Since then, Bartlett’s has been featured on numerous jazz radio stations, magazines and compilations. Success is something he finds flattering, yet not surprising.
At 31, he is deeply set on his path of mastering the jazz saxophone through his progressive attitude and vision, while keeping to his family roots and neighborhood ties.
I had a chance to sit down with Bartlett at a coffee shop near his home in Jamaica to discuss his album, his tour and the music that he has chosen as his life’s path.
How did you get into playing the saxophone?
Well, my main instrument is the alto saxophone. I started playing that around the age of 11 and the person that inspired me to play was actually my dad, because he is a saxophonist. I said, “Wow, that instrument is really cool.”
Do you remember the first time you saw an alto sax?
It was at a young age. Probably around eight or nine or something like that. When I got into junior high school, in sixth grade, which is age 11 – and we could choose instruments at that age, not just the recorder – I said, “You know what? I’m doing saxophone. My dad was doing sax, so I’m doing sax.”
At age 14 though, that was a special time in 1996, because that was the year that I started jazz. My uncle, who also plays trumpet – I come from a musical family – on Christmas Day he brought a record of a great group called the Brecker Brothers. Michael Brecker plays saxophone, tenor sax, and his brother Randy Brecker plays trumpet, and I heard that album on Christmas Day in 1996 and from that point on, I was 14 then, that changed my life forever. From that point on I’ve been playing jazz.
What’s the sound of the saxophone that got you?
There are not enough adjectives to describe it. The saxophone can be a lot of things. One of the ways that I characterize it, is kind of like unbridled beauty because it has such extremes. You know, from extreme lows to extreme highs with the harmonics of the saxophone. You can be very central with it, or you can be very rugged, it just runs the gamut in terms of emotions that you can portray.
In my opinion, I feel that it’s the closest think that can reach the heart, even more than the human voice. Some people say it’s the closest thing to the human voice, but I think even more so, it does something even more than the human voice.
What school did you go to when first started pick up the sax?
I went to M.S. 74 in Bayside, and then from there I went to Cardozo High School in Bayside and from there I went to the great Manhattan School of Music. I graduated from there, and I got in on 90 percent scholarship and graduated with a Bachelor in Jazz Saxophone Performance in 2004.
Going to Manhattan School of Music, how did that contribute to your knowledge of the instrument?
It was an eye-opening experience to be with some of the best teachers, best players and the best atmosphere.
Did you think pursing a performance degree would be a risky way to get into the music business?
Yeah, but even though I had a playing degree, that’s what enabled me to teach at Martin Luther High School. I got a job teaching at the Lutheran Band Program. It wasn’t an education degree, but it was in some ways. It might be better because you’re actually playing the instrument and I knew exactly what it takes to relate to kids. When I was a teacher there, I had to know how to play multiple instruments, saxophone, clarinet, flute, trombone, trumpet, drums and piano.
Now you can record your own album.
Yeah! (laughs) Hopeful Part Two, Carl Does It All.
Who were some of the saxophonists in your past that inspired you?
Well my father and my uncle still have a phenomenal R &B show and dance band, and it’s actually named the Bartlet’s Contemporaries, so that’s my father and my uncle’s band.
They used to play Tavern on the Green, Marina del Rey in the Bronx, they played for Oprah Winfrey, they played for Spike Lee. My dad and my uncle have done some great, great work. They were primarily R&B, Calypso and they did some Soul too.
What other inspiration did you have after getting your own foot in the jazz world?
I listened to the Brecker Brothers, Sonny Stitt on saxophone, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, the great, and Freddy Hubbard.
What about modern groups?
Well, there’s Walt Weiskopf, Jerry Bergonzi, James Carter and Joshua Redman.
How has jazz music changed since back in your dad’s day?
The genre has changed in a few ways. One way is we have so many sub-genres in jazz and one of the movements is called progressive jazz. And let me just preface this by saying all this modern stuff is rooted so deeply in the basics. You have to know the basic forms and how to play over the basic chord changes.
One way that it has been modernized is definitely the progressive jazz, and generally that means songs and song forms in an odd meter time signature. Not just your regular 4/4 swing, and not just your regular 3/4 swing. People are doing things, and myself included, in all sorts of meters. Seven-four, 7/8, very odd metered stuff, very modern very progressive. So, let’s just put it like this, it’s excellent stuff, but it might not be the best for ballroom dancing.
What kind of jazz do you consider you’re playing right now?
For example, on my CD,Hopeful, its straight-ahead jazz progressive. We have odd meters on there, we mess with the time. Since it was my debut CD, what I wanted to do was - you know, I have all these ideas and I’m just a progressive thinking jazz musician, but I so respect the past will always be relevant because that’s where it stems from - have six of my own originals and because I was a new artist, I have two standards on there that people could recognize.
One of the two standards on there is “It Can Happen To You,” a great jazz standard, and the other one which everybody knows is from the TV classic, I Love Lucy, and it’s the “I Love Lucy Theme Song.” I’ve always loved that song, my dad has always loved that song and show.
Who do you have on the album?
Well let's see, Sharp Radway on piano, Eric Lemon at the bass, Emanuel Harrold on the drums and my uncle Charles Bartlett on trumpet. He’s on track seven as a special guest. The great Ron Jackson, he plays guitar on track four, “Quantum Leaps and Bounds.”
Where did you meet all these guys?
Some of them I knew for a while. The gentleman I didn’t know, who I just met for the CD, was Emmanuel, the drummer. He’s originally from St. Louis, but he was living in New Jersey at the time. I met him through Eric for the first time. Eric I had known from the neighborhood, Sharp I had known from the neighborhood and Ron I know from church.
One thing I notice is that you write all your own songs as well.
Oh yeah, that’s the key. You have to write. It’s good to do arrangements on other songs, but you have to write your own material to show who you are and how you think.
How do you write?
Well I’ve always known theory and that plays a part in it. That’s not the end all be all, but it’s also just the things you hear in dreams, if you can remember dreams, and just stuff to get on another level and just tap into where people’s hearts are.
So while it has been a little over a year since releasing Hopeful, where are you now with the album and your tour?
Well, with the unfortunate passing of my grandparents this year, we had festivals planned for this year and we had great gigs planned for this year, I went through a hard time with it. They were my two last remaining grandparents.
I just couldn’t do them. I was going through some pretty serious stuff for a young guy. Now, I’ve gotten over most of it and my official return was on Oct. 14 for my suite, which was excellent. Next month, I got the call to co-headline a double bill with jazz master trombonist, Clifford Adams from Kool and the Gang.
Are you surprised by the amount of feedback you’ve gotten from your album?
To be honest, no. I know what the CD sounded like, and I had these big musicians and all these unbelievable things I’m hearing in my head and I’m writing it out. Once I heard it, I said this is going to take off.
Check out Carl Bartlett Jr.’s album and catch him in his next performance with Clifford Adams from Kool and the Gang on Nov. 27 at The Record Collector in Bordentown, New Jersey.