Capital Region Timekeepers with Joe Barna -By: OP Callaghan

Written by on June 7, 2022

Hello Capital Land, and welcome to the second installment of “Capital Region Timekeepers”.  As a drummer from the area, it’s my pleasure to spotlight some of the exceptional drummers in the area.  This week, we’re shifting gears and will talk about jazz. Although the Capital Region has always had a vibrant jazz scene, I feel that I personally have not spent nearly enough time enjoying what the area offers.  But after interviewing Joe Barna, I will make up for some lost time in the jazz world.

Joe Barna is Jazz.

Originally from Troy NY, Joe Barna is a drummer, composer, and bandleader whose passion has taken him around the world.  After completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Jazz Studies from SUNY Purchase, Barna has been on the move ever since.  He has performed all over the US, as well as Canada, Dubai, New Zealand, Mexico, Italy, France, and Spain.  Barna has recorded over 10 Albums, including six as a bandleader,   His most recent effort entitled “The Grind And The Purpose” has been hailed by critics as a “must have”  recording for fans of modern hard bop, and he just won an Eddie Award for Jazz Artist of The Year.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, Joe Barna.

RRX:  Welcome Joe, thanks for being here with us.  Let’s lighten things up a bit.  Do you know any good drummer jokes?

JB:  What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend? Homeless.

RRX:  True story. How did you get started with the drums?

JB:  I started playing in February of 1990 while suspended from school.  I was hanging with my two closest friends at the time, (who were also suspended) at one of their houses, while their parents were at work.  We were playing Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo gaming system, when one friend said to the other; “let’s go up to your room and play your drums.”  Now, until that point, I had never really seen a drum set in person outside of a music store, so I was really excited. I had never played the drums before. My friends (Todd and Wayne) were going back and forth playing, and I said, “Do you mind if I play?”  Wayne said, “No you can’t play them.”  I was shocked, so I asked again, and he said “Ok, but only for 30 seconds.”  When I sat down it was like finding the right life partner. I was immediately hooked.  That evening I convinced my mother to buy me an inexpensive set of drums from Hilton Music in the Latham Circle Mall.  The rest is history!

RRX: Do you play any other instruments?

JB:  I wouldn’t necessarily say that I play any other instruments.  My main talent is really composing.  I have spent 1000’s of hours at a piano writing and arranging for the last 20 years.  If I had to answer that question, I would honestly say that I play composer’s piano, but I’m really more of a jazz harmony and composition minded drummer.

RRX:  Is there a drummer that you love to hate?

JB:  I really don’t have room in my heart for hate, as it’s a waste of energy to bring those vibes into the world.

RRX:  Ok, so what lured you to jazz?

JB: The freedom to create without the limitations that other music bestows upon you.  It’s the excitement of the unknown during any given improvisation.  That really lights a fire under my ass. I don’t like rules, restrictions, or too much structure.  I feel claustrophobic when I have to adhere to a format that restricts my ability to breath freely and float creatively through a sonic exploration.  To me, jazz offers a level of consciousness I have rarely found in most other genres of music.  I enjoy listening to many styles of music; in fact, I’m taking lessons now with Mike Gilet, where we focus on modern funk/fusion playing. I’m open to other genres, but within my own private reality, my true passion is jazz.  

RRX:  What would be your dream kit?  

JB:  I have my dream kit! I’m currently endorsing and performing on Precision Drum Company instruments. They are a small family owned and operated boutique custom brand based in Pleasant Valley, NY.  My philosophy is to support local and be proud of who you are and where you are.  Having these drums made to my exact specs by Gary and George Folchi right here in New York State is a dream come true.  They have elevated my playing and inspired me to new heights.

RRX: If you weren’t a drummer, what would you be doing for work?

JB:  My other passion is the hospitality industry. If I wasn’t pursuing music, I would probably open a pizza venue that featured live music. I’m kind of a snob about pizza and have spent many a weekend traveling to try the best pizza in the world.

RRX:  Ok, so where is the best pizza?

JB: There are categories!  Thin Crust: Donna’s or Bacchus. Neapolitan: DeFazios. Football Slice: I Love Pizza of Troy.  My favorite of all time is Di Fara in Midwood Brooklyn, and best pizza in Williamsburg Brooklyn.  Honorable mentions include Johns of Bleeker, Patsy’s of Harlem, and Slice Of Manhattan.

RRX:  Who is your alter ego?

JB:  My personality is strong enough without having an alter ego, but how about Sherlock Holmes and former Utah Jazz all-star point guard John Stockton.

RRX:  Tell us about your best gig.

JB: My best gig hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure if it ever will.  I look at this as a journey of consciousness and of the moment.  I’ll leave judging what is best up to those who are consuming the fruits of my labor.

RRX:  Great.  Any advice for up-and-coming jazz drummers?

JB:  Here’s a bit of wisdom for those just starting out on their own personal journey.  Don’t get sucked into the politics of music. Stay focused on your personal goals and always know that you will never be the best. Music is not a competition, it’s a process by which we learn about relationships, our own shortcomings, our strengths, how to vibe and play with others, and what in the deepest part of our soul is most important while existing in this realm.  

RRX:  Heavy stuff! Let’s switch gears, favorite comedy?

JB: Anchorman, 48 Hours, Ace Ventura.

RRX:  That was a dumb question. I’m embarrassed, and I apologize. Now, I love the famous drum battle between Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. If you could perform that solo, who would you want to play with?  Who’s your guy?

JB: Gene Krupa.  His pocket and sense of humor would make the event fun.  Buddy is an amazing technician; however his approach can be a little too serious for me at times. In this situation, I’d like things to be loose.

RRX:  I couldn’t agree more. 

Joe Barna, is a talented, humble, loose, and easy going cat.  Check him out yourself.  

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