George Cartwright

George Cartwright was a prominent composer and performer in avant-garde music. He was born to George and Elizabeth Rosa Cartwright in Midnight, Mississippi Delta, on 10/12/50. His music and outlook on life were influenced by the Methodist Church. He discovered the blues while in high school by reading in a magazine about Cream, his favorite band. He was a student at Mississippi State University and graduated in 1972 with an undergraduate degree in sociology. He heard the memorable performances of B. B. B. The mysterious sensation of vocation was triggered when Howlin’ Wolf silently tapped him on the shoulder and shook hands between sets at Greenville’s Black Elks Club. He studied at the University of Southern Mississippi where Wilbur Moreland, a prominent music teacher, taught him. Also, he attended Jackson State University and Memphis State University. Cartwright was a Vietnam War conscientious objector. Alvin Fielder, a free jazz drummer, met Cartwright in Jackson. In the mid-1970s, Cartwright joined Ars Supernova with Evan Gallagher (Bruce Golden, Mark Howell and Jeb Stuart), who all remained active as performers. John Evans founded Jackson’s Lemuria Bookstore. Cartwright was already familiar with guitar and piano, and he began playing saxophone in his senior year of college. He studied at the Creative Music Studio, Woodstock, New York in 1977. There he was inspired by Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic concept of music that is both structurally open for the spontaneous contributions of all its musicians and also accessible to an audience. Cartwright started working with a number of notable musicians, including Coleman, Fred Frith and Bill Laswell. Curlew was his band and he became a prominent figure in the Downtown New York music scene over the next 20 years. Curlew played regularly at the Knitting Factory in Leonard Street. Howell, Curlew’s guitarist in the middle of the 1980s; Golden, percussionist since 2002 in Curlew and on solo albums Dot (1994 and The Ghostly Bee (2006); Gallagher (organ), Randy Everett (“guitar”), and Tim Lee (“bass”) on Dot. From 1993 to 1999 Cartwright lived in Memphis, which was reflected in Curlew’s Paradise (1996) with baritone jazzophonist Jim Spake and in The Memphis Years, a Cartwright solo album. Since 1999, he has been based in Minnesota and performs with the trio GloryLand PonyCat. Meltable Snaps It (1986), Integrated Variables (1992), Red Rope (1998), Black Ants Crawling With GloryLand PonyCat (2003) and Curlew’s Live in Berlin (1986), Fabulous Drop (2000) and Mercury (2003) are some of his most notable recordings. The video The Hardwood (1992) shows a Curlew concert at Knitting Factory. Cartwright has been a part of several settings for Paul Haines’ poetry, including The Memphis Years (1993) and A Beautiful Western Saddle (1993). Cartwright also collaborated on projects that combined music, poetry and film with Anne Elias (his wife). Curlew’s music is known for its genre-crossing, whimsical geniality and high energy. He also uses a combination of virtuosic playing and tightly composed “beats” tunes. These often have an Americana or southern flavor. Cartwright’s saxophone playing is beautiful and calm, but he can also be very aggressive in challenging the boundaries of sound and technique. He is a fan of modular riffs and odd meters. This allows him to feel like a musician, with a sense that he is taking the piece on a journey through many phases. Cartwright is a musician, composer, and bandleader. He places great value on surprise, but he does so within a structured structure. Written by Steven G. Smith, Millsaps College from

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