Gary Bartz has been known to many as a trail blazer in the music business from the moment he started playing with Art Blakey at his father’s jazz club in his hometown of Baltimore, MD to his own music throughout the 57 years as a professional musician. As if his Grammy Award© with McCoy Tyner in 2005 (‘Illuminations’) wasn’t enough to carve out a place for Bartz in the jazz genre, he has broken the mold with more than 40 solo albums and over 200 as a guest artist.
Gary Bartz first came to New York In 1958 to attend the Julliard Conservatory of Music. Just 17 years old, Gary couldn't wait to come to the city to play and learn. "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." Back then, Gary could regularly be found drinking Cokes in the all ages "peanut gallery" of Birdland, enjoying a marathon bill of performers. "If I didn't have money to get in. I'd help somebody carry a drum and sneak in," laughs Bartz. "I learned that early on."
Circa mid-'60s, the alto saxophonist - still in his early 20s - began performing throughout the city with the Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln Group and quickly established himself as the most promising alto voice since Cannonball Adderley. "In those days, we used to go by people's lofts and stay for weeks, just working on music," says Gary. "Folks would all chip in and buy food, and one of us would cook. But there was always music, because people were dropping by at all hours. We didn't even think about it; that's just what we did. We were very unselfish about what we were writing because, after all, music doesn't belong to any one person. It belongs to the people, to everybody."
With the splash of his New York debut solidly behind him, Bartz soon joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. According to the story, Gary's parents owned a club in Baltimore, the North End Lounge. When his father hired Blakey for a gig, Gary grabbed the opportunity to fill a sax player vacancy in the band. After his performance that night, the young Bartz was officially hired to join the Jazz Messengers; in 1965, he would make his recording debut on Blakey's ‘Soulfinger’ album.