For the past decade, Cambria Heights saxophonist Carl Bartlett Jr. has been playing his way to the top of the city’s jazz scene.
On Jan. 2, he and his band, The Carl Bartlett, Jr. Quartet, officially arrive with a gig at Jazz at Kitano one of the top-five jazz venues in New York.
“It is completely amazing,” Bartlett said. “We’re starting off 2014 by having our name really out there.”
Although new to the Manhattan scene, Bartlett has been a fixture in venues throughout southeast Queens since before he could drink alcohol legally at them.
As a teenager growing up first in St. Albans and then Cambria Heights, Bartlett enjoyed an eclectic mix of musical interests including pop, R & B and even a little jazz, he said. But after his uncle made him listen to a Brecker Brothers’ album one Christmas, a little jazz turned into a whole lot.
“It wasn’t until that day that I heard what jazz is,” Bartlett said about Michael and Randy Brecker’s jazz fusion album. “It was an oxymoron. It was beautiful and nasty at the same time.”
Bartlett, who inherited some of his musical chops from his saxophone-playing father, has mastered both the alto and tenor sax. In high school he was named to the All-City Jazz Band during his junior and senior years, where he earned both the first and second chair spots.
He then won a scholarship in 2000 to attend the Manhattan School of Music, located in the shadow of Columbia University. But even during his years of study, he always found time to form jazz quartets and secure paying jobs, like the one at Brandy’s Jazz Lounge in St. Albans.
“That was one of my first gigs,” Bartlett said. “We had a regular spot once a week or once every two weeks for a few years. I was on cloud nine.”
But even in today’s world of downloadable tunes, musicians still need to record and release CDs to tout their work.
“You have to do a record,” Bartlett said. “Nobody knows you till you put out a record.”
For Bartlett, that happened in 2011 with his debut album, “Hopeful,” which quickly turned into a jazz media favorite.
Glowing reviews poured in from such industry giants as Jazziz magazine, All About Jazz and Jazz Inside magazine, which included this rave of the musician “showcasing the saxophonist’s deft and soulful—and sentimental—touch with the ballad form, with his band delivering just the right light and delicate accompaniment. Barlett draws long, sweet lines, as the tune winds down, teary-eyed.”
The CD, which includes six original songs and two new arrangements of classic pieces “It Could Happen to You,” and the theme from the “I Love Lucy” show.
Bartlett describes his band, which includes Yolchi Uzeki on piano, Dylan Shamat on bass and Dwayne Broadnax on drums, as utilizing a modern and progressive use of time in its creations.
“Not everything is 4/4 (four beats per measure),” Bartlett said. “We have some 2/5 chord changes like you would hear in swing.”
As he prepares to swing into the new year, he believes the rough patch he experienced this year — including the death of both his grandmother and grandfather — is behind him. He has big hopes for ’14, which just happens to be his age when he first started playing the sax.
“We have a bunch of live bookings, and I’m working on another album that should be out by the tail end of 2014,” he said. “I’m super happy. Jazz is what I always wanted to do.”
If you go
The Carl Bartlett, Jr. Quartet
The Kitano: Jazz at KITANO
Where: 66 Park Ave., Manhattan
When: Thursday, Jan. 2, 8 pm and 10 pm
Cost: $15/cover and $15/food and drink minimum
Contact: (212) 885-7119