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LA La: The passing and celebration of Jimmy Barto

Beloved trumpet player, keyboardist, and pillar of the local music community Jimmy Barto died suddenly last Wednesday.   Friends and local musicians gathered informally Saturday night at Casa Domenech (Casa D’s) in Ajijic, a local jazz/tango venue where Jimmy played regularly to remember and celebrate his life. A more formal public memorial will be held next month. 

Jim Barto held a special place in the hearts and stages of Lakeside. A graduate of the famed Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied music composition, arranging, and film music scorning, he had a varied career in music before relocating to Lakeside several years ago. Upon graduation from Berklee, he joined the faculty as an Instructor of Film Scoring and held that position for eight years. 

While teaching, he also composed and arranged music for Boston recording sessions and scored the soundtracks for nationally-televised documentaries, full-scale musicals, and films like “Fame”, plus he arranged and produced recordings of “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Over the Rainbow” by Julia Brody and “Caravan” by Chris Hein.  He continued recording and producing in Lakeside in his own commercial recording studios using sophisticated arranging and composing software he developed after teaching himself computer programming.  

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Barto was a mainstay of the music community here, playing in many bands, jamming at open mics, producing, recording and in general going out of his way to support other musicians in the community.  He was a master of the trumpet, an accomplished keyboard player and drummer, and an excellent vocalist renowned for his interpretations of classic Louis Armstrong songs. People flocked to hear him and bands loved to bring him into their live performances.

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The gathering at Casa Domenech was, as you might expect, bittersweet.  The 30 or so people at Casa D’s were mostly other musicians and a few non-musical’s like me who knew and loved Jim. The evening was led by The Whippersnappers, a popular local country western rock cover band he played with virtually everyone in the audience joined in, wither by singing or, clapping.  The Whippersnappers kept the night moving along, even without their keyboard/trumpet playe . But he was present in spirit and in a small memorial containing his trumpet and smiling picture. Other musicians and singers joined in for a song or two, and singer Cindy Paul, who lead open mic sessions at Casa D’s with Jim, read a moving eulogy.

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But, after all, this was a music event in a room full of musicians and music lovers, so the mood quickly went upbeat and stayed there as The Whippersnappers dug into their repertoire of hits from the 60’s and 70’s, passed out shakers and claves to the audience to keep time with (mostly).  Songs ranged from “Cry Me a River” to “Kansas City” to “The Saint James Infirmary” and “Bobby Magee”. Plus one of the waitresses who has a beautiful voice took the mic with a glass of wine in her hand and delivered a moving “La Llorona”. And there was even a full-audience participation Irish ballad.

While Barto’s keyboard and horn were missed on every song, people jumped in with accordions, more guitars, and harmony – not the same, but still a great celebration.  As Cindy Paul said, Jimmy would have wanted it this way.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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