Thursday, March 06, 2008

Barney Wilen: “52nd Street Theme” (1959)

Barney Wilen (1937-1996) was a French tenor and soprano saxophonist and jazz composer. In this clip Wilen is featured with Bud Powell, Kenny Clarke and Pierre Michelot in a session playing “52nd Street Theme” in Club St Germain in Paris in 1959.

Barney Wilen's mother was French and his father a successful American dentist-turned-inventor. He grew up mostly on the French Riviera; the family left during World War II but returned upon its conclusion.

As a teenager he started a youth jazz club in Nice, where he played often. He moved to Paris in the mid-'50s and worked with such American musicians as Bud Powell, Benny Golson, Miles Davis, and J.J. Johnson at the Club St. Germain. His emerging reputation received a boost in 1957 when he played with Davis on the soundtrack to the Louis Malle film Lift to the Scaffold. Two years later, he performed with Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk on the soundtrack to Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

He composed music for French films and became interested in rock in the 1960’s but later returned to performing jazz. He died in Paris in 1996 at the age of 59.

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