Lucien Barbarin, a hardworking trombonist and native son of New Orleans succumbed to prostate cancer on Thursday, he was 63. He was diagnosed last March and a fundraising tribute concert was held at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe in November.
A great-nephew of Paul Barbarin (who played drums during the 1920s in the bands of Joe “King” Oliver, Luis Russell, Louis Armstrong, and Red Allen) and second cousin to banjoman Danny Barker, Lucien Barbarin hailed from jazz royalty. Members of his family marched in the street parades and performed in the social halls and honky-tonks during the early twentieth century. Paul Barbarin’s father, Isidore Barbarin, played alto horn in the Tuxedo Brass Band which once featured a young cornetist named Louis Armstrong.
Born on July 17, 1956 and raised in the projects at Claiborne and Orleans streets, Lucien first performed at age 6 with Paul Barbarin in the Onward Brass Band. Paul Barbarin died Feb. 17, 1966, while drumming in a Mardi Gras parade.
In 1971, Lucien joined Danny Barker as a founding member of the Fairview Baptist Christian Church Band. Besides Lucien, Fairview Church boasted the blossoming talents of Leroy Jones, Dr. Michael White, and Herlin Riley.
Like most working musicians in New Orleans, Lucien honed his craft at Bourbon Street nightspots such as the Maison Bourbon, the Court of Two Sisters and Crazy Shirley’s. While he made money playing for tourists in the French Quarter, Barbarin remained active with local brass bands, jazz festivals, and street parades.
His first recording, Hurricane Jazz Band, was released in 1976, the year he turned 20. Meanwhile, Lucien worked for more than a decade at the Famous Door and the La Strada Club. Barbarin expanded his horizons in the 1980s by touring Europe with Wallace Davenport, Lars Edegran and The Young Tuxedo Brass Band.
Trombone Tradition, waxed with The Henri Chaix Trio, was his first album as a leader, was released in 1988. That year he also began visiting New Orleans public schools as “Dr. Jazz,” colorfully recounting the history of jazz. In 1990, he joined Harry Connick Jr.’s band. On stage, the trombonist’s uninhibited improvising complemented by his golden tone always produced memorable solos, but his showmanship nearly superseded his musicianship. He often joined Connick for some high-stepping, second-line strutting to Professor Longhair’s “Mardi Gras in New Orleans”.
When not touring with the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band, Barbarin could be heard in New Orleans on Friday and Sunday nights with his own band at the Palm Court Jazz Café, on Monday nights with the Original Jazz Tuxedo Band at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and some Thursday nights with the Preservation Hall All-Stars at Preservation Hall.
Released in 2000, Lucien Barbarin and the Palm Court Swingsters was his second album as a leader. In 2008, he issued his third disc, It’s Good to be Home.
Since early 2018 it has been known he was battling cancer. In November a fundraising tribute concert was held at The Palm Court Cafe.
Although his Slidell, La. home was severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Barbarin still considers himself lucky. “I’m not running from New Orleans,” he said at the time. “I’m going to stay because I was born and raised here and I’m going to pass away here.”