Carl Barriteau

Brought to England by Ken Johnson to play in The West Indian Orchestra, Carl Barriteau became a star soloist and bandleader in his own right.

Carl Aldric Stanley Barriteau was born in Trinidad, West Indies on February 7 1914. A normal childhood was denied him before he reached his teenage years when, at the age of 12, he was placed in the Belmont Orphanage after his father died. But it was this change that was to mould his later life, because it was here that he learned to play the tenor horn and the e-flat clarinet. Although adept at both instruments, it was the clarinet that was to bring him success in his career. While many followed the style of Benny Goodman, the young Barriteau was more heavily influenced by Artie Shaw, and Shaw-like phrases and stylings can be heard in his playing.

Carl Barriteau: A Man And His Music Carl Barriteau, bandleader and soloist.

When he was 18, Carl joined the Trinidad Police Band to continue his interest in music. He was still in Trinidad when, in 1937, Ken Johnson invited him to come to England to join a new band. For the next four years, Barriteau worked with Johnson in The West Indian Orchestra. It is his clarinet that can be heard on the swinging version of Tuxedo Junction, and he was also responsible for the arrangement of Exactly Like You.

Carl Barriteau was playing with Ken Johnson and The West Indian Orchestra at the Café de Paris on the night of 8 March 1941. The club was hit by a bomb, which killed over 30 people, including Johnson and fellow musician David Williams. Barriteau himself was seriously injured, but eventually recovered sufficiently to resume his musical career.

For a year, he decided to work with other bandleaders. These included Geraldo, Joe Loss, Ambrose, Lew Stone, Percival Mackay, Phil Green and Jack Payne. At this time too, he was a regular player at the Sunday jam sessions that were held at The Feldman Club in London. The club itself is no longer there, but you can still hear jazz played at the same address – 100 Oxford Street. At the end of 1942, he formed his own 16-piece orchestra, went on tour and recorded for Decca Records. In 1949, he spent two years at The Eldorado Ballroom in Leith, Edinburgh. He then gave up bandleading to join The Cyril Stapleton Orchestra as a soloist in 1951.

But he didn’t stay away from being a frontman for long. Another band was formed, this time a 10-piece, and was quite successful, coming fourth in both the Melody Maker and New Musical Express Swing Polls of 1954. Pete King, owner of Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in Frith Street, London, was a member of his band. As a soloist, Barriteau won the Melody Maker Clarinet Poll seven years in a row. His ability was held in such regard that he worked with contemporary acts of the 50’s, such as The Platters.

Later on the 1950’s, Carl and his wife, band vocalist Mae Cooper, went to live in Germany, where he continued to play and tour around Europe. Eventually he emigrated to Australia, playing clubs and sea cruises. He died there on 24 August 1998.


The most comprehensive collection of Barriteau recordings has been made available by Empress Records, on Carl Barriteau: The Man And His Music (RAJCD 896). It contains 23 tracks and covers his career as a bandleader and soloist with other orchestras. And there are some real swingers in there, too.

The CD opens with a rather curious tune called The Hut-Sut Song, which has the opening line of “There was a little town in Sweden…” That is immediately followed by the fabulously upbeat Tuxedo Junction, which he performs with Ken Johnson’s West India Orchestra. Other highlights from his solo work with other orchestras include a breezy version of Watch The Birdie, on which Barriteau himself also sings.

But is as a bandleader that he really cuts loose and shows us what he could do. Minor Mood and Am I Blue illustrate his ability to swing like the best US bands in the way that The West Indian Orchestra achieved. Although not a prolific writer, the CD contains the self-penned A Sultan Went To Harlem, which deserves some serious dancefloor airplay. The collection ends with his version of Concerto for Clarinet, for which he obtained special permission from Artie Shaw. And thank goodness Shaw granted it, because otherwise we would have not heard this wonderful version of the song, with Barriteau’s clarinet swooping all over the boogie woogie backing. Yes, that’s boogie woogie. Clearly this is not your normal concerto!

Much has been made of Ken Johnson and his contribution to British swing. Not many followed, but one who deserves as much consideration is Carl Barriteau.

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