Categorically Undefined: Gary Bartz

“The word ‘jazz’ was created as a slang word as a gesture for sex in whore houses located in New Orleans.” – Saxophonist, Gary Bartz

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Last year, trumpeter and New Orleans native Nicholas Payton started a heated and confrontational debate about the word “jazz” and its place in the cultural and historical lexicon of music.  He argued vehemently that his music was not “jazz” but “Black American Music”.  This debate pitted artists on two proverbial sides of the coin; one side was in favor of Payton’s thoughts, which denounced the earliest origins of the word, while the other side celebrated the popularity of its base meaning, which by many accounts does little to diminish the value of the art form.  Saxophonist and composer, Gary Bartz has seen the evolution of jazz.  He is part of the very history that the accepted definition seems to devalue.  In a short interview, Gary Bartz said, “Most of the great musicians I’ve been around believe it also.  The term “jazz” is really a negative term to most musicians I know, but it happens to be a popular word in the public’s eye.”  Bartz is far more interested in playing music and celebrating its merits as a composition.  As this topic continues to swirl and resonate, Gary Bartz makes his message clear: No matter how the critics would like to slice it, musicians play music.

Early into his stewardship, Gary Bartz left his native Baltimore, to study jazz at the prestigious Julliard Conservatory School of music.  When Bartz arrived there, he found himself feeling musically isolated.  By his account, many of his instructors were invariably “trapped in the box” of classical music. Oftentimes, they could not relate to the syntax, variations or “feel” of jazz music.  Julliard’s European curriculum was a lesson in music theory, forcing him to hone his craft with an open mind.  He was simply a musician who played music.  He rejected the notion that he was confined to a single musical category.  As a visiting professor at Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, Gary Bartz speaks openly about fighting the urge to singularly conform.  He once stated that, “If I’m locked into a category, that means I can’t grow.  I’m in a corral; I’m in a room with walls around me….But to me, music is the universe.  And so that’s what I want to do.  I want to play music.”

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At the age of 6, Gary Bartz was drawn to the saxophone.  He would visit his grandmother’s house where she would allow him to listen to his uncle’s record collection featuring Charlie Parker.  He describes the experience as one “that continues to fascinate him today.”  At the age of 16, Bartz began to perform professionally. At about age 23, he joined Max Roach and the Abbey Lincoln band.  He quickly developed a reputation for stylistic playing.   In 1965, he would join Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan, filling in for a saxophonist who left the group at his father’s night club.   He was hired after the gig and would make his recording debut on Blakey’s Soulfinger album.  He would also work closely with McCoy Tyner; a relationship that he credits for deepening his appreciation for John Coltrane.  His career would take him beyond jazz; eventually working with the likes of the late Donald Byrd, Phyllis Hyman and Chaka Khan.  He has won two Grammys and recorded over 40 solo albums. 

Since his earliest recordings, Gary Bartz has worked with some of the best musicians in the world.  He credits artists like Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, and Duke Ellington for showing him how great musicians addressed social problems through their music.    To him, the “world didn’t need just another musician. What the world needed was a music activist.” He has vowed to “create music the world could relate to and not segregate his way of delivering music.”  He is truly dedicated to creating music for everyone to hear.   Humble and motivated, Gary Bartz continues to inspire and be inspired by his craft.  

But he doesn’t play jazz.  Gary Bartz plays music.

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Pumping Up the Jam

By: Mark A. Moore Senior Executive, Smooth Jazz Entertainment LLC.

“People start smiling and cosigning—shouting their approval of what is being played….Cat’s with horns come out of the woodwork.  If the rhythm section is right, you might stay there and play or just listen, soaked in swing, until the sun comes up.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    —Wynton Marsalis, Moving to Higher Ground

I was sitting at home on Sunday night with my wife watching the millionth episode of some show centered on rebuilding a home in a neighborhood I have no interest on living in.  Perhaps she was giving me, yet another subtle hint!  While sitting at my computer, I got a quick message via Facebook from my friend telling me that a jam session was about to go down at Andy’s Jazz club on Hubbard St.  Ever elated and truly grateful for the escape, I quickly changed clothes and headed over to what I knew would be an eventful evening.

I had the pleasure of visiting a jam session hosted by jazz vocalist Rose Colella.  It was held at the legendary Jazz Showcase.  After the final set was played, I took some time speak to her. Rose is a lovely lady, blessed with height and an incredible singing voice.  Her gentle, engaging presence is warm and friendly—the type of person you’ve never met, yet always known.  After waltzing through the chairs and tables closest to the stage we engaged in a very memorable exchange.   I simply asked her, “Why did you choose to do this?”  Rose explained that these sessions were “a great way to meet some other talented musicians in the city”.  In her mind, jam sessions are simply a continuum of the jazz movement that will evolve and nurture talent.  Unfortunately, Rose’s jam session series at the Jazz Showcase has ended, but we should not despair.  Jam sessions are alive and well in the city.

Recently, Chicago has seen a resurgence of them across the city.  Andy’s Jazz club has been hosting a Sunday night jam session for the past few months.  Lead by the accomplished and incredibly talented Pharez Whitted, it has quickly grown into a “who’s-who” of the Chicagojazz scene. Each Sunday, he and his house band play live.  The band is comprised of incredibly talented artists.  Bobby Broom and his sonic strumming are on guitar, with Dennis Carroll anchoring the rhythm section on bass. Greg Artry exhibited his mastery on drums.  Eddie Bayard ripped the stage on saxophone, and Ron Perrillo’s transcendent melodies on the piano made for gripping solos. And not be outdone by any measure, Pharez Whitted reminded you why he is regarded as one of the best trumpeters the Midwest has ever produced.   They are serious musicians who bring out the best in each other.  There was no holding back with the group. (They’ve announced that they will have a new album set to be released later this year.)

Chicago is a breeding ground for musical talent, making it an attractive setting to artists who happen to be in town.  The incredibly talented jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Victor Goines sat in with the band during two sets.  His incredible tone, delivery and artistry added excitement to performance.  In addition, some ofChicago’s best and brightest graced the stage as well.  Marquis Hill (trumpet), Greg Spero (piano), Brent Griffin Jr. (alto saxophone), Samuel Jewell (drums), Christopher McBride (alto saxophone), and Milton Suggs (vocals) represented the future of jazz music with enthusiasm and energy.  Together they played a spirited rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night inTunisia”.  It was an uplifting night of great music and unparalleled camaraderie.  I certainly got what I was looking for.

Dating back to the late 1930’s, jam sessions have always played an integral part of the jazz experience. They are notarized by their nostalgic yet cliché connotations.  We’ve all seen the imagery of the speakeasy; complete with hot jazz music in bawdy surroundings in cities like Chicago,New York and New Orleans. The jam session was a place of enlightenment; a completely integrated environment. It was a chance for an artist to make a statement and to express themselves. An artist had to earn respect from their peers regardless of your race.  Imitation was frowned upon.  Forget about sounding like Dizzy or playing like Coltrane. You had to find a way to create your own sound.    By today’s standards, the jam session is less about the surroundings and more about the interpretations and improvisations.  Most jam sessions are held at jazz clubs across the country.  A common tune or jazz standard is selected and just like that… they’re off!  Any musician who has participated in one will tell you: It is best that you bring your “A” game. There is an element of competition and showmanship displayed by the artists.  Skills are honed and passed on.  It is where old meets new, pushing the art form forward, creating new movements.

Listed below are jam sessions that are hosted regularly around the city of Chicago.  If you love jazz, you should make every effort to check them out.  If you know of others, please send them to smoothjazzenterainmentinfo@gmail.com .  We would be happy to list them on our website as well.

Andy’s Jazz Club

Pharez Whitted Jam Session

11 E. Hubbard St.

Chicago,IL60611

Every Sunday night from 9 PM – 1 AM

The Green Mill Cocktail Lounge

Green Mill Quartet and Jam Session

4802 N. Broadway Ave.

ChicagoIL,60640

Every Friday 1:30AM – 4 AM

www.pharezwhitted.com

www.bobbybroom.com

www.rosecolella.com