Barnhart spreads the ‘gospel’ of jazz at USD

The capacity audience that sat nearly elbow-to-elbow in the Colton Recital Hall in the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts didn't mind the cramped conditions Friday night.

Two-time Grammy winner Scotty Barnhart performs “I Can’t Get Started” with the USD Jazz Ensemble during an April 13 concert at the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts in Vermillion. (Photo by David Lias)

They had arrived to hear Scotty Barnhart, a master jazz musician. He left no one disappointed after playing several numbers with the Colton Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of Dr. Timothy Farrell, and the USD Jazz Ensemble, directed by Dr. C.J. Kocher.

Barnhart and his fellow musicians presented their interpretations of everything from "standards," such as "I Can't Get Started," and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," to unique jazz arrangements, including "Under My Thumb," "Portrait of Louis Armstrong," and "Tutti for Cootie."

Following the concert, as the student musicians were kept busying clearing the stage and putting away equipment, Barnhart stood in a hallway of the Lee Center, chatting with people who simply wanted to thank him for bringing his unique musical talent to Vermillion.

If he was tired from the concert, he didn't show it as he energetically engaged in conversation with audience members – several who were parents of the USD jazz musicians. He signed autographs, had his photo taken with fans, and received a full dose of South Dakota hospitality.

"I got here Wednesday afternoon. I've conducted a few master classes, and I've had rehearsals, of course, with the band, and I sat in and listened to music at Raziel's here in Vermillion – so I've just had a great time," Barnhart said following the concert, "but today I went to the National Music Museum and it just blew my mind. I still haven't gotten over that. The trip here has just been absolutely great. Everyone has been very nice."

Barnhart is an acclaimed jazz trumpeter, leader, composer, arranger, educator, author and currently is in his 20th year as a featured soloist with the legendary Count Basie Orchestra.

When not touring with the Basie Orchestra or teaching at Florida State University, Barnhart performs with his own quintet-sextet and lectures and demonstrates at schools, colleges, universities, and conferences around the world.

His goal is simple: to spread jazz music to ensure its future for others to explore and enjoy.

"I travel to a few schools a year. I like to do as many as I can because I'm very passionate about jazz education and working with young students, and just passing information down that I've been given – from Freddie Hubbard, from Dizzy (Gillespie), Wynton (Marsalis), Clark Terry – all of these people who have been very nice in giving me information," Barnhart said. "I'm just passing it along.

"Hopefully, it will inspire some other young musicians to be real serious and help keep the music going. That's what it's all about," he said.

Barnhart said he realizes that jazz may not be on the top of the playlists of all young adults. At the same time, he said, there is no shortage of lovers of good jazz on college and university campuses, including USD.

"Our favorite venues with the Basie Orchestra are schools," Barnhart said, "because the students are the most enthusiastic audiences. And many of the students are musicians to some degree, so when they hear us play, it's like a rock concert.

"A lot of these young musicians, when they hear us for the first time, it changes their lives, literally," he said. "I was told that about a month ago; we were in Portland, OR, and this young man came up to me after the concert and said, 'Man, you guys just changed my life.' This music is a very powerful vehicle for bringing people together."

That's why Barnhart can't pass up an opportunity to travel, meet new people and play jazz with students and faculty members at schools across the country.

He is a two-time Grammy Award winner with the Basie Orchestra, and has made over 10 recordings with the likes of Tony Bennett, Diana Krall, Ray Charles, and Tito Puente.

Barnhart recently released his debut solo CD with Unity Music titled "Say It Plain," which achieved No. 3 in the Jazz Charts and received celebrated reviews.

Acknowledged as one of the authorities on the history of jazz trumpet, he researched and wrote the groundbreaking book, "The World of Jazz Trumpet – A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy." Published by Hal Leonard, it is a valuable source tool for jazz trumpeters, students and jazz fans with interviews from Harry 'Sweets' Edison to Chuck Mangione, technical tutorials, and information about historical events. The book is also illustrated with what had been unpublished photographs.

"It's the only book of its kind," he said. "We don't have too many books written on jazz, written by actual jazz musicians. Most of the books written about jazz and jazz history are written by critics or historians who have never been on stage a day of their lives, and it's very difficult to tell the real truth from that perspective.

"I just decided it was time that we try to put something together, and I was able to interview 21 jazz trumpet pioneers, from Maynard (Ferguson) to Sweets Edison, to Clark Terry to Freddie Hubbard and Wynton (Marsalis) and Cora Bryant."

The book was published in 2005, and a new edition will likely be in the works soon.

"I just wanted to make sure that I put this information out, and now we're trying to do a revised edition so that it will be an e-book as well as another hard copy," Barnhart said. "I just believe in getting the information out there and try to learn as much as I can about it. I try to play, learn more every day, and keep swinging."

The information is important, he notes, because jazz is an American art form, now spread across the globe, that will always endure.

"It has happiness at its core. Even the blues – it contains happiness. It's an optimism about life. That's what is at the core of jazz," Barnhart said. "When I first heard Basie, to me, it was the same thing I was hearing every week in church from the gospel choir. It was a sophisticated extension of that, but music in church is very happy, very uplifting, and jazz to me is just like that."

Being able to perform jazz, he said, is an eternal source of happiness.

"No matter what tune we are playing, it is supposed to uplift you, because we have people who are working together," Barnhart said. "What better way to get happy than when you have someone who is helping you, who has your back? As a musician on stage, you know you can count on people, and that's an unbelievable experience that can't help but generate a simple feeling of love for humanity.

"That's what I get from it. I go all over the world, I could jump on stage tomorrow night in Tokyo, and not even say hello to the musicians there, and we could make beautiful music and communicate," he said. "Jazz has structure and form, and all kinds of nuances, and that's an unbelievable thing. Jazz allows you to do that, if you just give yourself up to it, study it, and be serious about it."

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