Why Musicians Love New Orleans: Robin Barnes

Jazz musician Robin Barnes was born and raised in New Orleans. She loves the city and, though she tours and travels frequently across the country, she always comes back to the Crescent City. We caught up with Barnes during a recent gig at the Hotel Monteleone.

It you want to listen to Robin Barnes and get her upcoming show schedule, click here: http://robinbarnesmusic.com/#tourdates

Jazz Is Always Evolving

Barnes’ album “Songbird Sessions” made multiple Billboard charts: Current Traditional Jazz Albums (No. 5), Top Current Jazz Albums (No. 8), and Album Core Genre Jazz (No. 12).

“I am taking my traditions and my heritage, and I am still Robin, so I am going to melt them together,” Barnes says.

When critics try to categorize her music, Barnes says, she usually just laughs: “No one was telling Allen Toussaint he was playing something other than what he was just playing. Nobody would say he played gospel, jazz or soul – no, they would just say Allen Toussaint played an amazing show.”

The same could be said for Louis Armstrong, Barnes suggests, when he decided to play his style of New Orleans music his jazz, it was nothing like traditional European jazz.

Barnes believes that jazz is always evolving. It is not only a cultivation of heritage but “also telling a story of now,” she tells us.

Barnes’ own career is a case of evolution, as an entertainer and as an artist.  She rebelled at first against the image of the “little jazz bird”. “I did not just want to do jazz,” she says. “I am more than jazz, so my first album was something so far left.” With her next album “Songbird Sessions”, one could say, she returned to her roots. “I was like, wait, hold on, jazz is my entire heritage. I want to remind people that is who I am, as a jazz artist.”

And the journey is not over: “Now I can tell you I feel very excited that I am starting to work on my full-length album, and the full-length album is going to be Robin – but it’s Robin, lessons learned.” Her next round of music will pay homage to New Orleans and the evolution of Robin Barnes. And Barnes is working on a new European tour.

“I am excited for the next chapter,” she says, “I am excited to keep growing.  Music is always going to be growing, it is always going to be changing, it’s always going to be more.”

What Makes New Orleans Special

Robin Barnes Barnes comes from a musical family. “My entire family were musicians,” she says. “My dad was a bass player. And I am one of seven and pretty much all my siblings are into music someway, somehow. And we all started in church. So, between church and the jazz band with my family, I had to be in music.”

Barnes and her six siblings grew up in the Lower Ninth Ward. “Sometimes when people think of the Lower Ninth Ward, they have a misconception of what the area is or was,” she notes. “And when I grew up there, it was a community.”

She recalls farms and chickens in the neighborhood, which she calls very traditionally New Orleans: “Every Sunday gumbo, every Monday red beans.”

Barnes did not want to leave New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “I decided to stay here with my family,” she says. “I was 17 at the time, so I’d just started my first semester in college. And I could have gone to NYU, but I chose to stay home because I wanted to be with my family, especially after that kind of loss.”

She tours frequently but finds herself eager to return home.  “There really is no place like New Orleans,” she tells us. “We have our own culture, our own warmth, our own hospitality…Giving hugs to people you meet or saying ‘Hello’ to everyone you pass by is something people from New Orleans take for granted. But it’s rather uncommon in other parts of the country.”

One huge draw for musicians to come to New Orleans is affordability. “We are one of the last cities you can do music full-time, have a pretty comfortable lifestyle and still enjoy life and afford it,” Barnes says. “That’s the big thing, affording and still being a musician – I am learning [that] from my friends in New York.”

She says you can be a full-time musician in New Orleans without having to pick up other jobs to pay the bills. “I can eat out whenever I want – that is definitely a benefit,” she boasts. “But you know, when I talk to my friends [elsewhere], they have three or four jobs. I could not imagine – music is so encompassing and overwhelming as it is and taxing on your body. I could not imagine living anywhere where I have to do three jobs and try to maintain smiling on stage.”

There is something else about New Orleans that keeps Barnes here. She calls it the “spirit” of the city.  “It’s like this readiness of people being taken to another place, it’s not just I am watching the show, it’s more like I am being brought to another place,” she explains.

Check out a full-length audio interview with Robin Barnes, recorded by independent producer Tom Wright, by clicking on the YouTube Listener link above or visiting  http://themetairiebureau.com.