Gary Bartz Preview – Grover Washington Jr’s Song Book
By Michael J Edwards
“I don’t play like Grover, so it’s not going to be like Grover, but it will be those grooves and we’ll try to channel him the best way we can; because since I knew him, I know what a gentle spirit he was and we’ll try to channel that.” Gary Bartz
With a forthcoming homage to the late Grover Washington Jr’s superb body of work taking place imminently at the Hackney Empire on 11th April, alto sax supremo Mr Gary Bartz gives his thoughts to Michael “The Dood” Edwards via telephone link from the USA prior to the Musiccisum event.
The Dood: Mr Gary Bartz welcome. The last time we spoke with one another was back in1993. I trust time, life and music has been good to you in the interim?
Gary Bartz: Yes they have, thank you!
The Dood: It’s great to be speaking with you, where are you at this moment in time?
Gary Bartz: I’m in New Jersey; I’m at home right now.
The Dood: Are you excited about performing Grover Washington Jr’s Song Book at the Hackney Empire on the April 11th?
Gary Bartz: I am. I’m visiting his music probably for the first time playing it, but I knew Grover and loved his music collection, but I’ve never played it, so I’m going to have big fun playing.
The Dood: Have you ever performed at the Hackney Empire before?
Gary Bartz: No I don’t think so.
The Dood: How and when did you make the link with Owen Thompson and Musiccisum promotions?
Gary Bartz: Through my friend Michael Henderson.
The Dood: Oh! That’s a whole interview in itself.
Gary Bartz: Laughs raucously!
The Dood: He was over here recently with his good friend Norman Connors to perform at a previous Musiccisum event and they put on a show and a half. I hope to get to talk with you about that in more detail when you come over.
Gary Bartz: Okay!
The Dood: Who broached the subject of covering Grover’s greatest hits as it were?
Gary Bartz: I guess that may be Owen (Thompson) or maybe the band; I’m not sure. It was not my idea; they approached me with the idea.
The Dood: I know you were a big fan of Charlie Parker, Lester Young and John Coltrane, but I was not aware of your affinity of Grover Washington Jr’s work as you didn’t mention him in our previous interview?
Gary Bartz: I didn’t mention a lot of people in that interview! (Laughs outrageously) But I’m a big admirer of his work.
The Dood: When was your last visit to UK shores and are you pleased to be returning to London?
Gary Bartz: I’ve always loved coming to London yes. I think the last time I was there I was at Ronnie Scott’s with my quartet; It’s the same band that is on the latest record. It’s my band I’ve had for the last ten to fifteen years.
The Dood: I last saw you perform at Jazz Cafe; you were backed by the cream of British jazz, in the form of Gary Crosby (bass) Robert Forjaur (drums) and Trevor Watkins (piano). This time around you’re backed by the cream of British jazz again; in the form of Orphy Robinson (MD) and the Jazz Warriors Collective which features Trevor’s brother Mr Cleveland Watkiss on lead vocals. Are you keen to be working alongside them again?
Gary Bartz: Yes I am, I enjoy working with them.
The Dood: On paper it looks like a very exciting union. However, I understand that you don’t have much time to rehearse?
Gary Bartz: Actually, the hardest music is my music! We’re doing some of my songs, and a lot of the songs that they would like to do I’ve never done live, I’ve only done them on a recording, so that will be interesting.
The Dood: You pre-empted my final question, which was, will the whole evening be dedicated to Grover Washington Jr’s Song Book, and do you intend to throw some Gary Bartz goodies into the mix?
Gary Bartz: Yes definitely! I’ll be doing some of my classics.
The Dood: I interviewed a talented UK spoken word poet and friend of yours last month’s by the name of Malik. He edified you highly and is excited and honoured that his band Malik & the O.G’s are supporting you at the Hackney Empire. Would you like to say a few reciprocal words?
Gary Bartz: I’m really looking forward to hearing what he’s doing today! There are great musicians all over the world!
The Dood: Do you have any particularity favourite songs from the Grover Washington Song Book that you’re looking forward to performing?
Gary Bartz: I’m really looking forward to playing most of them because I love the groove and we’ll see where it takes me. I don’t play like Grover, so it’s not going to be like Grover, but it will be those grooves and we’ll try to channel him the best way we can; because since I knew him, I know what a gentle spirit he was and we’ll try to channel that.
The Dood: How long are you in the UK for, and is it just a whistle-stop visit?
Gary Bartz: I’m just coming over for this particular engagement. School is still in and I teach school most weeks.
The Dood: You’re still teaching! Just like Mr Fred Wesley (the JB’s) who teaches at Berkley University when he’s not touring?
Gary Bartz: Oh yes! I’m at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, which is a school established over 100 years ago.
The Dood: So you can see at first hand the young talent sprouting and coming through?
Gary Bartz: Always! Yes indeed! Always!
The Dood: It’s great to speak with you?
Gary Bartz: Likewise!
The Dood: Many thanks for taking time out; have a safe journey over to the UK and we’ll catch up then.
Gary Bartz: Okay, very good!
Michael J Edwards
Coltrane Rules – Tao of a Music Warrior
Mae Velha – Live At The Jazz Standard Vol. 2 – OYO
Soprano Stories – OYO
The Montreal Concert – DSM
Soulstice – OYO
Blues Chronicles – Tales of Life – Atlantic
The Red and Orange Poems – Atlantic
Shadows – Timeless
Episode One – Children of Harlem – Challenge
Alto Memories – Verve
There Goes The Neighborhood – Candid
West 42nd Street – Candid
Precious Energy – Jazz Heritage
Reflections of Monk – The Final Frontier – Steeplechase
Monsoon – Steeplechase
Bartz – Arista
Love Affair – Capitol
Music is My Sanctuary – Capitol
JuJu Man – Catalyst
Love Song – VJ International
The Shadow Do – Prestige
Another Earth – Milestone
Live at the Jazz Standard – Oyo
Libra/Another Earth – Milestone
Sphere w. Kenny Barron, Ben Riley & Buster Williams – Verve
Live At Jazz En Tete w. Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond & Ben Riley – Space Time
NTU Group – Singerella – A Ghetto Fairy Tale – Prestige
NTU Group – I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies – Prestige
NTU Group – Follow the Medicine Man – Prestige
NTU Group – JuJu Street Songs – Prestige
NTU Group – Harlem Bush Music-Uhuru – Milestone
NTU Group – Harlem Bush Music-Taifa – Milestone
NTU Group – Home – Milestone
NB* Big Mike & ukvibe thank you to Owen Thompson at Musiccisum for scheduling the interview.