Getting to Grips With Mozart and All That Jazz
‘JAZZ noir" or "Mozart in the style ofMickey Spillane" are some of the evocative phrases that describe the work of Guy Barker.
His The Amadeus Project is a jazz interpretation of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, with the action rewritten by crime writer Robert Ryan and narrated by Michael Brandon.
He brings the unique show to the Philharmonic Hall on September 25.
"This project has a long history that goes back about 10 years," he says.
"I never really listened to Mozart before I had this opportunity.
"I had a quartet and I was approached and asked if I’d like to play a festival in San Francisco called Mostly Mozart, and because I only do jazz, I kissed the idea goodbye.
"But then I got a call from another friend, out of the blue, who said he’d got a good idea – he said Mozart’s operas were full of really dodgy characters, very colourful, funny and down to earth, great stories, and I should write something about them.
"I started listening to the operas, listening to the stories and composing."
After making it to the Mostly Mozart festival after all, the project started to expand and in 2006 Guy was called back to get involved in festivities to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
He began to look at the story of the Magic Flute ("completely nuts," he laughs), and called his friend Liverpool-born writer Robert Ryan for a hand.
"I sent him a copy and asked if he could do anything with it. He sent me back a 3,000-word story as if it had been written by Mickey Spillane.
"The characters are all there – Prince Termino becomes a trumpeter called Bobby Termino, the Three Ladies become the three hookers and so on.
"The serpent is a drug dealer called The Viper.
"Some bits sound 1940s, others sound like James Brown, bits that are almost gospel and some latin sections – all sorts of stuff, because it is telling a story."
There was one voice in particular Guy could hear narrating the tale.
Yet another coincidence was to come into play, when chance meeting with a contact who turned out to be the actor’s dentist finally got them in touch. "I had always thought about Michael Brandon for the project since I saw him in Jerry Springer the Opera," Guy says.
By coincidence, he reveals his late father, a stuntman, had worked on the actor’s TV show Dempsey and Makepeace in the 1980s.
And in another strange link to the city, Michael Brandon, who will be appearing on stage for the Liverpool show, used to present a show on City Talk radio.
"I went through a stage when I was fascinated with film noir.
"I’ve always tried to like and be inspired by other things," Guy said.
"When I got the story of the Magic Flute I didn’t know how to start it – and there’s nothing more terrifying for a composer than staring at a blank page.
"But once I got those characters and the set of words from Robert, the ideas started."
There’s now talk about turning the Amadeus Project into a theatrical production or film, but first thing’s first and that is Guy’s return to the Phil with his 14-piece band – slightly smaller than your average big band.
Both his parents were from Liverpool. His mother, the actress Barbara Ashcroft, was born in Huyton. She appeared in the very first episodes of Coronation Street and had parts in Brookside and Emmerdale.
For Guy, The Amadeus Project is a milestone in an incredible career.
As a trumpeter – "probably the greatest trumpet virtuoso that British Jazz has ever produced", according to one critic – he has played with the biggest names in 20th Century popular music, both touring and in the studio, including Frank Sinatra ("absolutely amazing"), Liza Minnelli, Sting, Ornette Colman, Quincy Jones, and
John Dank worth and Cleo Laine.
He explains: "I started working professionally in the 1980s, and there was lots of studio work for musicians.
"A lot of the time you would get called in and wouldn’t know who you were playing for – you would just arrive and it could be Paul McCartney or George Benson.
"Sometimes you were called for because you were known from other times, others it would be one of those things where another guy couldn’t do it."
He recalls a time when he and a friend were called in to play a part on a record for a rookie band who were so new, they weren’t sure what they were going to call themselves.
"I remember when we left we went outside and fell about laughing, thinking ‘you can’t call a band Wham, that sounds ridiculous…’"
As a composer and band leader, perhaps his most well-known work is the soundtrack to the 1999 film The Talented Mr Ripley, which starred Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow (the band appear on stage in the jazz club scene).
His work so impressed director Anthony Minghella that he requested the band play at every premiere of the film.
For the last four years Guy has also been the musical director of the BBC Jazz Awards, but for now says he is enjoying having time to dedicate to composing.
"I’m enjoying spending time at home writing.
"Maybe I’ll do something bigger next time," he laughs.
THE Amadeus Project comes to the Philharmonic Hall on September 25.
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