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From bebop to hip-hop: Gary Bartz's sax sound shapes many eras

Gary Bartz
Jonathan Chimene/WBGO
Gary Bartz

For more than 60 years, saxophonist and composer Gary Bartz has been a central figure in jazz history. But for some reason, he hasn't received his due. With that said, the late jazz critic Stanley Crouch, who often leaned into tradition, described Bartz as "one of the very best who has ever picked up the instrument."

Name a jazz legend from the last century and there's a good chance Mr. Bartz has a story about them, dating all the way back to Bird himself, Charlie Parker. In this episode, we'll also hear stories of his many collaborations with those in the pantheon — Sonny Stitt; Max Roach; Art Blakey; Miles Davis; Charles Mingus — but we also learn why his artistry remains so present today, even perceived as an elder statesman in the hip hop music tradition.

Gary Bartz at the Charlie Parker Festival
/ Jonathan Chimene/WBGO
Jonathan Chimene/WBGO
Gary Bartz at the Charlie Parker Festival

Bartz's stamp on the music continues to be absorbed by future generations via projects like Jazz Is Dead with Ali Shaheed Muhammad (Tribe Called Quest) and producer Adrian Younge. And now that he's in his 80s (but looks at least 20 years younger), he's rightfully getting his due.

As we'll hear in this episode, which includes a heartfelt conversation with our host Christian McBride, his music has never sounded so present.


Gary Bartz, alto and soprano saxophone, vocals; Paul Bollenback, guitar; James King, bass; Greg Bandy, drums

Set List:

  • Moose The Mooche (Charlie Parker)
  • Uranus (Walter Davis Jr.)
  • The Stank (Gary Bartz)
  • I Can't Help It (Stevie Wonder)
  • I've Known Rivers (Gary Bartz)
  • The Song of Loving-Kindness (Gary Bartz)
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi. Producer: Alex Ariff; Host: Christian McBride; Concert engineer: Rob Macomber; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Tinku Bhattacharyya and Skyline Studios in Oakland

    Copyright 2022 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Sarah Geledi
    Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.