Gary Bartz Named NEA Jazz Master for 2024

Grammy Award-winning saxophone professor has played with jazz luminaries spanning generations.

August 17, 2023

Communications Staff

Gary Bartz performing on alto saxophone.
Gary Bartz performed alongside his fellow Oberlin jazz faculty in a February 2023 concert in Finney Chapel.
Photo credit: John Seyfried

Gary Bartz, Oberlin’s Grammy Award-winning professor of jazz saxophone and a vital link to generations of jazz greats, has secured a claim to greatness all his own: Bartz was named a 2024 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest honor conferred to jazz musicians.

Gary Bartz
photo by Tanya Rosen-Jones '97

Bartz is the second Oberlin jazz faculty member to earn the accolade in the past three years: His colleague, Associate Professor of Jazz Drumming Billy Hart, was named a 2022 Jazz Master.

A member of the Oberlin jazz faculty since 2001, Bartz joins a 2024 class of honorees that includes seven-time Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard; pianist, vocalist, and composer Amina Claudine Myers; and artistic director, writer, and broadcaster Willard Jenkins. They will be celebrated in an April 2024 concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

A native of Baltimore, Bartz was raised in his parents’ nightclub, an experience that left him idolizing Charlie Parker by age 6 and wielding his own first alto sax five years later. He attended the Juilliard School and joined the Charles Mingus Jazz Workshop in 1962, beginning a long run of high-profile collaborations as a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and in the bands of Max Roach and Miles Davis, among others.

Music is humbling, and I am humbled by this award.”

Gary Bartz

A longtime resident of Oakland, California, Bartz is a two-time Grammy Award winner for his contributions to recordings by Roy Hargrove (1997) and McCoy Tyner (2004).

In comments to the NEA, Bartz recognized the many others who paved the way for his career and emphasized the origins of the art form to which he has dedicated his life.

“I am very honored to have been chosen to join many of my mentors and contemporaries for this award honoring this art form that was founded in the U.S.A., which I call informal composition, not improvisation,” he said. “I give thanks to my ancestors who nurtured this great art form born in the U.S.A. Music is humbling, and I am humbled by this award. This music is our gift to the universe!”

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