Oneliness The Life and Music of Brian Barley
L’Atelier de musique expérimentale
(tour de bras)
The late 1960s/early 1970s were a tumultuous time for various musical genres with new forms arising, often aligned with social and political foment. These recent works focus intensely on that period in Canada through the related lenses of jazz and improvised music. Mark Miller’s Oneliness: The Life and Music of Brian Barley is a biography of the forward-looking, Toronto-born jazz saxophonist, while L’Atelier de musique expérimentale, assembled by musician-producer Éric Normand, focuses on a performance space for Montreal’s experimental musicians. The works share a vital connection in artist/writer Raymond Gervais, Barley’s Montreal roommate and a founder of L’Atelier de musique expérimentale.
Miller is the essential chronicler of Canadian jazz, the focus of eight of his 13 books, including recent biographies of Claude Ranger and Sonny Greenwich. While those musicians made extended contributions, Brian Barley, who died in 1971 at age 28, was a tragic figure of immense promise. Oneliness (the term comes from the mystic G.I. Gurdjieff, an interest of some in Barley’s circle), is alive with the detail that distinguishes Miller’s writing. It’s an evocative tracing of Barley’s Toronto, from his Etobicoke childhood to Royal Conservatory and University of Toronto training to long-lost jazz venues like the First Floor Club, and his time spent in Vancouver and Montreal before his death in a Spadina Avenue rooming house. Barley, a gifted classical clarinet student, singled out for early praise, was increasingly preoccupied with the expressive possibilities of jazz. From membership in the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Barley advanced to work with the Cleveland and Vancouver orchestras.