An impressive guitarist, Jeff Barone has developed a strong reputation with his recordings (Crazy Talk and Open Up), live performances, and record producing. His playing invigorates the modern mainstream of jazz, swinging hard while looking forward.
He was born in Syracuse, New York and remembers, “Early on I heard a Joe Pass recording, Virtuoso. I had a cousin who owned a music store and, when I was eight, my parents gave me a guitar for Christmas. That is how it all started.” Exposed to jazz by an uncle who was a bassist and a cousin who played jazz piano, he developed quickly. At 16, Jeff was working in local jazz clubs and being hired to play with touring shows that visited Syracuse. He also performed with the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra and worked with singer Al Martino under the direction of Tony Riposo. “By the time I was in high school, my life revolved around guitar and music, so it was a natural transition for me to become a professional musician.” Jeff considers his influences to not only be Joe Pass but jazz guitarists Pat Martino, Jim Hall, Jack Wilkins, George Benson and Johnny Smith, classical guitarists Julian Bream and Segovia, and pianists Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. He retains aspects of each of their styles along with his own musical personality to form a distinctive sound of his own.
At Ithaca College where he earned a Bachelors in Music Education, Jeff studied classical guitar with a minor in classical percussion. He focused on the guitar at the Manhattan School Of Music where he received a Masters degree in Jazz Performance. During that period he also worked in small clubs in the Village including with singer Evelyn Blakey (Art Blakey’s daughter), Hershel Dwellingham’s group (Weather Report and Stuff) and trumpeter Charles McGee (who had played with Archie Shepp and Rahsaan Roland Kirk). As his school days ended, he became part of the Harlem organ scene. Jeff worked with Jimmy “Preacher” Robins, Mel Davis, and a stint with Reuben Wilson. “It was a great experience playing with Reuben Wilson because he covered the full range of jazz. In Harlem clubs, we played straight-ahead jazz and standards. When we were outside of Harlem, we played more funk and acid jazz which was what he was known for. The guitar and the organ were made for each other. When the organist plays a left-handed bass, it leaves room for the guitar as opposed to the guitar and the piano where both instruments have to work hard not to step on each other’s toes.”
Guitarist Jack Wilkins has been an important force in Jeff Barone’s career. They have performed together in a variety of settings and Jack has recommended the younger guitarist for several important gigs including a concert with the Vanguard Orchestra, and an opportunity to sub with the Mingus Epitaph Orchestra under the direction of Gunther Schuller. “Jack was also instrumental in my record Crazy Talk happening in 2000. He gave me the push to finally make a recording.”
Crazy Talk, which was co-produced by the two guitarists (Wilkins makes two appearances) and released by the String Jazz label, features Jeff in a quartet with pianist Ron Oswanski, bassist Chris Berger and drummer Joe Strasser. Drummer Mike Clark (famed for being with Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters) guests on the title track. The mixture of standards and three of Jeff’s originals (“Resa’s Blues,” “To Care For” and “Crazy Talk”) is quite infectious with the leader excelling on both medium-tempo tunes and ballads. It is an impressive debut.
Jeff’s second CD as a leader, Open Up, was a major step forward. “I learned a lot from my first record, so the second one is better in its performances, arrangements, originals, and the overall production.” Jeff is joined on most of the selections by Ron Oswanski (who this time is heard on organ) and drummer Rudy Petschauer. There are also some welcome appearances by trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and altoist Mike Dubaniewicz. Two memorable selections (“Jenna’s Song” and “Quiet Now”) are duets with Jack Wilkins while Jeff takes “My Funny Valentine” as an unaccompanied solo. The CD, which is available from Jazzed Media, introduces four of Jeff’s originals and also includes fresh versions of such songs as “Falling In Love With Love,” “I Hear Music” and Denny Zeitlin’s “Quiet Now.” The music is modern jazz but also accessible, original and challenging but with a blues element and quite soulful.
Jeff Barone has worked with trumpeter Tom Harrell’s Quintet in addition to groups led by Warren Chiasson, Joe Magnarelli, Bobby Caldwell's Big Band and Eddie Montiero. He has worked at Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, and at jazz festivals including the JVC Jazz Festival. He has also been active as a record producer, working on such recordings as altoist Mike Dubaniewicz’s Drive Time(Jazzed Media), guitarist Jim Silberstein’s Express Lane(Consolidated Artists), and Jack Wilkins’ recording Until It’s Time released on the Max Jazz label.
For eight years Jeff was the guitarist/assistant conductor for the Big Apple Circus in NYC. In addition he has been very active as a session guitarist as well as working on Broadway shows such as CATS, Wicked, Seussical, James Joyce’s The Dead(featuring Christopher Walken and Blair Brown) and most recently Dear Evan Hansen. Jeff is also featured in Scott Yanow’s book entitled “The Great Jazz Guitarists: the Ultimate Guide (Hal Leonard Publishing 20
13).” As of Spring 2017 Jeff is an adjunct professor at SUNY LaGuardia Community College in NYC.
“I have been fortunate to be able to make my living playing guitar. For the future I want to keep progressing, recording and collaborating with other artists, always moving forward.” Based on his career thus far, there is no doubt that Jeff Barone will achieve his goals and continue a major contribution to jazz of the 21st century.