Remembering Bootsie Barnes

November 27, 1937 – April 22, 2020

 

A tribute to the great Philadelphia tenor-saxophonist

Bootsie Barnes passed away on April 22, 2020 at the age of 82.

Robert “Bootsie” Barnes was born in Philadelphia on Nov. 27, 1937 and he spent virtually his entire life living and playing jazz in his hometown.

His father was a trumpeter who worked with organist Bill Doggett and his cousin was Duke Ellington’s longtime clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton.

Barnes played piano at the age of six, switched to drums at ten, and did not take up the tenor sax until he was 19.

While he was a professional musician by the late 1950s and was quite active, Barnes did not make his recording debut until 1975 (with trumpeter Cullen Knight) and only made three other records (one with organist Don Patterson in 1978 and two with Odean Pope’s Saxophone Choir in 1985 and 1993) until 1994.

Despite the lack of documentation, Barnes was a major force on the jazz scene in Philadelphia as both a player and an inspiration/mentor; along the way he played with Lee Morgan, Philly Joe Jones, Jimmy Smith, Al Grey, Kenny Dorham, Mickey Roker, Milt Buckner, Shirley Scott, Charles Earland, Poppa John DeFrancesco, and Don Patterson, touring with Sonny Stitt for a period in the 1980s.

A bop-oriented soloist with a big tone, Bootsie Barnes finally had an opportunity to record as a leader in 1995 and during his last 20 years he appeared on records more often including a two-tenor date with fellow Philadelphian Larry McKenna in 2018.

From July 17, 2010, here is Bootsie Barnes (who solos first) and Larry McKenna along with pianist Tom Lawton, bassist David Brodie and drummer Justin Faulkner playing “You’re It.”

-Scott Yanow

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