies, had discipline and were team players. Each member was expected to carry his own weight, the sum total resulting in rich harmony, rhythm and counterpoint and making for a cohesive unit.
Uptown Lowdown has over 500 tunes in its book, and Barr has a 2,800-tune library at home of music from early ragtime up to about 1960. The band has recorded 34 or more albums and during the peak festival years of the early 1990s annually performed at as many as 28 festivals.
In 1977 he recruited his future wife, Rose Marie Sparks to play piano for the band. In recent years, in addition to several assortments of Uptown Lowdown to fit various venues, Rose Marie and Bert have performed as a duet as The Double Barrs at nursing homes and other locations.