Clip: Gary Bartz comes to Pittsburgh
Positive, pure and powerful: Saxophonist Bartz keeps his music free of
Sunday, July 31, 2005
By Nate Guidry, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Gary Bartz will take you to task for calling him a jazz musician. For him,
it's practically an epithet.
Gary Bartz doesn't answer to "jazz musician." He's a musician, pure and
Duke Ellington didn't think of himself as a jazz musician.
And neither did Miles Davis.
The volatile Charles Mingus would have gone to blows with anyone who
addressed him that way.
"It's a negative word, and negative words bring negative energies," said
Bartz from his home in southern New Jersey. "People like to pigeonhole you
because it makes them comfortable. I don't think Beethoven considered
himself a classical musician.
"I'm a musician, and we play music -- all kinds of music."
And that's exactly what Bartz and his quartet will be doing next Sunday at
the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. The band features pianist Barney McCall,
bassist James King and drummer Greg Bandy.
The concert, co-presented by the Thomas Merton Center, is a fund-raiser to
help support the completion of a documentary titled "Enough Is Enough: The
Death of Jonny Gammage."
Gammage was killed in a struggle with five police officers during a routine
traffic stop in Brentwood on Oct. 12, 1995.
Producer and director Billy Jackson said the documentary examines the
Gammage incident as well as other cases of alleged police misuse of force
and racial profiling, and related problems in criminal justice, law
enforcement and police-community relations.
Jackson said his goal is to have the documentary ready to premiere on Oct.
"We want this documentary to be part of the solution, to stimulate dialogue
and inspire audiences to get involved in positive changes."
Bartz grew up in Baltimore and started playing saxophone by the time he
"Charlie Parker was the one who did it for me," recalled Bartz. "I heard
his records, and I fell in love with that sound. I made up my mind that's
what I'd like to do."
After graduating from high school, he moved to New York to attend the
Juilliard School. While there, he developed friendships with fellow
students Andrew Cyrille, Addison Farmer, Sir Roland Hanna and others.
"It was a very educational period," said Bartz. "As young musicians, we
were all heading in the same direction of music."
After he left Juilliard, one of the first groups Bartz joined was a band
led by drummer Max Roach and former wife Abbey Lincoln. He had met Roach
years earlier at a club in Baltimore. Bartz sat in with Roach and they
played Charlie Parker's "Cherokee" and a few other songs.
Roach was so impressed that he gave Bartz his phone number and told him if
he was ever in New York to look him up.
Which Bartz did.
"I used to go over to his house and have dinner with him and Abbey
Lincoln," laughs Bartz. "Sometimes, I see Abbey and I remind her of that
and she laughs and says, 'I used to cook.' "
In 1964, Bartz joined Roach's band. The association lasted for about six
"Max was very influential in developing my outlook on life," said Bartz.
"He taught me about business and nationalism and chess."
After leaving Roach's band, he performed in groups led by McCoy Tyner, Blue
Mitchell, and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
Blakey was performing a weeklong engagement at Baltimore's North End
Lounge, a jazz club owned by Bartz's father. Bartz got word from his dad
that saxophonist John Gilmore was leaving the band, so he went to
Baltimore, sat in one night and was hired.
"John Hicks and Lee Morgan were in the band and were my friends, so they
vouched for me," said Bartz, who made his recording debut on Blakey's "Soul
In the early 1960s, Bartz joined Charles Mingus' Workshop, regularly
rehearsing with other members of the group, including Rashaan Roland Kirk
and Eric Dolphy.
"Mingus was very interesting," said Bartz. "He was all about making and
performing high-quality music."
But Bartz's best and most enduring apprenticeship occurred in 1970 when he
joined Miles Davis Sextet, performing in the historic Isle of Wight
Festival in England.
"Miles was the best bandleader I ever worked for," Bartz said. "He cared
about you. If you were in his band it was like you were part of his family.
I am so grateful for what Miles did for me."
When Bartz received the call from Davis to join his band, there was no
rehearsal or drawn-out interview.
"He just called and asked if I wanted to join his band," Bartz said. "He
didn't give me an audition, and I think the entire time I was with him the
band had one rehearsal.
"When Miles picked musicians, he already knew what you were about. I had
worked with Max and Art and the other musicians, so he knew I was ready to
join his group."
In between working with Davis, Bartz was busy recording "Another Earth,"
"Music Is My Sanctuary" and other albums, as well as forming a group called
NTU Troop. The group took its name from the Bantu language. NTU means
"unity in all things, time and space, living and dead, seen and unseen."
In the mid 1990s, he released several critically received recordings,
including "The Red and Orange Poems" and "I've Known Rivers" an album based
on the poems of Langston Hughes.
Still, Bartz feels his recordings over the years haven't been promoted
well. He's grown increasingly weary of record executives.
"Record labels want to tell you what and who to put on the records, then
they don't sell them," Bartz said. "They have decided that it's
counterproductive to release material while an artist is still alive. Once
a musician passes they open the vaults."
To counteract that, Bartz has started his own label. He now has creative
control of his music and, most importantly, he owns the master tapes.
"Record labels are like plantations," said Bartz. "It's like the rapper
Chuck D used to say, 'If you don't own the master, the master owns you.'
Ninety-nine percent of the musicians in history don't own their masters. A
lot of people talk about rap artists, but many of them own their masters.
They have learned from our mistakes."
Now, in between tours with his own band and groups led by McCoy Tyner and
others, Bartz finds time to teach. Since 2001, he has been helping to shape
young musicians as a faculty member at the Oberlin Conservatory in Oberlin,
"One lifetime isn't long enough to do everything you want to do and learn
how to play all this music," Bartz said. "So you do the best you can."
Gary Bartz Quartet
Where: Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.
When: 2:30 p.m. next Sunday.
Tickets: $35 and $45 ($10 for music students); 412-361-3022.