playboy and bandleader
Charlie Barnet is one of the more colorful figures in jazz history.
Nicknamed ''Mad Mab,'' he was married more times than you can count on
both hands. He was also a champion of racial equality, hiring many
black singers and musicians at a time when other bands were segregated.
His use of African-American performers kept his orchestra out of
several hotels and ballrooms and was also probably the reason why he
was never picked for any big commercial radio series. His music and
arrangements were admittedly influenced by Duke Ellington. So dedicated
to the Duke was he that when he built a fallout shelter after the war
he stocked it with a collection of Ellington recordings.
Barnet was born into New York high society in 1913. He rebelled against his parent's wishes that he study law and became a jazz musician instead, playing in his first outfit at age 16. He formed his first important band in 1933 and cut several sides in 1934 with an all-star group led by Red Norvo. In 1936, while playing with his own orchestra at the Glen Island Casino, he introduced vocal group the Modernaires, who later went on to fame with Glenn Miller.
Barnet's orchestra achieved public recognition in 1939 with their classic recording of ''Cherokee,'' and soon his was one of the most popular bands in the country. Vocalists included Harry Von Zell, Mary Ann McCall, Francis Wayne, Fran Warren, Dave Lambert and Buddy Stewart. In 1941 he featured Lena Horne as a vocalist, cutting four sides with her. Also featured in Barnet's group over the years were Oscar Pettiford, Neil Hefti, Barney Kessel, Buddy DeFranco and Dodo Marmarosa.
By 1947 Barnet was turning towards bop. His later orchestra featured such well-known artists as Doc Severinsen, Clark Terry and Maynard Ferguson. Barnet, however, lost interest in his big band and dissolved it in 1949. He settled on the West Coast, occasionally leading a sextet or septet. Financially set, he never worried about making a living, dabbling in music publishing and the restaurant business in his retirement. In the mid-1960s he headed a big band organized specially for a two-week stint in New York's Basin Street East. He made his last recording in 1966. Charlie Barnet died in 1991.