DownBeat March 2021

I look at each one like an actor looks at a role. I always want to know: What is my role in this project?” In addition to his disregard for genre desig- nations, Bartz often summons a familiar riff that summarizes his absolute adherence to the idea of listening and serving the music, as opposed to constantly firing off self-centered aggrandizements. “I don’t hear much music being played today,” he asserted. “I hate to say it, but all I hear is ego. It’s not about you. It’s about the music. “When I used to walk away from listening to John Coltrane, I wasn’t thinking about him. I was thinking about the music, because that’s what he was thinking about. It wasn’t about him: ‘Look how good I am and howmany notes I can play.’ Now, it’s about ego, and part of that has to do with education. This is my big beef right now. This music, created in this country by peo- ple from my community and immigrants, is the greatest music ever created on this planet. There’s been nothing close. To take a concept that started probably before Bach, and was done with Beethoven andMozart—they all did theme and variation. They all did that. Every virtuoso can do a theme and variation. Beethoven used to ask the audience formelodies, and he would take thosemelodies and vary them.That’s what virtu- oso musicians do. ...

“What we discovered, and this was the great thing, is how to do it with a group of peo- ple. No one could ever do a theme and varia- tions with two people, even; if they knew each other real good, maybe they could. But with five, six, seven, a big band of people—are you kidding? So, that in itself is a heck of a step. Greatest music ever. But yet, in the school cur- riculums of the United States, we value more the music from another culture and country— European classical.” That’s not the onlymiscalculation Bartz has worked to clarify during his career as a per- former and educator. However much jazz (a term Bartz doesn’t use) is built upon the hero- ic notion of expressions of self, the saxophon- ist sees a practice believed to be integral to the form as a misnomer. “I call it composing. People want to call it improvising. It’s not improvised. Improvising means you didn’t know what you were doing; you just did it right then,” he said. “No, 60 years of study is not an improvisation. Everything I play, I meant to play it. And when I make a mis- take, that’s an improvisation—which I don’t do too many of. But no one knows it, because I know how to clean it up. Every composition should have a great beginning, good themat- ic material in the middle and a great ending. If that doesn’t happen, then it’s not a great compo-

sition. But every chorus of a solo, you’re recreat- ing the theme that you’re playing on. It’s a com- position; each chorus is composition, which is why it’s copyrightable. I have a plan. Every solo I take, I have a plan.” His musical blueprint also incorporates a sociopolitical element, stretching from his time with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln in the ’60s to his stint in the ’70s with the Mtume Umoja Ensemble and his NTU Troop, a group that sported lyrics directly and metaphorical- ly addressing violence at home and abroad, and perhaps ranks as the closest sonic antecedent to his work with Jazz Is Dead. “I write songs about everything, about life. And usually about something that’s interesting me at the time,” Bartz said. “Just living in this country under a racist system makes me think about it all the time, and you have to fight it. You go other places and you don’t feel it, you don’t see it. It might be there, and there may be prejudices, but those systems are not built on it. This system is built on racism and genocide. Until we figure out and decide that we want to be good human beings, it’s going to continue. “When you’re young, you say, ‘We’re gonna fight and maybe by the time I’m 40 or 50, we will have overcome all of this.’ History is slow. We won’t see it—maybe in 200, 300 years, if ever.”  DB


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