Pat LaBarbera was born on April 7, 1944, in Warsaw, New York, USA. His father was the one to teach Pat and his two younger brothers John (a gifted arranger/trumpeter) and Joe LaBarbera (a highly accomplished drummer) the basics of music. Pat later studied at Berklee College Of Music after which he went into Buddy Rich's band as featured tenor saxophone soloist. In the mid-70s he moved to Canada and in 1975 he joined Elvin Jones' band.
A powerful player, Pat adopted a style rooted in post-John Coltrane tenor thinking; his talent, his energy level and improvisational skills are knit together in an alluringly soft manner, which he displays with ease on several other instruments in the saxophone family as well as the flute. It was the lyrical playing of Lester Young that first led me to appreciate the artistry of a well-played ballad. In the early '60s, I started collecting and rehearsing the history of various tunes that caught my ear. I listened to a lot of Stan Getz, Richie Kamuca and Zoot Sims. When I was on the road, I always carried John Coltrane's Ballads album with me. It had a big influence on my playing...I love that album, reveals LaBarbera with his fully charged enthusiasm.
In 1989, Pat joined a two-week summer faculty at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. The dean, Don McCormack, was captivated when he heard him play a ballad one night with the faculty band. His enthusiasm challenged me to come up with a new obscure ballad each year, and we had many conversations about what to do with my ever-expanding repertoire. LaBarbera's ballads, together with his highly-rated Stan Getz tribute album may be considered his most popular performances, but 'Footprints' from his album "Virgo Dance" recorded in 1987 (Justin Time Records), was the piece that gained him a reputation in the eyes of fellow jazzmen. Pat's solo on 'Footprints' is an energetic, tension-filled improvisation based on the use of substitute scales and their allied pentatonics; it gradually intensifies into extreme dissonance, and the result is a build-up as natural as Darwin's evolution.
Pat LaBarbera, a true intellectual of improvisation, has been among the key members of the Toronto jazz scene for more than 25 years. His profuse repertoire gradually grew through his experience acquired as a soloist for different jazz bands, as well as various projects as a leader, and a lot of respected studio work.