Reference Entry

Bartz, Gary Lee

Vivian Njeri Fisher

in African American National Biography

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9780195301731
Bartz, Gary Lee

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musician and composer, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, to Floyd Bartz, a railroad employee and club owner, and Elizabeth E. Bartz, a club owner. Bartz grew up in West Baltimore during an era when the music scene in that city was thriving. The hub of African American entertainment in Baltimore was found on Pennsylvania Avenue, although there were numerous clubs throughout the city owned by African Americans. At the age of six Bartz heard his first Charlie Parker recording at his grandmother's house. Bartz recalled this formative moment: “Not knowing what the music was, what the instrument was or who was playing, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I ever heard, I said right then, I want to do whatever that is” (Ouellette, 31). When Bartz was eleven, he began to play the alto saxophone, influenced to take up the instrument by his love of Parker and Louis Jordan.Bartz's parents were instrumental in nurturing his musical career. While Bartz was in his early teens, his father would take him around to different clubs in Baltimore. He would tell both local musicians and those who toured through town about his son's musical abilities. At the Comedy Club in Baltimore, Bartz's father touted his son's abilities to saxophonist Sonny Stitt, and Stitt invited Bartz to play with him. Immediately after the session, the two developed a friendship.Bartz graduated high school from Baltimore City College in 1958. After graduation, Bartz moved to New York, at the age of seventeen, to attend the Juilliard School of Music. Skillful at playing music by ear, he wanted to learn to read music. He continued his musical education outside the classroom by frequenting cabarets on the Lower East Side to hear musicians such as Chet Baker, Red Garland, Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Yusef Lateef, and Hank Mobley.Bartz continued his studies at Juilliard for two years. In 1959 he left school but continued his informal musical training by playing with many seasoned and up-and-coming musicians including Charles Mingus, John Gilmore, Lee Morgan, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Philly Joe Jones in New York City. In 1960 Bartz's father bought the North End Lounge, which was located at 1869 N. Gay Street in Baltimore. His parents managed the club, and it became a venue in which Bartz could perfect his playing. Bartz began commuting to Baltimore from New York to work in his father's club on weekends.In the meantime, Bartz organized a band. In 1961 the Gary Bartz Quartet began to perform regularly at the North End Lounge. In 1962, Bartz married Rosa Lindsay at the Douglass Memorial Church in Baltimore, in a ceremony officiated by the Reverend Marion C. Bascom. From 1962 to 1964 he played with the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop, where he worked with Eric Dolphy and met Mccoy Tyner. While still in his early twenties, he took his first professional job with the Max Roach–Abbey Lincoln group in 1964.Bartz's father hired Art Blakey to play at his club. He had heard that John Gilmore was leaving Blakey's group, and he called his son to come to Baltimore to sit in. Bartz made his recording debut on Blakey's Soul Finger album. He established himself as a solid musician and was considered by his peers as one of the best alto players since Cannonball Adderley. Bartz became a leading sideman, playing with some of the top musicians in the field. His musical range allowed him to incorporate hard bop, acoustic hard bop, avant-garde, funk, fusion, soul, and R&B into his repertoire.Bartz worked with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers from 1965 to 1966. But by 1967 Bartz was recording regularly as a group leader for Prestige and Milestone records. In 1968 Bartz worked with McCoy Tyner and his Expansions band as the alto saxophonist. Working with Tyner was another high point in Bartz's life. Tyner's strong connection with John Coltrane was important to Bartz and his development as an up-and-coming saxophonist. In 1970 Bartz, along with Ron Carter, Andy Bey, and others created the group Harlem Bush Music. Bartz also formed his own band later that year, called Ntu Troop (“Ntu” is the Bantu word for “unity”). This ensemble fused African folk music, hard bop, vanguard jazz, soul, and funk, synthesizing these musical styles into a dynamic musical form. Keeping busy as a musician, Bartz also continued to tour with the Max Roach band.In 1970, after hearing promising things about Bartz's musical talent, Miles Davis hired Bartz and featured him as a soloist on his Live Evil recording. He worked with Davis's fusion group from 1970 to 1971. Throughout his career, Bartz recorded with several music labels, including Milestone, Prestige, Capitol, Atlantic, and Steeple Chase. By the late 1970s Bartz was doing studio work in Los Angeles with the vocalist and producer Phyllis Hyman and the producer, bandleader, and drummer Norman Connors. In 1977 his album Music Is My Sanctuary was regarded as one of the best fusion recordings of that era.In the 1980s Bartz collaborated with the writer, producer, and percussionist Mtume with the release of “Music,” a single from his album Bartz (1980), which was a spirited blend of musical genres. He collaborated with jazz vocalist Leon Thomas on Precious Energy in the late 1980s. From the early 1980s until 1988 Bartz wandered around until he recorded Reflections on Monk in 1988. Bartz further developed his musical talents by combining various musical idioms as he became one of the favorite jazz innovators of the 1990s, continuing to make recordings throughout the decade.Despite Bartz's numerous recordings, he was troubled by the music industry's control over musicians and their work. He noted in an interview that “a creative musician is counterproductive to the record industry. They don't want creative musicians; they want clones” (Nahigian and Enright, 4). Bartz understood that the music industry did not have musicians' best interests in mind, but instead was concerned with promotions and sales of music, and that the only means for musicians to control their livelihood in the industry was to create and own their own labels and retain rights to their music. To gain total control of his musical creativity, “to empower himself,” and to “take this great black music back for the musicians,” Bartz's created his own label in 1999, called OYO (Own Your Own) Recordings. In 2001 he joined the faculty of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio as visiting professor of Jazz Saxophone. In 2005 Bartz released Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 1: Soulstice, Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 2, and Soprano Stories, all of which were released through the OYO label. That same year he won a Grammy for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group for his playing on McCoy Tyner's album Illuminations. Bartz continues to perform as special guest with the McCoy Tyner Trio nationally and internationally.

Reference Entry.  1189 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History

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