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April 23, 2014

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Trumpeter back in jazz scene after injury to lip

His local band eyeing festival circuit, has second CD in the works

Image

Leila Navidi

Trumpet player James Barela performs with Blu 7 last month at the Rhythm Kitchen in Las Vegas.

Blu 7

Couples dance to a slow song as the band Blu 7 plays at the Rhythm Kitchen in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • Who: Blu 7
  • When: 9 p.m. Friday
  • Where: Rhythm Kitchen, 6435 S. Decatur Blvd.
  • Admission: Free; 767-8438

Beyond the Sun

Jazz trumpeter James Barela was on a roll until he blew out his lip.

“I was really, really busy, playing two and three gigs a day,” says Barela, who heads an up-and-coming local jazz band called Blu 7.

And then he tore a muscle in his lip.

“They call it Satchmo syndrome,” he says, “because Louis Armstrong did the exact same thing. But at the time, technology being what it was, they really couldn’t repair his lip; he just had to figure out some other way to get along with the horn. Luckily I found a doctor who specialized in repairing brass players’ lips.”

So, Barela had to take off a couple of years. He had to find a day job for the first time, but employers said he didn’t have any experience.

“How much experience do you need to have to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ ” Barela says.

He applied at Wynn Las Vegas when it opened in 2005 and found a sympathetic ear in the director of in-room dining. “He was a trumpet player and he was real interested in my musical background, so he gave me a job and that kept me going until I got my lip back.”

Barela, a 38-year-old Wyoming native, studied with jazz drummer Ronnie Bedford at a junior college in northern Wyoming and later toured with Bedford. Barela received bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music.

“I met a guy in Denver who was putting together a big-horn band on the lines of Tower of Power,” Barela says. “He said he had this idea that he was going to go to Las Vegas and take over the lounge scene. I said, ‘Sounds great. I’m in.’ And that’s how I came to Vegas.”

The band, Back Streets, started in 1998 and was a hot act for six or seven years. But the jobs started going away and the musicians scattered.

Barela played with several local groups, including the band behind Dian Diaz, a mainstay at the Bellagio. He was performing with Diaz when his lip began to give out.

“I noticed I wasn’t hitting my marks and I couldn’t figure out why, so naturally I started playing more, practicing more, trying to solve this problem,” he said. “It was the worst thing I could have done. I ruptured the muscle.”

After spending three years in recovery he decided to start a jazz band and called it Blu 7.

“Blu 7 is a term musicians used for time,” Barela says. “It signifies the lowering of the seventh degree of the scale by a half step. That’s what gives kind of that bluesy sound. There’s also a Blu third but I thought Blu 7 was kind of cool. It’s kind of a tip of my cap to the past.”

The band includes Barela, bassist Justin Voge, drummer and percussionist Mitchell Anthony, guitarist EJ Delgado and wife Rachel Delgado on piano, organ and synthesizer. The ensemble combines elements of modern jazz with a mix of styles ranging from Latin, world beat, pop, classical, R&B, funk and the avant-garde. In December the group recorded its first CD, “Cultural Instigator.”

“I had eight tunes I had written and picked out specifically for this project, a diversity of tunes, very eclectic,” he says. “I wanted to show the band in lot of different lights.”

Blu 7 is working on a second album and looking to break into the jazz festival circuit. Locally they perform at different venues, often at the Rhythm Kitchen, where they will be Friday.

Barela sees potential for a vibrant jazz scene in Las Vegas; there are a lot of great musicians here, he says.

“But we aren’t going to try to force it,” he said. “We’ve been playing a lot in town. There have been months when we were working nonstop and months when there wasn’t much going on.”

They’re picking up more airtime on the radio and their music is being heard in Europe, Asia and South America.

“We’re really big in Honduras,” he said.

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