"There's nothing worse than jazzing up classics."
Internationally renowned composer and jazz trumpeter Guy Barker is not making apologies for his latest project. He's just trying to explain how complicated it was to compose.
"The original idea," he explains from his home in London, "came from a show I played in what I guess was the British embassy in Hong Kong-right before the handing over."
One of the organizers of the San Diego-based "Mainly Mozart"-a year-long concert series that focuses on Wolfgang Amadeus' canon exclusively-caught his show in the Old World Orient, and suggested he perform at one of their upcoming festivals.
"The problem was, they told me that it had to have a connection to Mozart. And I just thought, "Great!.... How do you ever do that?!'"
Despite his reticence, Barker arranged an interpretation of Mozart's greatest operas, to be played by his favorite collaborators. The result is "Amadeus Jazz Suite," which features a stellar lineup of soloists and jazz artists and will make its international debut in Tijuana on April 28 and in San Diego on April 29 and 30.
Barker said that once channeling old Wolfie's opera characters began, the suite took on many lives of its own.
"The characters are just so colorful, so brilliant. They're just like this wild farce. It's not that hard to hear them come to life in my mind. Especially the main character from Don Giovanni. He's just this awful, womanizing character, and immediately I could hear this really sleazy, sliding bass line for him.
"So I ended up calling it "The Don's Hit List,' and it just took off from there."
Barker, who's played regular gigs backing Sting and the Jazz Jamaica All-Stars, also arranged and performed music for the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley, though his most infamous session gig was improvising horn charts for a then-un-named Brit-pop dance project in the early 1980s.
"When we finished and they thanked me, I asked them what the name of the band was," Barker laughs. "When they told me they weren't sure but were thinking of calling it "Wham!,' I said, "That's awful! Whatever you do, don't call it that.'"
But Barker has more poetic, whimsical ideas on the appeal of crossover jazz, as well.
"Pop music uses mostly lyrics to tell a story, so the battle's half done. But if you can paint an image for people using solely instrumentals, that's substituting a form of lyrical storytelling.
"I think if you can paint a picture for people," Barker adds, " and give them a story to hang on it, most music can translate quite well.
"That's what I hope we've done for Mozart's operas."
Guy Barker plays at El Foro Antiguo Jai Alai (April 28, 8 p.m., $5-$30, 619-239-0100) and at Jimsair Hanger at Lindbergh Field (April 29, 8 p.m., $15-$55, 619-239-0100) and at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla (April 30, 8 p.m., $42, 619-239-0100).