Guy Barker on Orchestrating Kind of Blue

Guy Barker is one of most inventive figures in jazz today. As trumpeter, composer and arranger, he has worked with an incredible roll-call of names, including Sinatra, Mel Tormé and Sting. But when the BBC approached him about orchestrating Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, he wasn’t sure it would work and nearly turned down the gig.

What gave him his way in was an experience he’d had with Gil Evans, longtime arranger for Davis. One night for an encore, Evans distributed the score for So What and Barker discovered that what he’d assumed to be an improvised introduction by pianist Bill Evans had actually been composed by Gil. ‘Suddenly that intro, played on 15 instruments, took on a whole other dimension. It became very noble-sounding and quite beautiful.’ Barker began to wonder what would happen if he orchestrated solos like Bill Evans’ on Flamenco Sketches and John Coltrane’s tenor sax on Blue in Green ‘and it seemed to work. I realised I could do it.’

It certainly worked. As London Jazz News wrote:

Guy Barker has unlocked this tight small-combo music and expanded it into a considerable treasure trove of playing and experimentation…Barker’s achievement here is considerable, remaining true to the sparse aesthetic of the original small group sessions while making valid use of the combined forces of a jazz orchestra and a classical chamber orchestra. What could have been cumbersome and overblown is fleet, ecstatic, enthralling. 

 Barker conducts the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in Kind of Blue – Orchestrated, 30 May, National Concert Hall.