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Tuba Player Bill Barber Dies at 87

Bill Barber, a tuba player credited with elevating the instrument’s role within jazz, died June 18 of congestive heart failure at his Bronxville, New York home. He was 87.

While the tuba was a standard component of early 20th century jazz, its position as a prominent supplier of the lower end had diminished with the proliferation of the standup bass.

By the mid-1940s, though, Barber became determined to adapt the tuba to the big-band sound and, later in that decade, the new, progressive jazz of the post-World War II era. Barber worked with such pioneers as Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans, rewriting the instrument’s possibilities within modern jazz. He appeared on Davis’ albums Birth of the Cool (pictured), Blue Miles, Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess and Sketches of Spain. He also played with John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan and others.

By the 1960s, Barber had become a high school music teacher on Long Island, but as late as 1992 he still performed occasionally, taking part in Mulligan’s 1992 “Rebirth of the Cool” concert at Carnegie Hall.

Originally Published