Thursday, March 24, 2011

Baaad Jazz - Gary Bartz

I hang around a lot of new music folks on the net, many of whom just can't take the plunge into jazz....especially anything after 1965 or so. Why is that?

If there were ipods back in the 60's and 70's, a majority of pro basketball players would've been listening to jazz. Why has that changed to hip hop?

Up until the 70's, you could find a large network of jazz clubs in cities large and small...Indianapolis, Newark, Baltimore, Houston, St. Louis, and more, all had bustling scenes that just aren't there today. Why is that?

Some might say Rock and Roll is to blame, others might fault the academy for creating a certain narrative about the music that was not inclusive (ie. "America's Classical Music"), others might point to the splintering of post bop into a myriad of styles that we're incomprehensible to the average fan, still others would point to record labels and excessive commercialization. Then there's the huge decreases in funding for music programs in public schools creating fewer musicians.The list of woes and explanations is long and there's no doubt that the factors above all contributed to a lower profile for jazz as a popular music.

I'm sure you're asking what all this has to do with alto (mainly) saxman, Gary Bartz?

Well, Mr. Bartz was right in the thick of this era of change, arriving in New York from Baltimore to attend Julliard in 1958. He followed the path of many young,talented jazz musicians, jamming with young lions and apprenticing with old masters.

"It was a very good time for the music in New York, at the end of what had been the be-bop era," says Bartz. "Charlie Parker had passed away three years previously but Miles' group was in its heyday, Monk was down at the Five Spot, and Ornette Coleman was just coming to town. Things were fresh."-Gary Bartz

Bartz was part of Mingus' Workshop, Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the Max Roach/ Abbey Lincoln Group, as well as appearing on McCoy Tyner records (a relationship that continues to this day). In a short few years he had connected to the legacy of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, two of his most important influences.

His first records as a leader, Another Earth and Home were acoustic efforts, leaning in a Coltrane-esque, spiritual/space direction. Around this time he was also gigging in Miles Davis' electric outfreakages, appearing on Live-Evil and touring the world with the trumpeter.

Right after the Miles' tour, Bartz began putting all his influences together and stamping his own mark with his own ensemble, NTU Troop. (NTU is Bantu for "unity in all things, time and space, living and dead, seen and unseen".

Harlem Bush Music (Taifa/Uhuru) Lineup (70-71)
Bass - Juni Booth
Bass- Ron Carter
Drums - Harold White
Percussion - Nat Bettis
Saxophone [Soprano, Alto],Vocals,Piano - Gary Bartz
Vocals - Andy Bey
Go get Harlem Bush Music

These first two NTU Troop records are political (in spots), steeped in afro-centric themes, calling for revolution, exhorting movement.  They are definitely of their time, but also harken back to Congo Square (music and dance are part of the same cultural package).  Somewhat dismissed or misunderstood in the critical canon (perhaps because of the vocals), these records remain vital in my canon.

Mr.Bartz continued working on other folks records during the making of the first two NTU Troop offerings and reconvened his ensemble in California (Harlem Bush Music was recorded in New York) with only Andy Bey remaining from the initial sessions, for an October '72 date that yielded tracks for Juju Street Songs and Follow, The Medicine Man.

Alto Sax, Soprano Sax, Sopranino, Voice, Electric Piano, Percussion - Gary Bartz
Bass, Electric Bass, Voice, Percussion - Stafford James
Drums, Voice, Percussion - Howard King
Vocals, Electric Piano, Percussion - Andy Bey
Additional musicians (New York) were added to finish Follow...
Guitar - Hector Centeno and Electric Piano - Hubert Eaves

The new cats were needed because Andy Bey left the band (Bey would release Experience and Judgment within a year). Mr. Bartz would go on to release one more NTU Troop Record, Singerella:A Ghetto Fairytale, that hinted at the smoother rhythms that would emerge in his later work with Larry and Fonce Mizell. The Mizell records were probably the most popular of Bartz career, but for my money (and I'll always lay down for Larry and Fonce), The NTU Troop records are grittier and funkier, full of experimentation and joy. Talkin' loud and sayin' something .

Go get Ju Ju Street Songs (includes follow and juju)

From the 80's til now Gary Bartz has continued to release quality records, mostly mining a more traditional (post bop) jazz vein, he's continued to tour, and he's also a jazz educator-currently the Visiting Professor of Jazz Saxophone at Oberlin.  You can't really go wrong in any part of Gary Bartz's 30 albums as a leader, but from the funk side this fertile period in the 70's should not be missed.


ish said...

Nice write up. I saw him play with Pharoah last year in Brooklyn. Great show.

I first heard of Andy Bey through Bartz' albums. GIven Bey's trajectory I always wanted to ask Bey what it was like to be oart of that whole scene.


ish said...

that would be "part" not oart

Cody B said...

Thanks Ish..
It was a great time, at least from my perspective. I don't know how Mr. Bey feels about Experience and Judgment, but it's a nice record.
As far as Gary Bartz is concerned, it looks like he's explored all the different splinters of post-65 jazz...and has done a good job in all of 'em.
Bartz was also my intro to Bey, from those Jazz Dance Classics in the 90's from Luv N'Haight.
Good stuff at your site,too, following.

ish said...

Those Jazz Dance Classics series exactly!!

You know Bey is on Mtume's far-out "Alkebu-Lan" also right?

Cody B said...

Did not know that, thanks. My Mtume knowledge could probably fit in a thimble.

ms.sad said...

I just started listening to Gary Bartz this past summer. Amazing stuff, can't believe it took me this long to discover him....guess that's the i-pod generation's fault. Great to read the history on him in your blog post, Cody. Had no idea about all of his ties to all the jazz legends. As always, your verbage makes for a fun read, too.

Cody B said...

Glad you found Gary, mssad. I lean toward his groovy material, but Another Earth is a great early one of his that I just heard.

Steve said...

Great post Cody. Will have to check out Bartz next time I'm buying CDs (I'm a bit of an anachronism).

Cody B said...

Thanks Steve...I was just out buying a few discs for record store day..