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First published in 1986 and edited by Alyn Shipton, a music historian and jazz program host on BBC Radio, A Life in Jazz represents decades of work Barker undertook to write the intertwined stories of his life and music. His carefully crafted set pieces range from hilarious to harrowing, and his writing style is much like his music—wry and swinging.
The new edition is accompanied by more than 100 images that bring his story to life, as well as Barker’s complete discography, a never-before-published song catalog, and an introduction reflecting on his legacy by music journalist Gwen Thompkins, former NPR reporter and now host of public radio’s Music Inside Out. Through his struggles, triumphs, escapades, and musings, Barker’s autobiography reflects the freedom, complexity, and beauty of this thoroughly American, black music tradition.
A Life in Jazz is the third volume in THNOC’s Louisiana Musicians Biography Series, following Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man (2010) by Harold Battiste Jr. with Karen Celestan and Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans (2012) by Ben Sandmel.
About the Author
Storyteller, researcher, songwriter, performer and mentor, Barker was a true griot—an elder statesman of New Orleans music and an international representative of jazz and African American culture. In more than 60 years as a working musician, he appeared on more than a thousand recordings and penned dozens of original songs, including the blues song “Don’t You Make Me Feel High [Don’t You Feel My Leg],” his biggest hit and sung by his wife, Blue Lu Barker. He was also the first to record classic Mardi Gras Indian songs and chants, writing his own adaptations of “My Indian Red,” “Corinne Died on the Battlefield,” and “Chocko Mo Feendo Hey.”
An award-winning author and broadcaster, who has written on jazz for over twenty years for The Times in London, and is a presenter/producer of jazz programmes for BBC Radio. He was Consultant Editor of the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, and has a lifelong interest in oral history, including editing the memoirs of Danny Barker, Doc Cheatham and George Shearing. His first biography of Fats Waller, published in 1988, has scarcely been out of print since.
A veteran correspondent and editor for National Public Radio. She was NPR’s East Africa Bureau Chief — based in Nairobi, Kenya — and senior editor of NPR’s Weekend Edition with Scott Simon. Thompkins was born and raised in New Orleans and worked early on as a reporter and editor at the Times-Picayune newspaper. She spent the 2010-2011 academic year as a fellow at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. >br> Throughout her career, Thompkins consistently has shaped stories to music and vice versa. She reported a critically acclaimed, music-rich NPR series on New Orleans in the weeks following Hurricane Katrina. She’s also reported on secret wedding night dances in Sudan, musical testimonials to crimes against humanity in Northern Uganda, and East Africa’s fascination with Dolly Parton. Thompkins remains a contributing writer for NPR and files musical stories and essays from New Orleans. Personally, she’s never quite evolved from making mix tapes, playlists, and connections with a wide variety of artists. Her interviews teem with humor, curiosity, and creativity.