Hamed Barbarji may only be a junior in the music department at VCUarts—but his résumé reads like a professional musician in the making. The trumpet player has subbed with the Richmond and Williamsburg symphonies and No BS! Brass Band. He leads his own jazz combo and picks up regular freelance gigs, performing both classical and jazz.
He’s even had the chance to sit in with his personal role model—Wynton Marsalis—during a rehearsal with Jazz at Lincoln Center.
“My senior year in high school, I was asked by the Virginia Arts Festival to busk outside of his concert,” Barbarji says. “I emailed him and told him everything that I do. I actually got a call from him and we talked for a good 30 minutes. He told me to let him know anytime I was in New York.
“I got to sit in on a rehearsal and play with him, sit next to him and talk to him. It was a full seven hours of just me, and Wynton, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra.”
With all of these possibilities, one ensemble has always had his focus: In Layman Terms, the band formed by brother and sister duo Cole and Logan Layman.
Barbarji first heard about the Laymans when they were all high school students in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was looking for opportunities to play and thought the duo would be perfect collaborators. But he was never able to reach them.
They finally connected at a summer jazz institute, and Barbarji spent a year and a half joining them for gigs before they invited him to officially join the band. In 2017, Barbarji introduced them to his friend and drummer Nick Davidson (B.M. ’17), and the trio became a quartet.
Barbarji says their music reflects the varied interests of each of the members. “The basis is blues,” he says, “but we venture off into pop and funk and jazz, rock, blues rock.”
Last summer, the full ensemble recorded their first album, Strong Roots, at Soul Haven Studios in Virginia Beach. The album was later released on Nov. 7, 2018.
“We just spent 20 hours recording music that we had created together,” he says. “Then maybe a couple of days of mixing, working out levels and effects, and then we sent it off to get mastered. Before we knew it, we had this album.”
While waiting on the album to get mastered, In Layman Terms was signed by Mick Kolassa and Endless Blues Records. Soon after the album hit the market, it started to capture attention. An independent music chart, Roots Music Report, ranked Strong Roots No. 1 in Virginia on the Top 50 blues album chart for the week of Nov. 17, and 40th nationally.
Still, the band has a lot to juggle. Davidson lives in Virginia Beach. Cole recently returned to Williamsburg after two years studying at Berklee College of Music. Barbarji is at VCUarts, and Logan is a freshman at Indiana University. Their school breaks are filled with rehearsing, gigging and spending time together as friends—reinforcing the friendship that’s so critical to their success as a band.
“When we go off to school, we’re all doing our own thing and in our own worlds,” he says. “But I think we’re so strong as friends that when we’re all back together, it’s like time hasn’t passed. We dust off some cobwebs, and then we’re great.”