Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor
Premier jazz saxophonist Robert “Bootsie” Barnes has been proclaimed a Philadelphia treasure.
“Bootsie” began his musical career at age 6 on piano switching to drums at 10. His grandmother gave him a saxophone at age 19 and he knew he had found his niche. In school, classmates included drummers, Lex Humphries, Bill Cosby, Al “Tootie” Heath; bassist “Spanky” DeBrest, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and a host of Philadelphia giants who went on to help shape the maturing sound of jazz music. Those who had the biggest influence on him were his father, who played trumpet with Bill Doggett’s 16 piece big band, and his cousin Jimmy Hamilton, saxophonist and star clarinetist of Duke Ellington’s band for 26 years.
In the 60’s and early 70’s Bootsie played the renowned “Chitterling Circuit” which included clubs such as South Jersey’s Dreamland, Cotton Club, Laurettas’ Hi Hat, Pearl’s Celebrity Room and Over the Top. His highly articulated tenor style also graced Atlantic City’s Club Harlem and The Wonder Garden. A few of the legendary Philly clubs at which he performed include The Aqua Lounge, Just Jazz, The Blue Note, Nite Cap, The Showboat and Pep’s. Worked with Big Bands of Sam Reed, Johnny Lynch's Club Harlem Band, Bennie Lyons, Lloyd Price's Big Band,(under the direction of the great Kenny Dorham.) and the Al Grey Little Big Band .
A significant accomplishment for Bootsie was being elected the Youngest ever Assistant Secretary of Philadelphia’s only Black Local #274 American Federation of Musician’s where he served from 1971-1974. This organization was a forerunner of today's Clef Club of the Performing Arts which was founded by the Late Former President of Local #274, JIMMY ADAMS.
Bootsie toured, performed and recorded with literally all the great organists including Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith, Don Patterson, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Charles Earland, Trudy Pitts, Poppa John and Joey DeFrancesco and others too numerous to name. In the late 1980’s, Bootsie toured with his childhood friend and classmate, Bill Cosby, and made guest appearances on “The Bill Cosby Show,” (playing himself) as well as many other television appearances. As recently as 2001 he toured with Cosby, playing the Playboy Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival.
Bootsie has toured Europe as well as the United States and Canada, leaving a lasting impression on audiences all over the world. He has headlined venues from New York’s famed Birdland to the very prestigious Le Grand Hotel in Paris. He has 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.
Today, “Bootsie” Barnes is known as “the man with the ‘Tenor Touch’ because of his dynamic style on the tenor saxophone. His smooth and distinct sound is easily recognizable whether softly caressing a ballad, or swinging hard, during live performances or on CD. JazzTimes magazine sums up his solos thusly: “…plays tenor saxophone with self-assured flair and gorgeous depth…” and “…plays in a classic style reminiscent of Gene Ammons and Hank Mobley…”. Bootsie can be heard as a sideman on many, many recordings, (see his discography) he has released one vinyl album and three CD’s as a leader; “Been Here All Along”, “You Leave Me Breathless” “Hello” and Boppin' Round the Center ..