Even though he’s worked hard to create his own entertainment company, Queens native Carl Bartlett isn’t too fond of shining the spotlight on himself.
The co-founder of Bartlett Entertainment Network (BEN), a merriment umbrella encompassing travel and music, he has spared no expense in promoting BEN’s progenitor, Bartlett Contemporaries Remix, the R&B, funk and dance contemporary cover band he started in the 1960s at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights.
He has an important rule for anyone who wants to jam with his crew. “My brother and I, we make as a prerequisite to anyone playing with Bartlett Contemporaries: Make sure that they’re younger than us,” Bartlett says of his band. “We have to be the oldest folks in the group, my brother and I.”
This rule is targeted at helping Bartlett Contemporaries Remix maintain a youthful presence in the music world after having been a part of it for almost 50 years.
Despite playing at the Essence Awards, Spike Lee’s wedding reception and for Oprah Winfrey, many still aren’t aware of their work, which is partly why they added “Remix” to their official name.
“If you just tell someone, ‘Oh my God, they started the band in ’63, they must be playing old time music, they’re old-timers.’ They’re not understanding that we’re down with the underground and we’re just keeping it real,” Bartlett says. “We did my cousin’s wedding reception. He was 28.”
Aside from proving to young’uns they’re just as hip as a Beyonce or a Drake, Bartlett Entertainment Network also operates Celebration at Sea, a series of annual themed cruises featuring recording artists and seminar facilitators. Bartlett feels that his local sea expeditions cater to Blacks in ways most cruises don’t.
“The entertainment on cruises, they’re trying to become a little more diverse, but many times you go on a cruise ship, and by African-American standards, the entertainment could be corny. Nice, but corny. So we started bringing our own entertainment on board, whether it be through magic or Hale Melvin’s Blue Notes, Jennifer Holiday, Van Jones. We’ve just have had all of the entertainers over the years,” he says. The company’s Winter Warm Cruise even features soca and jazz legends.
“Usually people who have the time to cruise for 12 nights are retired people, and they can appreciate someone covering Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan or Johnny Hartman. Some people who’ve been around, they can appreciate the soca of the Mighty Sparrow. So we have that featured on our winter cruise.”
But that’s for the colder months. Celebration at Sea is currently preparing for its Summer Party Cruise, running from July 28 through Aug. 4. Operating aboard the Norwegian Gem, the cruise will feature R&B legends such as Ray Goodman and Brown, aka the Moments, CP Lacey and Madame Pat Tandy.
Charles Bartlett, BEN co-founder and Carl’s brother, along with Carl Bartlett Jr., will also be part of a saxophone ensemble for the trip, which departs from New York City and travels through Orlando, Nassau and the Bahamas. A European cruise is scheduled for the fall.
Helping people relax and enjoy a cruise while listening to oldies isn’t all Celebration at Sea has to offer patrons though. They are also working to help folks from the Black community with their spiritual, mental and physical well-being with a series of seminars on board.
“The seminar facilitators that come on board present issues damaging to African-Americans,” said Carl Bartlett. “They are health issues, things that we need to pay attention to or…for those younger folks, how to present themselves for job employment or what’s out there with the economy being what it is today.
“Even some people who run into trouble with mortgages and refinancing, we have seminars that touch those certain issues. We say we uniquely mix a little business with a lot of pleasure.”
And let it be known that BEN’s community service extends beyond experts giving advice on fancy boat rides. Those in need of more services can head to the company’s headquarters in Jamaica.
“As far as the office is concerned, we’ve been on Linden Boulevard since 1996. We have seniors who use our computers and who we give computer lessons to, and they come in and we have to remind them that we’re trying to run a business here, because they didn’t wanna come in,” Bartlett explained with a slight chuckle. “This is something that we do for our seniors in the community…using our computers and becoming familiar with just basic functions.”
With a background in music and as an elementary school teacher on leave, Bartlett also spreads his acoustic knowledge to aspiring young jam students. “We give musical lessons to students because my son, my brother and I are all educators. We give them scholarship direction too because my son went through the scholarship process, so we’re familiar with the various scholarships that are out there. We’re just like a community-based organization. There’s more to what we do than just the travel component.”
For those of you who just want a good time though, you can catch Bartlett Contemporaries Remix live at the (Re) Live the Magic Reunion and Networking Party at the St Albans FL Center on Friday, June 8 at 8 p.m. To Bartlett, it’s more than just a jam session.
“For those folks who haven’t experienced our crew and want to get an idea of what we do and how we do it, the Relive the Magic function is a perfect opportunity for them to meet, interact and network with our group and our constituency and experience the styles of Bartlett Contemporaries Remix and the Bartlett Jazz Ensemble.”
Having origins as a cover band, the Contemporaries don’t have any albums out, but longtime fans may be in luck, if next year’s plans come to fruition.
“That would be a significant milestone for us. We plan to have a big function at a college or auditorium for a big show, and that would be the launching of our first release. We’d like to have a CD release party for Bartlett Contemporaries next year.”
For more information about Celebration at Sea’s upcoming summer cruise, visit www.celebrationatsea.com/party2.html or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information about other cruises.