Robert "Bootsie" Barnes (November 27, 1937 – April 22, 2020) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and a modern Philadelphia jazz icon. Through the power of his example, the depth of his clout and the sheer persistence of his presence, he held down the deeply swinging center of the city’s jazz community for over a six decade career. During that time, he maintained a steadfast commitment to the bebop language and a no-nonsense connection to his audience.
Robert Manuel Barnes was born in Pennsylvania Hospital and grew up in the Richard Allen Homes, a North Philadelphia housing project. His father, Wilbur Jones, was a trumpeter who had played in big bands led by Bill Doggett and Frank Fairfax. His mother, Esther Barnes, did housekeeping work. Bootsie was the youngest of four boys; his nickname was bestowed, teasingly, by his brothers. In addition to his father, he had an early musical role model in his mother’s older brother, Jimmy Hamilton, a clarinetist and saxophonist with a prestigious chair in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Still, up through his teenage years Barnes aspired to play drums; he recalled being let in the stage door of the Earle Theatre, where he was given a pair of sticks by Ellington’s drummer, Sonny Greer.
Barnes played drums in the band at Ben Franklin High, switching to saxophone only at age 19, after his grandmother gave him an instrument. He started on alto, inspired by Jackie McLean, and took up the tenor initially because it could lead to more gigs. But the register and heft of the larger instrument proved ideal. From the 1960s on, he played constantly in Philly, notably with an honor roll of organists, including Jack McDuff, Jimmy Smith, Shirley Scott and Don Patterson. He played in the house band at the Uptown Theatre; at institutions like Pep’s Musical Bar; and in an array of spots otherwise not known for their jazz bookings.
“Sometimes on the weekends we’d have three or four gigs,” recalls pianist Uri Caine, who started playing with Barnes in the mid-‘70s, at age 18. “We’d start in the afternoon in one place, go somewhere else and play until 4 in the morning.” Caine, who kept this pace with Barnes for about six years, describes a musician who had friends in every corner of the city. “For me it was a beautiful learning experience, because I got to play a lot, which was amazing. And with musicians like Philly Joe Jones, Bobby Durham, Mickey Roker — those were his drummers. My whole orientation was changed by being with him.”
Here’s “You’ve Changed” from above album.
In the 1980s, Barnes toured with Sonny Stitt. He continued to play in his home town and recorded his album "You Leave Me Breathless!" in 1995. For a good stretch in the mid-1990s, Barnes held court every week at Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus, a beloved, smoke-filled joint in the Northern Liberties neighborhood. Ortlieb’s used to call it the ‘Tuesday night prayer meeting.’ Pianist Orrin Evans, who was 13 when he first played with Barnes said “ That’s what it was. You stepped into that church, and you’d better know your scriptures.” “That was the school of higher learning,” says Mike Boone, who played bass in his quartet alongside pianist Sid Simmons and drummer Byron Landham. “With all due respect to any college or university, for Philadelphia, that was the place.” In 2001, Bootsie played at the Newport Jazz Festival.
In an article for Patch, Kim Tucker wrote, "Barnes has toured the world performing the music he loves, jazz in places like St. Croix US Virgin Islands, to Europe and back home to Philadelphia. From the "Chitlin Circuit" to the infamous New Jersey clubs: Dreamland, Cotton Club, Loretta's High Hat, Club Harlem, Barnes has taken the stage at Philly's Blue Note, Just Jazz, Red Carpet, The Showboat and Pep's too."
Bootsie toured Europe as well as the United States and Canada, leaving a lasting impression on audiences all over the world. He headlined venues from New York’s famed Birdland to the very prestigious Le Grand Hotel in Paris. He won numerous Jazz awards, such as the Marjorie Dockery Volunteer Award from the Urban League Guild of Philadelphia and New York’s Greater Jamaica Development Corporation Award, and is often listed within the Top Ten Jazz Picks.
|Bootsie Barnes & Larry McKenna|
In recent years, Barnes forged a fruitful collaboration with his fellow Philly tenor Larry McKenna; their joint album, The More I See You, earned favorable coverage on its release in 2018. Among Barnes’ other albums Hello, in 2003. But in some ways his most emblematic album is his first, at least in terms of the attitude. A quartet date released in 1984, it’s titled Been Here All Along.
He died from COVID-19 after being three weeks at the Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, on April 22, 2020, during the pandemic. He was 82.
(Edited from obit from Nate Chinen @ WBGO,Wikipedia & All About Jazz)