Meet Saxophonist and 2024 NEA Jazz Master Gary Bartz

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In this tuneful podcast, 2024 NEA Jazz Master Saxophonist Gary Bartz talks about his life and career, touching on his roots, influences, collaborations, and the philosophical underpinnings that have guided his artistic journey.

Born in Baltimore in 1940, Gary’s musical journey began in a segregated America, where he found music to be a universal language that could transcend societal barriers. He discusses his early encounters with music which were deeply influenced by his family’s musical gatherings and his exposure to the records of Charlie Parker, which ignited his passion for the saxophone at the age of six. He talks about moving to New York City in 1958, immersing himself in the city’s vibrant jazz scene, his time at Juilliard and the thrill of playing alongside legends like Max Roach (NEA Jazz Master, 1984),  Charles Mingus,  Art Blakey (NEA Jazz Master, 1988),  Miles Davis (NEA Jazz Master, 1984)  and McCoy Tyner (NEA Jazz Master, 2002), highlighting the impact of these experiences on his musical direction. He details his approach to music, emphasizing the importance of listening and creativity and expressing his disdain for the term “jazz,” preferring to see music as a boundless form of expression.

Gary also discusses his work with younger musicians and bands like his collaborations with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge for their Jazz Is Dead label and the spiritual jazz band Maisha, emphasizing the importance of intergenerational dialogue in music. With over two decades of teaching at Oberlin, Gary talks about his approach to education which focuses first on the importance of listening—a skill he deems crucial for any musician. He shares his feelings on being named an NEA Jazz Master, acknowledging it as a significant honor that places him among the heroes who shaped his musical path.

Note: On Saturday, April 13, 2024, the National Endowment for the Arts, in collaboration with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, will celebrate the 2024 honorees with a tribute concert. Keep checking for details.

For a transcript, click here

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