Does folk derive from blues? Is hip hop rooted in jazz? They say blues is an off shoot of jazz, and jazz draws from classical music, so is blues a form of classical? No matter how you look at it there’s something special about hearing the different music worlds come together.
This last Wednesday, we got to do just that when legendary jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz performed with soul and hip hop singers Bilal and Aloe Blacc at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco for The Red Bull Music Academy showcase produced by Jill Newman.
The night began with Bartz cooly walking onto the stage wearing a plaid blazer, a bowl cap, and a big smile. Wasting no time he jumped into his set without introducing the track. The set’s tone swayed. First, moving anxiously as the pianist spastically banged on the keys with animated “vinegar stroke” expressions; before gently settling with a ballad where Bartz piped fluttering notes over methodical bass patterns. By the third song, Bartz realized he hadn’t been acknowledging the crowd and took to the mic with a grin, “I’m not normally the guy introducing the songs.”
But he did not forget to acknowledge Coltrane. Bartz, whose own legend is comparable to the peers he’s played alongside like Art Blakey, Charles Mingus, McCoy Tyner, and Miles Davis, humbly explained to the crowd how he saw Coltrane as a “warrior,” and played from his album Coltrane Rules, and Coltrane’s “Pristine.”
Then Bilal joined him on stage, adding a fullness to the group. He began with Stevie Wonder’s “Cant Help It.,” and after the first verse, playfully improvised with Bartz, belting notes like a saxophone. When he finished, Bartz exclaimed “God damn! Doesn’t everybody wish they could sing?” Bilal’s experimentalism as a vocalist complimented Bartz’s improvisational jazz structure.
In comparison, when Aloe Blacc took to the stage to perform his hit “I Need a Dollar” it was the first, and only point in the night, where Bartz was not the centerpiece of the show. He followed with Andy Bey’s “Celestial Blues,” which was more fitting for the environment and gave the band a chance to solo their skills.
As the night came to an end Bartz welcomed both singers to join him on stage for one more nod to Coltrane with “A Love Supreme.” It was a perfect moment, the contemporary singers performing and showing their respects to Bartz, who too was paying his respects to the musician who influenced him.