In this edition: Simon Barker says he's often surprised that he's as much in demand as a drummer as he is. He's not sure what inspires musicians to ring him up and see if he's free for gigs. "But I feel honoured," he admits, "when a musician entrusts me with their vision." The musicians who make the calls all sing with the same voice. What Barker has, they say, is empathy and its associated ability to develop rapport, combined with drumming that has a relaxed yet controlled rhythmic quality that keeps him constantly in demand.
Simon Barker has been drumming seriously since he was about seventeen. Jazz appealed to him from when he first heard it and inspired him to practice. Before he heard jazz, he was probably most into heavy metal, but he was open to all sorts of styles, including, for example, Egberto Gismonti, the Brazilian guitarist. "Simply put," he says "I was into music." More than anything, he loved, and still loves, the texture, sound and rhythms of jazz.
Keen to explore the genre, Barker is very aware that Australia sits, geographically, in an Asian context and like many musicians of his age and sensibility, seeks to broaden his experience of music within that context.
Early inspirations were Keith Jarrett, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, particularly the album Rainbow Bridge. As a drummer, his early inspiration came from players in the USA, whom Simon calls the 'big jazz players' - Philly Joe Jones, Jon Christensen, Elvin Jones, Ed Blackwell. The album Old and New Dreams was a particular favourite. "I used to play it over and over again," he says. "In the beginning," he says "I didn't understand anything. Eddie Blackwell's sound fascinated me - I was open to anything."
Barker's approach is still permeated by the sense of openness that guided his exploration when he first started to take the drums seriously. He is, and always has been, open to learning, and open to being taken in whatever direction the music and his fellow musicians are going.
This is reflected in the projects that most attract him, creatively. He loves working with fellow Sydney-siders Phil Slater (trumpet) and Matt McMahon (keyboards) on projects such as The Band of Five Names ( www.bo5n.com
) - their improvising trio. The trio relies heavily on the close bonds these musicians have forged over more than ten years playing together. Says Barker of the experience of playing with Slater and McMahon "Their taste in music has informed mine, and I suppose there's probably been some influence in the other direction as well. We have a shared vocabulary and the way we play together is something I can't seem to experience with any other musicians. What we have is very special."
He also loves playing with Scott Tinkler and Paul Grabowsky - something he experience recently when touring with the two of them recently, promoting Grabowsky's exceptional new album Tales of Time and Space
. "Scott's not the wild man he used to be," says Barker, but hastens to add that that's not a negative or positive
comment about the music he used to play or the direction he's heading in at the moment. For Barker, what makes a musician interesting is more based around them being committed to their own artistic drive - something that's true for both Tinkler and Grabowsky. Barker's association with Tinkler has been going for years - he is the drums in the Scott Tinkler Trio recordings Dance of Delulian
, Shrike Like
and Sofa King
Not particularly interested in leading his own group at this point, Barker is switched on most by the idea of musical collaboration. When he does a gig with someone he hasn't played with before, or even with a familiar face who is working on a new project, he researches thoroughly. He prepares by listening to the music that they're into so that when they do play together, he has some idea of what they're trying to do. The spontaneity of the music and limited rehearsal time carry a risk that the musicians may not be able to do justice to the composer's or leader's vision - a risk that Barker tries to mitigate with preparation and empathy. "I hate it most when I do a gig and the composer or band leader feels like they haven't met the expectations they have of their music."