One of jazz culture’s many graces is that a musician’s value—his or her relevance, to use a deeply flawed term—has little to do with age. A brilliant example of this is Gary Bartz, who seems to have hit upon yet another apex. At 78, the Baltimore-born, Oakland-based saxophonist, composer, and educator is in a rare position to be all things to all jazz people.
To start, he’s one of the most reliable living narrators of the music’s history, an intermediary between the bop and fusion generations with oodles of memoir-worthy firsthand accounts. A nice haul of those tales appears below, but this interview yielded much more: a recollection of the time Bartz’s hero Jackie McLean taught him to never leave his horn with a tough-love prank; the memory of meeting Bud Powell, after a Brooklyn club owner thought the genius pianist was a vagabond, and playing with him; anecdotes from Ornette Coleman’s historic Five Spot stand; and reflections on Sun Ra’s sprawling two-night Omniversal Symphonic on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1984. To name but a few.