Barney Bigard Chose The Clarinet

Regular visitors to the GMC might remember that I once played the clarinet myself, and that probably contributes to my fondness for spotlighting clarinetists from the past. (The real thing, not hapless amateurs like me.) One of the best was Barney Bigard, whose career began in the 1920s and stretched for a half-century — even though he didn’t begin it as a clarinetist.

Bigard was yet another musically-inclined New Orleans native, a member of a prominent Creole family who studied music with Lorenzo Tio Jr., the legendary clarinetist who barneybalso taught Sidney Bechet. But by the time he reached adulthood and began appearing professionally, Bigard was mostly playing tenor sax, and he was very good — good enough to move to Chicago in the 1920s and play alongside some of the best of the early jazz era, including Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton. But within a few years Bigard had landed a job that would be a turning point in his career — playing in Duke Ellington’s band.

For a fifteen year period that ended in 1942 when he tired of the rat race involved with a touring band, Bigard built his reputation with Ellington’s renowned orchestra. Laying aside his sax and mostly playing clarinet, he became a featured part of the band, not only as a soloist but also as a composer and arranger on some of the group’s biggest hits, including “Mood Indigo.”

After leaving Ellington, Bigard found plenty of work with other groups, but in the post-war years he found himself on the road again, this time touring the world with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, an outfit that would find a lot of success for a number of years. Bigard was on board for a lot of that time, although he did take a couple of breaks from the grind to work with others, but by the 1960s he was slowing down. In his later years he remained active, sometimes leading small groups or just working alongside other pros, but was closer to semi-retired. He was 74 when he died in 1980.

Barney Bigard – “Farewell Blues”barn

3 thoughts on “Barney Bigard Chose The Clarinet

  1. Albany Leon Bigard was an great Clarinet jazz artist. Barney Bigard was my Great Great Great Uncle. But I never was able to get an chance to meet him. Because I was born 5 years after my Uncle passed away. Just by listening to his niece which she is still living my Great Great Grandma tell me about her uncle Barney Bigard. What an awesome sound. What a joy to watch and listen to my Uncle on videos and movies. What an awesome talent my uncle had to play his clarinet. Your family Loves you Unk. ❤ R.I.P. In Heaven. My Great Great Great Uncle. Albany Leon Bigard aka Barney Bigard.


  2. Barney Bigard was a wonderful clarinet player. He had a unique style that no one ever copied. His recordings with Duke Ellngton stand out.


NOTE: Comments are welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s