Trumpet in hand, Norman Barth’s career travels have taken him far and wide.
At present, he’s the deputy chief of mission of the U.S. embassy in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a distance of 4,800 miles from San Diego, where in June he took part in UC San Diego Extension’s “Jazz Camp.”
Wherever he goes, his trumpet goes with him.
That was especially true during the camp’s week-long immersion into the finer points of the authentically American art form.
“I’m living in a country where I am the only trumpet player, literally,” said Barth. “a lot of people here didn’t know what a trumpet was until they heard me play. But they like it.”
During Jazz Camp, Barth joined 55 musicians in a series of instructional classes and spirited jam sessions.
Among the many top musicians serving as returning instructors were former “Tonight” show drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith; saxophonist Charles McPherson; bassist Mark Dresser; flutist Holly Hofmann; trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos; guitarist Peter Sprague; and pianists Anthony Davis and Mike Wofford.
In addition, the students worked closely with recognized UC San Diego music professors David Borgo, Anthony Davis, and Mark Dresser.
Highly-regarded musicians, all.
“It was a real pleasure to have Norman in our group,” said Dan Atkinson, Jazz Camp’s founder and director. “We always have a number of adults in addition to younger students, and both age groups contribute a lot to each other. As one of our other adult students, a retired psychiatrist, put it, ‘Here, we all speak the same language.’”
“For me,” said Barth, “a big part of the joy of Jazz Camp was being surrounded by folks who know all about jazz and who are playing jazz and who are interested in the art form.”
Not only accomplished as a trumpet player, an instrument he’s played since childhood, Barth has solid academic chops. He holds a Ph.D. in physics from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and, prior to his diplomatic career, he spent eight years as a climate-change scientist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (1994-2002).
“I have a special fondness for the time I spent in San Diego,” said Barth, “partly because it’s the longest time I’ve ever spent in one place. But it’s most memorable because I met my wife there.”
His father was also a widely-traveled U.S. diplomat, so Barth, a Midwest native, spent his younger years living overseas in Iceland, Belgium, Germany, Lesotho, and South Africa.
It was surely a life of adventure, one he still pursues.
Barth and his family — wife Pamela and their two daughters, ages 5 and 9 — have been in the Marshall Islands the past year. Barth’s assignment is for one more year before he’s reassigned elsewhere.
“Maybe because I grew up with a multi-cultural background, I enjoy connecting with different kinds of people,” said Barth, who lives in the capital city of Majuro. With a population of just under 50,000, the Marshall Islands consist of 29 atolls and five islands.
“I’ve always had a desire to learn more about different cultures, plus a desire to share my knowledge,” he added. “I truly feel that I can do some good around the world.”