In the early 1960s, Gary Bartz performed with Eric Dolphy and McCoy Tyner in Charles Mingus’s Jazz Workshop. He worked as a sideman with Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln before joining Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. In 1968 he was a member of McCoy Tyner’s band Expansions. In mid-1970 he joined Miles Davis’s band, performing live at the Isle Of Wight festival in August, and at a series of December dates at The Cellar Door club in Washington, D.C. Portions of these shows were initially released on the 1971 Live-Evil album, with the entire six performance/four night run eventually released in full on the 2005 Cellar Door Sessions box set.
He later formed the band Ntu Troop, which combined jazz, funk, and soul. Bartz was awarded the BNY Mellon Jazz 2015 Living Legacy Award, presented at a special ceremony at The Kennedy Center. In the liner notes to the album The Red and Orange Poems, jazz critic Stanley Crouch called Bartz “one of the very best who has ever picked up the instrument”.