by Christopher A. Daniel
Jacques Schwarz-Bart is always up for a challenge.
The tenor saxophonist, producer, bandleader, composer and arranger is one of jazz music’s latest superlatives. His latest effort (fourth album), The Art of Dreaming , features his self-titled jazz quartet. The outfit morphs America’s greatest musical genre into soul drenched hybrids of Afro-Caribbean roots rhythms, hip hop, Latin music and funk. “I don’t know if I should be proud or ashamed,” he says. “I’m the latest bloomer among the jazz achievers.”
Schwarz-Bart is an alumnus of the Sciences Po Paris and former assistant of the French Senate . He resigned to pursue his passion at Berklee College of Music at age 24. Approaching 50, his talents and charisma landed him opportunities to accompany Roy Hargrove, Danilo Perez, Ari Hoenig, Chucho Valdes, Giovanni Hidalgo, Abbey Lincoln, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet, Soulive and Amel Larrieux.
The accomplished musician’s session work with Grammy Award-winning musician D’Angelo, who christened the performer as “Brother Jacques” in 2000, opened up his interest for secular music. Schwarz-Bart adds that the greatest talents and soul songs are firmly rooted in gospel. “Working with [D’Angelo] connected me to those gospel traditions,” says Schwarz-Bart. “I came to gospel from a place of freedom because of playing in [D’Angelo’s] band. It’s the foundation of amazing creations in black music.”
Schwarz-Bart knows the value of a stellar work ethic. The Guadeloupe-born musician was blessed with creative lineage. His West Indian mother, Simone, is the novelist behind The Bridge of Beyond. His father, Andre, is the French-Jewish author behind The Last of the Just . His musical orientation stems from his rearing in Senegal, Switzerland and Goyave. Since age four, he’s mastered the seven fundamental rhythms of the Gwoka drum. Schwarz-Bart gets in his zone when speaking about melodies, harmonies, variations and modulations. His fusion of Gwoka and jazz is the first of its kind. “There is no shortcut to that accomplishment,” says Schwarz-Bart. “It is long, difficult and no magic recipe that will help you go any faster. Discipline is not working two months and relaxing for three months. It means doing it every single God-given day. You got to go through all of the stops and know that writing is not just writing.”
Meshell Ndegeocello is another collaborator that Schwarz-Bart takes a great deal of inspiration from. In a testimonial, the bassist refers to Schwarz-Bart’s talents as “cherry blossoms and beautiful fragrant flowers.” In reference to her blatant sexuality and musical integrity, he says she is courageous and revolutionary. He adds there are not enough words to describe her influence on him. “I respect her courage and asserting who she is. She is one of the most original minds I’ve ever encountered in my entire life. I have so much love and respect for her,” he says.
Schwartz-Bart lists of accomplishments continues to grow as he served as the guest performer for the Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta’s Centennial Ball at the Four Seasons this year. His act followed Ambassador Andrew Young receiving the evening’s Global Ambassador accolade. Still, Schwarz-Bart knows what it takes to make an impact. “When it comes to playing music and playing jazz [even when you improvise], the main thing is to keep in mind that you are telling a story,” he adds.
Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.