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 Crossing Inn, Dreamland, Cotton Club, Loretta's High Hat, Pearl's Celebrity Room, ... Also Atlantic City's Famous "Club Harlem", Reggie Edgehill's, and The Wonder Gardens! .. A Few of the legendary Philly Nite Clubs He performed were:... The Aqua Lounge, Just Jazz, Kings Rook, Red Carpet, Intowner, The Blue Note, Nite Cap, Dawn Bar, C & J Lounge (Pitt's) The Showboat, Sahara, Chester's, and Pep’s Bar. He Worked with the "Big Bands" of Sam Reed.. (Uptown Theatre Band,) Johnny Lynch's Club Harlem Band in, Atlantic City (67'-69') Bennie Lyons, Also Rollie McGill, Chico Booth, Andy Aaron & the Mean Machine, King James & Lloyd Price's Big Band,(under the direction of the great Trumpeter, Kenny Dorham.) and Al Grey's "COUNT BASIE ALLSTARS" Little Big Band (Featuring Shirley Scott, John Duke, & Bobby Durham.
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 1969-1971. 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 With the Great Drummers 'Philly Joe Jones' & Mickey Roker. He Also Performed and or Recorded with literally ALL THE GREAT ORGANIST like...Richard "Rick" Waters, Herb Nix, Baby Joe Johnson, Larry Labes, Bill Walker, Bill Doggett, Milt Buckner, Shirley Scott, Don Patterson, Groove Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, Jack McDuff, Charles Earland, Trudy Pitts, Poppa John and Joey DeFrancesco & Last but Not least The "BOSS" ...JIMMY SMITH!!! He lead his own ORGAN TRIO'S & QUARTETS, FEATURING YOUNG TALENTED 'ORGAN STARS ON THE RISE', Kyle Koehler, Lucas Brown Or Dan Kostelnik. In the late 1980’s, Bootsie toured as the OPENING ACT 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. In 2003 once again he toured with COSBY, playing the PLAYBOY JAZZ FESTIVAL and the NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL! OTHER JAZZ FESTIVAL'S INCLUDE: JAZZ IN THE WOOD, THE ATLANTIC CITY JAZZ FEST, CAPE MAY JAZZ FEST, WILLINGBORO JAZZ FEST, KAHUNAVILLE JAZZ FEST, CAMDEN COUNTY, CLIFFORD BROWN FEST, MONTREAL FEST, PORTUGAL FEST, BUFFALO JUNTEENTH FEST, KANSAS CITY JAZZ FEST, TONY WILLIAMS & THE WEST OAK LANE FESTIVALS, THE EAST COAST JAZZ FEST, THE VAIL COLORADO LABOR DAY FEST, & THE DETROIT JAZZ FESTIVAL, TO NAME A FEW.
Bootsie toured Europe as well as the United States and Canada with one of his "mentors" THE LEGENDARY SAXOPHONIST, ODEAN POPE & HIS SAXOPHONE CHOIR 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 MANY AWARDS, such as the Marjorie Dockery Volunteer Award from the Urban League Guild of Philadelphia and New York’s GREATER JAMAICA DEVELOPMENT AWARD, THE CAMDEN COUNTY LIVING LEGEND AWARD and his CD'S were often listed within the Top Ten Jazz Picks.
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" ..
Bootsie passed away the morning or April 22nd, 2020 succumbing to the Coranavirus after stuggling fopr three weeks. May he rest in peace.