Born: March 4, 1937 | Died: May 25, 1996 Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Barney Wilen - tenor sax
Barney Wilen made a strong impression on the Paris scene in the mid 1950s. Wilen was a self taught player and became one of Europe's best and more modern saxophonists.
Bernard Jean Wilen, AKA Barney was born March 4, 1937, in Nice to a French mother and an American father. He studied the alto and, at 16, moved to Paris where he played with Henry Renaud, Bobby Jaspar and Jimmy Gourley He grew up mostly on the French Riviera; the family left during World War II but returned upon its conclusion.
According to Wilen himself, he was convinced to become a musician by his mother's friend, the poet Blaise Cendrars. 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. He was very fortunate to tour and record with Miles Davis in 1957. This led to him performing on the soundtrack to the Louis Malle film Lift to the Scaffold in 1957. The recording won the Prix Louis Delluc the next year.
Two years later in 1960 he performed with Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk on the soundtrack to Roger Vadim's Les Liaisons Dangereuses. He also appeared at the 1959 Newport Jazz Festival, one of the first non-Americans to do so. During the '60s, Wilen explored with free jazz and Indian music. He appeared at the 1967 Berlin Festival and engineered Archie Shepp's 1969 live performance at the Algiers Festival.
In the late 70's and 80's he returned to playing the ballads of his influences Sonny Rollins and Harold Land leading to him being awarded the Grand Prix Charles Cros in 1987. In the 90's he continued to be active, playing at many European summer jazz festivals and recording. He died of cancer May 25, 1996 in Paris, France. Much of Wilen's later work was documented on the Japanese Venus label.