New York Stories with Micah Barnes
I’m usually somewhat loathe to venture in to the Queen West neighbourhood; hipsters, over-priced boutiques and horrible parking are among my least favourite things on earth. After a drive of slightly less than 90 minutes, through crush hour traffic from western suburbia (land of plentiful and expansive parking lots), I entered Dark Horse Espresso Bar to meet the charming, witty, cosmopolitan and sartorial eldest son of a small Canadian dynasty of words and music: Micah Barnes. This man made the drive, struggle for parking and two block hike in four inch heels (each way) entirely worthwhile.
I was early and had to wait for my coffee mate to arrive. When a lean and handsome gentleman of 6’3” approached the door, I instantly knew it was him. I hold a special place in my heart for any man, gay or straight, who can successfully pair a window-pane check shirt with a plaid jacket, and tie it all together with a vibrantly coloured sweater. This was my man! I called his publicist a little later with one statement to voice mail, “I LOVE him!”
Sitting in a quiet back corner of the coffee house, in comfy-cushy chairs, we began a warm and wonderfully relaxed chat. I gave Micah two options for our conversation: we could do a dry and ordinary interview; or, we could have a relaxed chat from which I would glean impressions that would form the basis of my article. Happily, he chose the latter.
During the course of our visit, Micah expanded on some basic personal history points I had already researched. Yes, he is the eldest son of the late Milton Barnes, noted Canadian composer, conductor and jazz drummer. What he added to that simple observation was that, beyond the potential glamour of an early European life, he was born while his parents were both still students, studying in Vienna, then moving on to visit Siena, Italy and Lenox, Massachusetts, before settling in Toronto. Further, while he grew up with a father who made music, what is slightly less known is that his mother worked with words – she recently published her fifth book, and she spent a majority his youth writing for one of English Canada’s most beloved children’s T.V. shows, Mr. Dressup! He feels it’s only natural that having been raised by these parents, he should naturally combine words and music as a singer-songwriter.
We further discussed a turbulent time in his life following the death of his partner in 1990, when he first became a member of famed Canadian pop group The Nylons, then moved to L.A. where he pursued the rock-and-roll lifestyle as an outlet for years of accumulated angst and anger. This period included collaboration on a number one Billboard and international club hit, “Welcome to my head” with house duo Thunderpuss. I had to ask how, with a family history of jazz, including one brother, Daniel Barnes, a well-known jazz drummer, another, Ariel Barnes, a well know cellist, and his time with The Nylons, he felt the two worlds, jazz and house/dance music combined within him. Micah explained that, as a Gemini, there had been another aspect of himself which he felt he needed to explore and express, and having done that to a degree of success, he now felt comfortable and prepared to return to his roots. He is matured and relaxed as a full-grown version of himself, able to more deeply and completely compose, orchestrate, interpret and express the music which is at the heart of his being – jazz.
I was somewhat crushed on finding we had run the extent of available time for our chat; they were stacking the stools on the tables (something I thought only happened in bars, at 2:30 a.m.). I look forward to our next meeting: Sunday, May 3 at 7:00 p.m. for the release of Micah’s new CD, “New York Stories” at Glenn Gould Studio, 250 Front St. W., Toronto, with special guest vocalist, Jackie Richardson (tickets available).
I have a copy of the new CD, though I will not yet allow myself to listen to it. To date, I have heard two tracks already released, “New York Story” and “Harlem Moon” – I am quite enamoured of “Harlem Moon”. I want my impressions of the remaining tracks to be entirely fresh when I hear them at the CD release event and subsequently write a review for you to read here, in theBUZZ.