Vail Jazz Workshop Alumnus Patrick Bartley: Wearing the Gift that Keeps Giving
Editor’s Note: Over the past 27 years, over 300 teenage musicians have been transformed by the Vail Jazz Workshop. Many have gone on to become professional musicians, six of whom returned to Vail this Labor Day weekend to perform as Alumni Sextet at the Vail Jazz Party. Vail Jazz shares their stories here.
When Patrick Bartley arrived in Vail in 2010 as one of 12 carefully selected teenagers for the Vail Jazz Workshop, he had never owned his own saxophone.
The viola he rented from his high school was stuffed with paper towels and partially held up with rubber bands. The horn wasn’t even fully functional, as discovered by Workshop instructor and professional saxophonist Jeff Clayton, who sadly passed away at the end of 2020.
Bartley recalled that Clayton “had a King Super 20, the same type of horn that Cannonball Adderley played. I thought, ‘wow!’ Jeff, for me, was the link to Cannonball. He had a big sound, he was teaching everybody how to get a big sound,” Bartley added.
As the workshop began, Clayton allowed Bartley, then 17, to try out this horn while the talented instructor tried out some notes on the teenager’s janky sax.
As soon as Bartley removed his mouthpiece and put it on Clayton’s horn, he said, “Whoa, that’s what a saxophone is supposed to feel like. It was crazy.” And, to Bartley’s amazement, Clayton was struggling to play the rented student instrument. “He looked at me and said in that Jeff Clayton voice, ‘How do you play that? That horn is unplayable,” Bartley said.
The experience of blowing Clayton’s horn made Bartley realize just how powerful the sound of the alto sax really could be.
Growing up in Hollywood, Florida, Bartley was initially more interested in the visual arts and video games than playing an instrument. At the age of nine, he discovered he was color blind and began to gravitate towards the school orchestra, playing clarinet before moving on to baritone saxophone and then alto.
“When that saxophone fell into my hands, that’s when it all clicked,” Bartley said, realizing “that’s what I was going to do for the rest of my life. From that moment, I took all the influences and used my saxophone to communicate the experiences.
Once Bartley arrived in Vail and ditched his rickety instrument, playing a working saxophone turned out to have been more crucial than anyone – Bartley included – could have imagined. Bartley had attended other prestigious national workshops, but none compared to Vail’s, which is known for teaching students to play by ear without using sheet music.
“It wasn’t my first workshop experience, but it was the most unique workshop experience,” he said, recalling a specific lesson with sax instructor Clayton and other students learning “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” by Cole Porter.
“He taught everyone to sing together as a band, lyric by lyric,” Bartley said. “It was powerful and important to me. It taught me the importance of understanding the context of the song. We all relied on each other and we also relied on our ability to internalize the meaning of what the song meant. song while we played the notes. The concept stuck with me.”
That wasn’t the only thing that stuck with Bartley about his Vail experience.
Again, it was Clayton who provided a gift, in this case a brand new Yamaha 62 alto saxophone, which Clayton purchased with his own funds and those of other donors.
“It was a week where my mom and I were crying after the sax came along,” Bartley said, recalling when he showed up at his house. “My mother was more shocked than me. She recognized at this point that I was getting good at the saxophone, but it was serious. She knew this would mark the path I would take, the solidifying moment in my life. It was like having a new body. Imagine every problem you could have had, any disease, any broken bone, any injury. You are the same person inside, but suddenly you have a completely new body. Every day since, I have sworn to myself to continue this generosity.
This gifted saxophone traveled with Bartley around the world. Now based in New York and considering a move to Japan to pursue a growing interest in video game music, the young composer – already a Grammy nominee – plays in a number of eclectic bands and ensembles. He has performed and recorded with musicians such as Louis Hayes, Jonathan Batiste and Wynton Marsalis, and at iconic venues in Madison Square Garden at the Black Sea Jazz Festival, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards with the Band of Dave Matthews.
“I play 100% on this Yamaha 62 viola that Jeff bought me,” he said. “I’ve tried other saxophones with the intention of buying but I just can’t part with this horn. It’s special for me. He took me all over the world. People identify my sound. I’m sure it’s because of the saxophone.
This article was reprinted and modified from a 2020 Vail Daily article by Shauna Farnell.