October 2018


Outside the OR
Jazz strikes lifelong chord in Florida ophthalmologist

by Liz Hillman EyeWorld Senior Staff Writer

Dr. Cartwright is an ophthalmologist by day and jazz guitarist by night—sometimes into the wee hours of the night.
Source: Mont Cartwright, MD

Find some of Dr. Cartwright’s music on the Medical Eye Associates YouTube page.


It was a jazz album that turned him onto guitar and jazz that he returned to after a youthful focus on rock ’n’ roll

As a physician, you pool knowledge and information. When you have a patient in front of you, you pull from that knowledge base to do something that is “always unique, never the same,” said Mont Cartwright, MD, Medical Eye Associates, Orlando, Florida.
Jazz is like that, too, said the practitioner of 26 years, who plays jazz guitar several nights a week and is part owner of a jazz club.
“You learn all of these different things,” Dr. Cartwright said. “You learn harmony, you learn theory, you learn phrasing, you listen to music and copy lines and book them into your head, and all of the sudden you are presented a space in a song and you’re let go. Create something here, put down your brush and palette, and make a painting for us in music.”
Dr. Cartwright’s mother was a concert pianist. As one might expect, he grew up with lessons. When he couldn’t take them with his mother because, as he put it, “it was my mom,” his family tried formal lessons. But he was stubborn and, as he described, preferred swimming in the pool to taking lessons. When he was 9 or 10 years old, his mother bought him an album of the jazz guitarist George Pritchett. That’s when he knew: “I want to play guitar.” He started taking lessons, but the formal route again didn’t work for him and he started learning by ear. Then rock ’n’ roll hit.
“I wanted long hair and a guitar. That’s what I wanted to do in my life. I let go of piano, pushed myself in guitar,” Dr. Cartwright recalled.
Throughout these younger years, Dr. Cartwright said he was always in a band, mostly garage bands playing cover songs, but eventually he became part of the band Shoes, which played original music. At this point, Dr. Cartwright was in college studying for an undergraduate in chemistry and Shoes landed a contract in England.
“I was right there with them and my dad had to sit me down and talk to me,” Dr. Cartwright said, noting that it was a nonconfrontational conversation. “He never told me what to do, but guided me enough that I finally quit the band and stayed in school.”
Through the rest of undergraduate, medical school, and residency, Dr. Cartwright was involved in music on and off. In his 30s, he remembered, he would stay up until 3:00 a.m., wake up again by 6:00 a.m., and go through his whole day in medicine.
Eventually though, rock music became boring to him. “It was the same old chords, same old songs, nothing complicated,” Dr. Cartwright said. “I pulled out that album my mom had bought me. I listened to it and said, this is what I’ve got to do.”
Dr. Cartwright took 6 years of lessons in jazz guitar. He and his wife would seek out music to listen to and one night saw a jazz trio perform. Liking the music enough, they bought their CD. Years later, a gentleman walked into his clinic as a patient. It turns out that it was the bass guitarist in this band and Dr. Cartwright mentioned seeing him perform. This resulted in an invite for Dr. Cartwright to come play with them. It took a year, but Dr. Cartwright eventually took him up on that offer.
“I was terrible. These were seasoned musicians; these guys were top class jazz musicians. I played air guitar most of the night, just strumming with my volume on zero,” Dr. Cartwright said, remembering that when he did actually play, he thought the band members looked at him funny.
At the end of the night, however, they said they thought he did have an ear and asked him to come back. He did and after weeks of practice and learning the band’s music, he got the rhythm and still plays with this band at times.
Dr. Cartwright partnered with the owner of Jazz Tasting about a year and a half ago, which gives him the chance to play more often and choose different musicians to work with. “It’s a small club, but we have music every night,” which Dr. Cartwright said is rare for Orlando.
There was a time when Dr. Cartwright was playing Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights, not getting into bed until 2:30 a.m. and getting back up by 6:00 a.m. to make it to the hospital for a 7:00 a.m. case.
At some point, after a long day in his day job as an ophthalmologist, Dr. Cartwright said he fell asleep on stage. “Somehow I stayed on my stool,” he said, remembering how he was awoken by a band member and, after momentarily being disoriented, was reminded of what part of the song they were in. Luckily, the audience found it humorous.
Dr. Cartwright said he’s cut back a little in terms of gigs but, “I still have that burn in me. I’ve gotta play.”
With jazz, you never play the same song twice; there’s a creativity to it, which is what keeps Dr. Cartwright attracted to the genre.
“You learn as you travel through the chords how to wind through them, create phrases. … It’s all eclectically pooled into this bowl, and you draw a ladle into it and pull something out. Sometimes it’s good and you look at yourself and think, ‘Wow, I had some power,’ and sometimes, you’re like ‘Oh God.’ … There are times it can be very frustrating, but what I like about it is just that; it’s something that I get to be creative at,” Dr. Cartwright said.

Contact information

Cartwright: rockerdoc@aol.com

Jazz strikes lifelong chord in Florida ophthalmologist Jazz strikes lifelong chord in Florida ophthalmologist
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