Interview with Carl Bartlett, Jr.: Jazz is a very personal, and expressive musical language: Video

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Jazz interview with jazz saxophonist Carl Bartlett, Jr. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.Space: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?

Carl Bartlett, Jr.: – I grew up in Queens, NY.  First, in St. Albans, Queens (which has an amazingly rich Jazz lineage), and later in Cambria Heights, Queens, that’s my stomping ground.  I first became interested in music probably at around age seven.  My Mom and Dad got me piano lessons at a young age from a wonderful teacher named David Watley.  I believe the initial catalyst was my Dad (Carl Bartlett, Sr.) and his Brother’s (my Uncle, Charles Bartlett) renowned Show and Dance band, named The Bartlett Contemporaries (that started in the 1960’s and is going strong today)!  They used to take me to many of their gigs, when I was a young boy, and I’d watch them in action.  When I reached a certain age and proficiency in music, they let me perform on stage with them.  That truly inspired me!

JBN.S: – What got you interested in picking up the saxophone? What teacher or teachers helped you progress to the level of playing you have today? What made you choose the your musical instrument?

CB.Jr: – My Dad is who inspired me to pick up the saxophone, because he played it very well.  Following that, on Christmas Day of 1996 (when I was fourteen years old), my Uncle brought a recording over of The Brecker Brothers, and I heard saxophonist Michael Brecker for the first time.  It was at that exact moment that I seriously took to Jazz!  My Uncle Charles, although he is a fabulous trumpeter, helped me progress on saxophone as he worked with me immensely on developing my ear, and my overall saxophone playing (reading, and improvisation).  Exceptional sax teachers in college included Dick Oatts, Steve Slagle, and Antonio Hart.

JBN.S: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?

CB.Jr: – Speaking purely sonically, I think of it as tone, instead of sound.  The word tone specifically brings about more of an emphasis on high quality, rather than simply something that has sound.  I can’t quantify how much tone means to me, and sometimes I speak rather esoterically (as opposed to musical terms) as I say that I want my tone to encapsulate what life is about, ultimately leading to freedom and promise.  My alto sax tone has evolved and has become thicker through the years, although I’ve always had a thicker than normal tone (especially in the mid to low registers), this is something that is innate.  My embouchure has also evolved as now I take less of the mouthpiece in my mouth than I used to (which gives the sax a less constricted sound).  One thing, however, that has remained constant throughout the evolution, is that I’ve always had a vivid and unshakeable idea in my mind as to how I want my tone to ultimately sound.  Then from there, I keep pushing for more.  Tone is my guiding light!

JBN.S: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?

CB.Jr: – These days, things are so busy musically that there is not nearly as much time to practice as I would like.  But when I do get practice time in, I make it count.  Specifically pertaining to rhythm, I practice with and without the sax.  Without the sax, I simply count.  Sound simple?  What I mean is that I expand my mind and ability by counting up to longer measures, let’s say 7/8, 11/4, 15/8, and even past 20 beats per measure, and I put songs in those meters.  It’s a whole other world when you add more space to the time, and I love the exploration of a new realm!  The real key is to make this sound musical and feel good.  On the sax, rhythmically, I practice what I just described, but more importantly I practice trying to be in the groove, and really have my ideas fit well and feel good, regardless of what meter, tempo, or style of tune I am playing.

JBN.S: – Which harmonies and harmonic patterns do you prefer now?

CB.Jr: – I’m open to all harmonies, and harmonic patterns, so long as it gets across who I am and what I feel in my soul!  I draw from Major (and all deviations, ie. augmented Major 7, etc.), minor (all types), diminished, augmented, Locrian, sus, sus13 flat 9, chromaticism, tritone subs, slash chords, fourths, fifths, sixths, various alterations on a chords/ scales, combinations of any of those, inside playing, outside playing, in between playing (combining consonance with dissonance), and many other harmonies that I’m not even sure how to describe.  A lot is on the table.

PROMISE! - Brand New CD by Carl Bartlett, Jr.PROMISE! - Brand New CD by Carl Bartlett, Jr.

JBN.S: – What do you love most about your new album 2017: <Promise!>, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

CB.Jr: – I call PROMISE! my second baby!  I love that the album fulfills the promise set out by my debut album, Hopeful, which is to keep striving for new, and very creative ways to move the spirit, and stimulate the intellect.  I believe that with my eight original tunes (some a bit far out, and some more standard) on my new album, coupled with the exceptional artistry of the musicians on the album, my counterparts Yoichi Uzeki (piano), Marcus McLaurine (bass), and Sylvia Cuenca (drums), and my Uncle Charles Bartlett (Special Guest on trumpet), that PROMISE! embodies what I feel, how I move through life, and a feeling that listeners of various tastes will be truly gripped by.  It’s an honest representation of me, and I love that!

JBN.S: – Which are the best jazz albums for you of 2017 year?

CB.Jr: – I really dig Bringin’ It, by Christian McBride Big Band.  The tunes and arrangements on this album are outstanding…brilliant!  One thing that stands out to me on this album is that it has many colors.  Each tune is captivating, has it’s own personality, and varies from the others.  Many moods are captured, and that not only keeps things interesting (which is an understatement when describing this fabulous album), but moves the listeners’ spirit in so many ways, perhaps in ways they might not have known were possible.

JBN.S: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

CB.Jr: – Friday, January 21, 2011 – The day that I officially through my hat into the Jazz pond and announced myself as an artist on the scene; This was the night of my CD Release Party for my debut album, Hopeful.  It was held at The Laurie Beechman Theatre, in Manhattan, NYC.  New York City had just experienced a monster snowstorm several days before that event.  I remember on the night of the album’s release how completely frigid the Winter temperature was, and my family, friends, and myself stepping over mounds of snow and ice as we entered the venue.  As I went inside and cleared the vestibule, what do I see but the entire lobby, and restaurant/waiting area filled with Fans, and Friends, smiling, cheering, and wishing me congratulations, as they prepared to go to the lower level for the show.  We had a SOLD OUT evening!  It was extremely cold outside, but inside was warm with love.  I’ll always remember that night!

JBN.S: – Many aspiring musicians are always looking for advice when navigating thru the music business. Is there any piece of advice you can offer to aspiring students or even your peers that you believe will help them succeed and stay positive in this business?

CB.Jr: – Yes, absolutely!  It is about, both, what you know and who you know.  Be smart and research the music business to find avenues that are available to you, there might be more out there for you than you think.  To my first point re: it’s what you know: I can’t stress enough, especially in the music business, to practice and become as proficient as you can at your craft, on your instrument(s), and as an overall musician.  Whether it’s as an improviser, sight reader, section player, in some cases being able to competently play various genres of music, or all of these combined and beyond, expanding your ability can be of the utmost importance.  Many times the path to “who you know” is via “how you play”.  I encourage all musicians to take this to heart.  With that also comes networking.  Having your own Official Website, coupled with an email list of your fans and friends is a powerful way of keeping people (en masse) posted on your excellent music.  This is very important.  Also, having business cards to give to people who enjoy your playing is key.  These steps are invaluable to young musicians, and to any musician who is interested in making music a career.  Again, if you’re just starting out, please practice, then go out on the scene to concerts, quality Jam Sessions, play your best, connect with other musicians and people who like music in a general way, look for bands to join, start your own band, write your own music, know all of the venues that hire bands (and the booking contact point), and if you’d like, research a good manager and agent.  You can and will do it!

JBN.S: – Аnd furthermore, can jazz be a business today or someday?

CB.Jr: – Well, for starters, Jazz is a gift!  It’s a very special music of the spirit, and of the mind.  It moves the soul whether simple, or complex, it’s a profound music.  If we never lose sight of that and always keep the music deep in our hearts, then that alone will sustain us with regards to how we feel.  Now, when there are careers to manage, this is where the business side of things comes into play.  In today’s world, with tours, requirements from labels/management teams, a life of constant traveling, deadlines regarding media, marketing, and more, that might (depending on the individual) be enough to take away from that intrinsic joy of simply being able to practice, listen to, and just vibe with the music.  If at all possible, it can indeed be a good thing to at times try and separate yourself from the business aspect, to simply reacquaint oneself with the special music (Jazz in this case) that initially moved you in such a profound way.

JBN.S: – Which collaboration have been the most important experiences for you?

CB.Jr: – As a lot of my performances feature my Jazz Quartet, Quintet, or Sextet, collaborations outside of that, for example with orchestras and big bands, and also recording with artists from various genres are all very important as they provide even more of a well rounded experience for me as a musician.  Last month (December ’17) I performed with a Classical/Jazz Orchestra accompanied by a choir at Calvary Baptist Church (Manhattan, NYC), located across from Carnegie Hall, and we played some very powerful music for the Christmas Season, before a captivated, capacity audience.  It was a very uplifting, and transcendent experience.

JBN.S: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?

CB.Jr: – I find that when Jazz is played in a refreshing manner (whether it be tone, a grooving band, exciting improvisation, how the melody is stated, the melody itself, etc.), that it is quite possible for young people to not merely be interested, but to in some cases actually be inspired to play Jazz, and at the very least crave to hear more of it, regardless of how old the tune is.  When we speak about young people (not all, but many), delivery is key!  I also state, however, that Jazz is a very personal, and expressive musical language, therefore a musician might be playing exceptionally well, with very deep ideas, but yet might not move a young person’s spirit.  This, in my estimation, is not a matter of “fault” on the part of either the young person for not understanding, or by the musical artist who is telling a story.  But, there’s good news: Learning about Jazz in schools, or programs outside of schools (via libraries, private lessons, online, the YMCA, etc.) will help!  Once young people begin to learn about Jazz, its history, and the theory behind the sounds that they are experiencing, it turns on the switch in their minds.  They begin recognizing the sounds they are hearing, and start to become much more receptive, creative, and inventive.  As a means of spurring this learning process, a few years ago, I created a program entitled “JAZZ: The Music Of Our Lifetime!”, which my ensemble still presents.  It consists of A) a “LIVE” performance by my band, B) an audience Q&A on what Jazz is, it’s key elements (Swing, The Blues, Improv., etc.) that make it feel and sound so great, it’s history, etc., and C) an audience participation portion.  My band has presented it at several major Cultural Venues (ie. Queens Botanical Garden, Elmont Memorial Library Theatre, Queens Library at Flushing, and more), to young people, and people of all ages, with exceptional results regarding people learning much more about Jazz, and feeling inspired by the music that they’ve experienced.  Now, with an open mind, people are in perfect position to receive Jazz in a whole new light.

JBN.S: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?

CB.Jr: – John Coltrane embodied a musical spirit, as did/do so many of our Jazz Giants!  He was music, and music was him.  For me, Jazz is embedded in my spirit.  The saying is “Art Imitates Life”, but I say “Jazz Is Life!”.

JBN.S: – What are your expectations of the future? What brings you fear or anxiety?

CB.Jr: – My expectations for the future are that I will continue to, and increasingly have a positive impact in peoples’ lives, and in the Jazz/ Music community through thoughtful, powerful performances of creative music.  I expect to bring my music to as many people as I can around the world through traveling, radio, newspapers, magazines, and via the internet.  What might bring me slight unease (not so much fear or anxiety) is making sure that I do my best to fulfill my complete potential as a musician/saxophonist/artist.  When you realize that you are blessed with a gift, the worst thing to do is to take it for granted, and/or not to make good on it.  I never want to say “what if I had”, or “how would I have sounded if only I had…”.  These thoughts are not about anxiety, but rather act as a galvanizing presence in my life.

JBN.S: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

CB.Jr: – The GRAMMYs would once again televise the Jazz portion of the Awards Show!

JBN.S: – What’s the next musical frontier for you?

CB.Jr: – Being that my sophomore album, “PROMISE!”, recently released, that is where my focus is as of now.  We are currently in the midst of an East Coast Tour promoting the music on the album.  After that, I’ll probably need just a little down time, and hope to focus more on a sustained shedding on my saxophone in order to reach new heights in my playing, and also compose new tunes during this time.  Of course, I’ll still be playing shows, as always, with my band (but I’ll probably center it more locally, like the tri-state area), and also with other bands, and also recording with other artists.  Then, there’s always the possibility of a third album.  We’ll see what happens.

JBN.S: – Are there any similarities between jazz and world music, including folk music?

CB.Jr: – Sure, improvisation is a common thread in all three (of course to varying degrees, but definitely present).  Also, certain instruments are present quite often when performing these styles, such as the guitar, drums, wind instruments like the flute and trumpet, and surely the human voice!

JBN.S: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

CB.Jr: – Sonny Stitt (who might be my favorite), Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Charlie Parker, James Moody, Michael Brecker, Carlos Averhoff, Jerry Bergonzi, Walt Weiskopf, Eric Alexander, Seamus Blake, and others.  That’s the who.  The what is nature…I’m always listening to life and seeing how it moves my spirit, and guides my music.

JBN.S: – What’s your current setup?

CB.Jr: – My current setup is a Keilwerth SX90R Alto Saxophone, a Jody Jazz HR* 9M Alto Sax Mouthpiece, and D’Addario Select Jazz Reeds for Alto Sax strength 2 Medium.

JBN.S: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?

CB.Jr: – I’d love to return to Barbados!  Some of my family comes from Barbados, and I have friends that live there, too.  I am enraptured by the wonderful people of the island, the pristine beaches, and the delicacies.  My very first steps as a baby were in Barbados.  Barbados is a special place to me.

JBN.S: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…

CB.Jr: – Simon, first off, thank you greatly for choosing me for an interview!  I sincerely appreciate the exceptional work that you do for the Jazz community.  You love the music, I can clearly feel that.  What is it about Jazz music that moves you so strongly to do what you do?

JBN.S: – Thanks very much !!! Jazz is life. Jazz is a good barometer of freedom…

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

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