Cult Classic: Gary Bartz-Love Song.

By 1976, saxophonist Gary Bartz’s reputation was on the rise.This came as no surprise to those within the jazz community. Already, Gary Bartz had played with some of the biggest names in jazz. Especially before he formed his own band in 1969.

Baltimore born Gary Bartz had started his career playing with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln in 1964. This came about when Gary happened to meet Max Roach in Baltimore a few years earlier. The two men swapped numbers and kept in touch. Eventually, Gary decided to move to New York. Max Roach had given him his number, and told Gary to phone him when he arrived in New York. 

Upon his arrival in the Big Apple, Gary Bartz phoned Max Roach. He took the young saxophonist under his wing, and even brought him into his band. For Gary Bartz, this opened doors that might have remained closed.

In 1965, Gary Bartz spread his wings and joined Art Blakeley’s Messengers. Gary who could play alto and soprano saxophone became the Messengers’ new alto saxophonist. He made his recording debut on Art Blakey’s 1966 album Hold On I’m Coming.  This was the start of a prolific recording career.

Two years later, and Gary Bartz was back working with Max Roach. He played on his 1968 album Members, Don’t Git Weary.  The same year, Gary played on Roy Ayers’ Stoned Soul Picnic, and on Helen Merill’s A Shade Of Difference. Gary also joined McCoy Tyner’s band and was a member from 1968 until 1976. However, the most significant release of 1968 was Gary’s debut as bandleader.

The Gary Bartz Quintet released their debut album Libra in 1968. It had been recorded on May 31st and June 15th 1967 at Plaza Sound Studios, New York. Libra was released in 1968 by Milestone Recordings. They would also release Gary’s next release, Another Earth in 1969. That was the year Gary release one of his most famous bands, Gary Bartz NTU Troop.

Over the five years, Gary Bartz NTU Troop would release six groundbreaking albums. That was no surprise, Gary was aided and abetted by all-star cast that included Andy Bey, Ron Carter, Stafford James and Woody Shaw. However, throughout the life of Gary Bartz NTU Troop, their lineup, just like the music would evolve. Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s debut album featured a sextet. It was released their debut album as the seventies dawned.

This was Home, which was released on Milestone Records in 1970. This was followed by the release of two of Gary Bartz NTU Troop’s finest albums during 1971, Harlem Bush Music-Uluru and Harlem Bush Music-Taifa. Both were innovative, genre-melting albums where elements of avant-garde were combined with free jazz, jazz funk and post bop. These two albums brought Gary Bartz NTU Troop to the attention of Prestige.

Gary Bartz NTU Troop signed to Prestige and released their fourth album Ju Ju Street Songs in 1972. It was another ambitious album. This time though, the music moved in the direction of fusion. It seemed that Gary Bartz NTU Troop were a musical chameleons, their music constantly changing to ensure it stayed relevant.

That was the case when they released Follow, The Medicine Man was released in 1973. Everything from jazz-funk and fusion to avant-garde and soul could be heard on Follow, The Medicine Man. Later in 1973, Gary Bartz NTU Troop returned with a  double live album. I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies had been recorded Montreux Jazz Festival, in Switzerland on Saturday, July 7th 1973. By then, the lineup featured Gary, Howard King and Stafford James. Despite being reduced to a trio, the Gary Bartz NTU Troop produced a show-steeling performance, which is replicated on I’ve Known Rivers and Other Bodies. This proved  to be their swan-song.

Although one further album was released, it didn’t bear the Gary Bartz NTU Troop name. Instead, when Singerella-A Ghetto Fairy Tale was released in 1974, it was credited to Ntu Gary Bartz. This was the only album that Ntu Gary Bartz released. After this, Gary Bartz returned to his solo career.

Accompanied by some top New York based session players, Gary Bartz bang work on sophomore album. This would become The Shadow Do. It was released on Prestige in 1975, and was the start of a new chapter in the career of Gary Bartz. This continued when Gary Bartz released Ju Ju Man in 1976.

Ju Ju Man.

After the release of The Shadow Do, Gary Bartz began work on his third solo album. He wrote the title-track Ju Ju Man and Pisces Daddy Blue. The other three tracks were cover versions. This included Rogers and Hart’s My Funny Valentine, John Coltrane’s Straight Street and Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Street. These five tracks would become Ju Ju Man, which was recorded by some top session players.

Recording of Ju Ju Man took place at Sage and Sound Studio, Hollywood, Los Angeles during 1976. Accompanying Gary Bartz, were a rhythm section of drummer bassist Howard King and Curtis Robertson. He switched between acoustic and electric bass on Ju Ju Man. The other members of the band were pianist Charles Mims Jr, and vocalist Syreeta whose vocal features on My Funny Valentine. On Ju Ju Man, Gary Bartz showcased his versatility. The reedman played alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, clarinet, synths and added vocals. Taking care of production was Pat Britt. Once the five tracks that became Ju Ju Man were completed, the album was released later in 1976.

Before that, critics had their say on Ju Ju Man. They were won over by what was the strongest album of Gary Bartz’s solo career. It had a much more traditional jazz sound. There were neither diversions into avant-garde nor free jazz, like in the days of the Gary Bartz NTU Troop. This much more traditional sound, was the perfect showcase for Gary Bartz and his band.

That was the case from Ju Ju Man, where vocals pay homage to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. Just like the rest of Ju Ju Man, the rhythm section drive and power the arrangement along. Pianist Howard King plays a starring role. However, it’s Gary’s blistering, braying saxophone that steals the show. Soon, though it’s all changed. 

My Funny Valentine has an understated and later sultry arrangement. It’s the perfect accompaniment for Syreeta’s soulful vocal. As she takes her bow, Straight Street unfolds, and showcases a much more tradition jazzy sound, Again, Gary is at the heart of the action, as he delivers one of finest best solos on Ju Ju Man. There’s no letup, as Gary and drummer Howard King take centre-stage on Pisces Daddy Blue. Soon, the rest of the band are playing their part. However, Howard King’s piano plays a starring role, as Gary plays with controlled power on what’s blues-tinged slice of straight ahead jazz. It’s another of the highlights of Ju Ju Man. It closes with Chelsea Bridge where Gary switches to alto saxophone. There’s a slow, sparse wistful sound for much of the track. Later, the tempo increases and Gary plays with intensity and passion on what’s a quite beautiful track. 

Given the consistency and quality of Ju Ju Man, it was no surprise that critics hailed the album the finest of Gary Bartz’s career. This more traditional sound seemed to allow him to showcase his considerable talents. However, given that many regarded this as the sound jazz’s past, how popular would Ju Ju Man be?

Later in 1976, Prestige released Ju Ju Man. Despite the critical acclaim that had preceded the release of Ju Ju Man, the album failed to chart. It still found a small but loyal audience who had followed Gary Bartz’s career closely. They released that the majority of music fans had missed out on his finest solo album so far. 


Music Is My Sanctuary.

That was until the release of Music Is My Sanctuary in 1977. This was the first album Gary Bartz released on Capitol Records. It was also  a big budget recording.

For Music Is My Sanctuary, some of the top session players were brought onboard. So were one of the most successful production teams, the Mizell brothers. However, it would be a familiar face that played a starring role on Music Is My Sanctuary, Syreeta.

She added the vocal on the anthemic title-track. It would later become synonymous with Gary Bartz. Similarly, Music Is My Sanctuary is regarded as one of Gary’s finest hours. 

It found him following in the footsteps of Donald Byrd, as he combined elements of funk, soul, jazz, fusion and even disco. This looked like being the album that brought Gary Bartz to the attention of the wider record buying public.

Music Is My Sanctuary won over the majority of critics. That was apart from jazz purists. They turned  turned their back on Music Is My Sanctuary, disappointed and disapproving of the direction Gary Bartz’s music was heading.

Despite bring released to mostly critical acclaim, Music Is My Sanctuary failed to make much of an impression on the charts. The album had been released a year to early.

Later, though, Music Is My Sanctuary would be regarded as one of Gary Bartz’s finest hour, with the title-track becoming a classic, and a favourite of DJs and compilers. However, the followup to Music Is My Sanctuary, would be another accessible album that should’ve appealed to a wider audience, Love Song.



Love Song.

Despite the disappointing sales of Ju Ju Man and then Music Is My Sanctuary, Gary Bartz began work on his next solo album, Love Song, later in 1977.  For his fourth solo album he penned two new songs Afterthoughts and Love Song, which lent its name to the album. They were joined by Earl Shuman and Leon Carr’s Prelude and Lonely Girl; Eddie Holman and James Solomon’s Interlude And Don’t Stop Now; Ivy Jo Hunter, Jack Alan Goga and Jeffrey Bowden’s You and George Cables’ Interlude And Just Suppose. These six songs would become Love Song, which was recorded in the familiar surroundings of Sage and Sound Studio in L.A.

When recording of began later in 1977, the same rhythm section accompanied Gary Bartz. Drummer Howard King and basset Curtis Robertson were joined by guitarist Carl McDaniels. They were joined by keyboardist George Cables and vocalist Rita Greene. She would feature on Love Song and Interlude And Just Suppose. Adding backing vocals, were Clydie King, Shirley Matthews and Billy Thedford. Meanwhile, Gary played alto saxophone, soprano saxophone and added vocals. He also decided to take charge of production on Love Song. The result was a very different album than Ju Ju Man.

Critics realised this when they received their gold stamped promo copies in 1978. Love Song wasn’t just a jazz album. Elements of soul, R&B and pop shawn through on an album that featured familiar tracks. That’s apart from Love Song a sultry, soulful and jazzy track. The soul came courtesy of Rita Green’s vocals, which were augmented by harmonies. So were the familiar strains of Prelude and Lonely Girl, where jazz meets soul. Gary’s alto sax and harmonies play leading roles as the rhythm section provide a slow, steady backdrop. Soon, though, the tempo rises.

What doesn’t change on Interlude and Don’t Stop Now is that soul meets jazz. There’s a tougher, slightly funkier sound as the tempo ebbs and flows. This allows the band to stretch their legs. You has a similar sound as the two preceding tracks. It’s jazz-tinge and soulful, as the backing vocalists and Gary’s saxophone play leading roles. 

Then on Interlude and Just Suppose, the tempo drops as Rita Green returns. Before that, it’s just Gary accompanied by the keyboards. When Rita’s vocal enters, the track heads in the direction of jazz funk. Later, when her vocal drops out,  futuristic synths and then keyboards take the track in the direction of fusion and then jazz funk. This nine minute epic finds Gary at his most inventive, as he embraces the role of producer. Afterthoughts which closes Love Song, is a short track penned by Gary. With the piano for company, Gary produces an understated, late night, jazzy sound. Its melancholy sound is a reminder of another of  Gary’s albums, Ju Ju Man. It hadn’t found the audience it deserved. Would Love Song?

Critics found Love Song a very accessible and listenable album. It was also a much more eclectic album. There was much more than jazz on Love Song. Elements of soul, R&B, pop, funk, fusion and jazz funk can be heard. This soulful, funky, jazzy and dance-floor friendly album should’ve meant that Love Song appealed to a wider audience.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. When Love Song was released later in 1978, the album failed to find the wider audience it deserved. Just like Ju Ju Man, it found an audience within the jazz, soul and R&B community. They welcomed this much more eclectic sounding album from Gary Bartz. However, it would only be later that Gary Bartz’s music was discovered by the wider record buying public.

Many people were introduced to Gary Bartz’s music through his previous album Music Is My Sanctuary, whose title-track later, became a favourite of compilers. This lead to record buyers digging deeper into Gary Bartz’s back-catalogue. 

Many started at the beginning, with the Gary Bartz Quintet’s 1968 album Libra. After this, record buyers discovered Gary’s 1969 debut solo album Another Earth. This was just the start. There was still Gary Bartz NTU Troop and Ntu Gary Bartz’s back-catalogue to discover. Eventually, they made their way to Gary’s solo career. The Shadow Do was Gary’s long-awaited sophomore solo album. However, it was his next album Ju Ju Man, that was one of Gary Bartz’s finest albums.

Ju Ju Man was very different to previous albums, and was an album of straight ahead jazz. This many jazz fans thought was yesterday’s sound. However, Gary Bartz was perfectly suited to this sound. It was the perfect showcase for one of the most talented reedman of his generation. Whether he was playing alto saxophone, soprano saxophone or clarinet, Gary Bartz played with power, passion inventiveness and control. Time after time, he came into his own. This was the case on 1977s Music Is My Sanctuary, and its followup, the cult classic Love Song. 

Backed by a tight, talented and versatile band, backing vocalists and Rita Green, Gary Bartz showcases his versatility on Love Song. The music is funky, jazzy, soulful and dance-floor friendly. It should’ve won over dancers, DJs as well as anyone interested in soul, jazz and funk. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and Love Song remained one of the hidden gems in Gary Bartz’s back-catalogue and features one of finest reedman of his generation at the peak of his musical powers. 

Cult Classic: Gary Bartz-Love Song.


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