By Howard Koplowitz
Carl Bartlett, Jr. was 14 years old when he discovered jazz.
Now, 14 years later, people are about to discover the jazz alto saxophonist with the Jan. 21 release of his debut CD, “Hopeful.”
The 28-year-old Cambria Heights resident vividly recalls Christmas Day 1996, when the then-14-year-old Bartlett’s uncle played the Brecker Brothers album, “New York City.”
“I’ll never forget that day. [The music] was unbridled beauty. You could tell that it was so advanced and complex yet it was cathartic and bold,” Bartlett said. “He put that on for me. The next day, Dec. 26, I picked up my alto sax. That lit my fire.”
Although he was in his teen years when he began to appreciate jazz, Bartlett comes from a musical family. His father, Carl Bartlett, Sr., and his uncle have been playing R&B, Latin music and jazz since the 1960s.
“They would take me to their gigs at a young age,” Bartlett said. “I always had [music] in my genes.”
In his first year at Cardozo HS in Bayside, he joined a band called Harmony and played second alto sax for Cardozo’s concert band.
At 16, Bartlett joined his father and uncle in a band called The Bartlett Contemporaries; before he joined, the band had played for Oprah Winfrey, Spike Lee and Bill Cosby.
He received his first alto saxophone as a graduation present in 2000.
Bartlett was in the all-city jazz band his senior year and received a 90 percent scholarship to the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, which he graduated from in 2004.
Bartlett has finished one year of a two-year music program at Queens College, which he said he took time off to complete because he wanted to “experience life” and start working.
From 2006 to 2009, Bartlett taught music at Martin Luther HS in Maspeth and was the head instructor of the school’s band program.
Bartlett said he named his debut CD “Hopeful” because it describes his spirit.
“It’s a very exciting time,” he said. “It just embodies my thoughts about my life and my career. There are always obstacles and you have to remain hopeful.”
Bartlett, special guest guitarist Ron Jackson and his uncle Charles, who plays trumpet on one of the CD’s songs, rehearsed for a year before recording the album June 8.
Of the eight songs, the first six are originals by Bartlett, followed by two standards – Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke’s “It Could Happen to You” and “I Love Lucy” by Eliot Daniel.
“I really anticipate this CD will be a success,” said Bartlett, who has opened for Wynton Marsalis and played with Andy Montanez’s Latin salsa orchestra.
While Bartlett has spent half his life immersed in jazz, he said he is still trying to reach a higher level of proficiency.
“You’re always learning,” he said. “Even though I’m a seasoned professional, I’m always learning.”
The CD launch party is scheduled for Jan. 21 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre at the West Bank Cafe in Manhattan.
For tickets to the launch party, call 212-695-6909.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4573.