Big Band Jump: Lawyer Turned Band Leader Brings Swinging Sounds to the Sandhills
The swinging big band sound of Chicago's Goodman Legacy Orchestra is now a dynamic part of the Sandhills music scene.
Eddie Barrett, a former corporate attorney who moved to Pinehurst two years ago, has formed a group of local musicians into a new Goodman Legacy Orchestra.
Using his own unique arrangements of Benny Goodman's most famous recordings, Barrett is carrying on the big band tradition of what became America's dance music in the 1930s and '40s.
The versions of Benny Goodman's best are not from the original charts, but they sound just like them.
A clarinetist, pianist and a composer, Barrett has recreated The King of Swing's most popular numbers, even his vocal hits.
Beginning with piano lessons when he was in the third grade, Barrett says he has always been interested in music.
"Some people call it a passion, I call it an obsession," he says.
When he was about 10 years old, his older brother took him to see a neighbor perform in a vaudeville theater.
"There he was up on a stage all by himself with a spotlight on him and playing a saxophone with mother-of-pearl keys," he says.
"I wanted to be like him, so I prevailed on my father to buy me a saxophone and get me lessons."
Later Barrett met and studied with Charles O'Neill, a clarinet teacher who taught classical musicians.
"He was an inspiration," he says. "If I didn't practice, it hurt him so much, it hurt me."
By the time he reached high school, Barrett had started his own big band. And he also led a group during his college days at Northwestern University.
When he went into the service during World War II, the Army Air Corps initially trained him to be a weatherman, but he was transferred to Special Services on Guam, and developed a big band there that played all over the Pacific Islands doing USO shows.
"When I got out of the service, I was thinking of continuing with a musical career, but it was the worst possible time," Barrett says. "The big bands were going out of style and breaking up, with the emphasis being on singers, like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. Since I had come from a family of lawyers, I went back to Northwestern and entered law school."
Throughout a successful career as an attorney, Barrett kept on with his music, forming The Eddie Barrett Orchestra for a law school reunion.
That one night stand turned into a second career, and the band continued over the years to play at country clubs, colleges and weddings, later becoming known as the Goodman Legacy Band.
During his law school days, Barrett had also begun to amass his own collection of arrangements of big band tunes, now numbering around 800.
He continues to derive pleasure and satisfaction from arranging.
"It is an important element of my passion and obsession," he says.
Describing working on an arrangement as a great mental exercise, Barrett has transcribed an arrangement off a recording many times. Working from a cassette, he sits at the piano and writes down the instrumentation. Then he completes the process by copying it onto each individual player's score.
When he writes an arrangement, not copying it from a recording, it can take him about six hours, longer to duplicate a recording.
"There is a special feeling that you get from being able to orchestrate and do arrangements," Barrett says. "It is a great thrill to write an arrangement, copy it onto the individual players' scores, put it in front of the musicians, and have it come out the way you want to hear it."
The orchestrations that Barrett produces are written for four trumpets, four trombones, five saxophones, and a rhythm section of drums, piano, bass and guitar.
Barrett believes that the guitar is the key to keep the rhythm section moving, as well as the whole band.
A golfer, Barrett was drawn to the Sandhills on the recommendation of friends.
He had gotten burned out on his law practice, and decided to pull up stakes and make a change.
To his surprise, he found some really good musicians in the area.
"Starting out with a promising gig for New Year's Eve, I recruited several players to join me, and from that point on, I put together the group that I have now," he says.
Barrett chose to call the new band by the old name in honor of The King of Swing.
"Benny Goodman was an original in every sense of the word," Barrett says.
"He was a creative genius, and it's almost impossible to calculate his effect on the world of music. Goodman was the first band leader to defy the color barrier, by hiring Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Only those of us who lived through those years of the '30s and '40s can appreciate his courage."
The Goodman Legacy Orchestra can be heard at Mint Juleps in Southern Pines the first Sunday of each month. The band is drawing sizeable crowds to the Mint Juleps ballroom, lit by a classic revolving light ball.
According to Barrett, some of the local dance clubs have become "regulars."
"They love to practice their different steps, so we play selections ranging from swing to waltzes to Latin rhythms," he says.
Other dates for the Goodman Legacy Orchestra have been at the Fair Barn in Pinehurst, and at Scotia Village in Laurinburg.
And on Feb. 15, the band played for a special Valentine's Day dance at Roland's Dance Studio in Fayetteville.
"People just got to get up and dance," says Barrett.
"You've got an ebullient beat, and lying on top of that is great, sophisticated music."
Contact freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at email@example.com.
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