Joe Barna's Sketches Of Influence (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photographs by Albert Brooks and Rudy Lu
Of the new breed of young lions that dominate the Capital Region’s jazz scene in recent years, drummer-composer Joe Barna is arguably the most charismatic.
Like his accomplished regional peers and fellow bandleaders – Keith Pray, Brian Patneaude and Lee Russo, for example – Barna lives, breaths and embraces jazz and the jazz life whole-heartedly. Sure, he’s had his ups and downs career wise, but so far he’s been a survivor. But most importantly, he is still striving for excellence and wanting something more with the live presentations of his groups and ensembles under the banner of Sketches of Influence.
Barna’s detractors point out his strong willed personality or his eccentric behavior as negatives, comparing him to a bull in a china shop. But what drummer-bandleader isn’t? Look at Art Blakey, Gene Krupa or Billy Cobham’s history, just to name a few, and you’ll see similar traits.
What’s important is that Barna’s fans come out to his concerts en mass knowing full well that what they’ll hear and witness will be unique and true to the jazz idiom. And, though delivered in a hard-bop style by Barna and his bandmates, it will be fresh, new and original.
With the exception of an open mic or a jam session, Barna doesn’t play every gig available every weekend like many others do. He waits for a showcase date and then often invites heavy hitters like nationally recognized trumpeter Joe Magnarelli or saxophonist Ralph LaLama to join his group for a regional outing.
These kind of musicians cost money, but Barna digs deep into his shallow financial pockets to make sure he’s got the best in tow for whatever Sketches of Influence situation is at hand. Never one to compromise his musical and compositional vision, Barna often walks away from the gig owing money rather than making it. As a bandleader he knows he has to pay for the talent, and his bandmates get paid before he pays himself. That is if any money is left over after expenses.