Bassist, composer and bandleader Leigh Barker was born and raised in the Australian capital of Canberra, where he spent his formative years studying with American bassist Eric Ajaye at the Canberra School of Music. A resident of Melbourne since 2003, the last twelve years have seen Leigh performing with the very best of both the traditional and contemporary jazz scenes both in Australia and around the world, as befits a bassist with such a powerful command of his instrument and the history of the music. Leigh's work certainly casts a wide net, being well known for his ability to fit in with and enhance just about any musical context. Equally at home playing sousaphone or string bass in a stomping hot jazz ensemble, holding the bottom end down with a classic big band, or stretching at the outer limits of rhythm and harmony with a smoking piano trio, Barker funnels all of the possible influences through his own ensembles and compositions, being very much of the belief that the various styles, idioms and genres that make up the jazz canon should never be sequestered or segregated.
Despite being in constant demand as a sideman, Leigh Barker has always had as a high priority his own working band to tour around the country and the world, playing a mix of established and unusual repertoire as well as new Australian music. Leigh Barker and his group, in recent years most often touring under the moniker 'The New Sheiks', are widely recognised as one of the most engaging and entertaining groups borne of the Australian jazz scene. Winners of the Australian Jazz Bell Award for 'Best Traditional Jazz Album' in 2011, their live shows and recordings offer a thoroughly fresh approach to all the elements drawn from the deep well of Jazz and Blues tradition. Featuring some of Australia's finest musicians, Leigh Barker's group serves up a dynamic mix of contemporary Jazz, 21st century blues and formidable swing, with a spontaneity and breadth of repertoire rarely matched by other groups.
Touring and Recordings
Since 2003 Leigh has been consistently touring his band around Australia performing at all the major festivals and concert halls, as well as jazz clubs, private concerts, fetes, dances, markets, school workshops and just about any other event imaginable. The group has always sought to find new ways to liaise with the community and always strives to have each performance be a socially inclusive experience. Leigh has independently released more than six full length albums through his own label, 'Barking Mad Music', including 'Off to Moruya' which was recorded for the ABC ‘Jazztrack’ program (2005), a self titled debut disc from 2004, a live album named “Lynnville” (2008), the award winning 'The New Sheiks' (2010), 'The Sales Tax' (2012), 'Australiana' (2013), and his finest release to date, 'Flow Like Wine' (2014). These albums are distributed around the world through cdbaby.com and the Apple iTunes store. There are also two albums of live material available exclusively on iTunes, both recorded by premium film company ‘Exero’ at the BMW Edge theatre in Melbourne. ('Live at the Edge' and 'Leigh Barker Live at the Edge') both released 2006).
Leigh Barker's most significant collaboration to date is the innovative 'Melbourne Rhythm Project' an ensemble comprising his six piece group plus a company of astounding dancers drawn from the traditions of tap, swing, lindy hop and contemporary dance. This group presents brand new compositions and choreography conceived through a wholly collaborative process, and is already a major drawcard at many music and arts festivals. See www.melbournerhythmproject.com
Some major career highlights as a sideman or as a co-leader include participating in the collaborative ensemble the 'Hot Jazz Alliance', which features Josh Duffee and Andy Schumm from the United States with Melbourne stars John Scurry, Jason Downes and Mike McQuaid. This group specialises in hot music of the 20s and 30s, and has completed several highly successful tours. Also:
In March 2010 Leigh and his band had the great privilege of being the supporting act for Branford Marsalis' Australian tour. Leigh's trio featuring Tom Vincent received full billing as support act opening concerts in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, and performed encores with Branford at the Sydney Opera House and Queensland Performing Arts Centre.
Performing with pianist Gordon Webster at the 'Frankie 100' Swing Dance celebration in New York in 2014, for about 3000 dancers from around the world. Frankie Manning is the originator and first celebrity of the Swing Dance community, who would have been 100 years old in 2014.
In 2006 Leigh first collaborated with celebrated Tasmanian pianist Tom Vincent on the soundtrack for the hit ABC television program ‘The Collectors’. Leigh now tours and records as a full time member of Vincent’s band, which is in demand around the world.
March 2008 saw Leigh performing in concerts with American Tenor Saxophonist Ned Goold, who is the musical director of the Harry Connick Jr. Big Band. Leigh also toured as the support act for Chris Botti in 2011, appearing with the Sarah McKenzie Trio.
In 2010 and 2011 Leigh was nominated for the prestigious ‘Music Council of Australia Freedman Music Fellowship’ and in 2011 his CD ‘The New Sheiks’ won an Australian Bell Award for ‘Best Traditional Jazz Album’.