George Cartwright: Barrier Islands Bird
These things just blew me away and I said, "I want to do something like that." And I'm not a very good mimic, and there've been times where I've tried to play like Ornette, and failed. But I'm happy with that. I'm happy with the result I get out of that. 'Cause I think it sounds kind of cool. If I use what I perceive as the way he playswhich is only my perception, it's not how he playsbecause you can't get your brain into that, how someone else plays, just your interpretation of it; it's always been inspiring to me and I'm totally influenced by that.
From left: George Cartwright, Michael Lytle, David Moss
As far as Denardo, I had met him when I moved to New York, with Bill Laswell, and actually did some recording and playing with a woman named Roberta Baum that Ornette was producing. And Denardo was friends with Bill. Bill said, for whatever reason, "Let's get Denardo to play." And he played on that one gig and it was wonderful. He's a great, great drummer, great guytotally I think unappreciated in the jazz world, for what he brings to musicbecause it's, "Well, he's Ornette's son." So he's kind of outside the range of the large accepted jazz world. One of my favorites.
AAJ: So you started saxophonehow old were you and when would this have been?
GC: In 1971, I got a saxophone on my 21st birthday.
AAJ: So you were born in 1950. What was it like learning music in the South? What did you grow up listening to, what impressed you the most?
GC: When I was a kid, in high school, I was really into Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones and Cream, you know those bands of the time. My sister was into Motown, and I thought that was all too wishy-washy and they got horns, and I didn't like that, it wasn't rough enough for me. Of course, I'm not stupid any more [laughs], and have changed my opinions of things a lot.
It's kind of funny. The Vietnam War was going on, I had a low draft number, I was a conscientious objector, and I just felt very fueled, or something: "I'd like to play the saxophone!" And I bought a Charles Lloyd album, called Live at Monterey, I think [Forest Flower (Atlantic, 1966)]. And, I loved it. I couldn't hear it, but I loved how it felt, if that makes any sense. I thought, "Well, I'd like to play the saxophone."
I was a conscientious objector, and then I went to Memphis State, then I went to Jackson State, then I went to Southern Mississippi. Then I decidedthen actually I was able to play a little bitand I went to The Creative Music Studio, in 1977, where Karl Berger and Ingrid Sertso had started a school. And Oliver Lake, Leo Smith, Art Ensemble [of Chicago], Dave Holland, Frederick Rzewskiall the big, big guys of the time taught there.
And then I moved to New York City. I talked to Oliver Lake. I thought I was playing pretty good, and I said, "Oliver, I'm thinking about moving to New York, but there are so many saxophone players!" And Oliver said, "George, there's always room for one more!" And that's how those guys were and are, they were very supportive, inclusive and"Go do it..."
AAJ: And so you made it in New York.
GC: I think I did good things. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to be in the right place at the right time, to be able do really good music, and meet creative people and talented people who were all going, "Wow! Here we are! Let's go!" Let's go do whatever this is, or create whatever it is. It was very exciting.
GC: Well, I had a great saxophone teacher at the University of Southern Mississippi named Wilbur Moreland. A really nice guyhe was really a clarinetist, and he taught saxophone players 'cause he kind of had to. I was not very good. I was learning, and I was practicing five or six, or seven hours a day. But he treated me like the good students. And it meant the world to me.
AAJ: What is the history of your role as leader? You seem like a very natural leader and you don't hog the stage, and you let the other musicians breathe and speak on their own, and you know how to knit them togetherWere you a leader growing up, in any way?