Jazz interview with jazz trombonist and composer Brian Scarborough. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First let’s start with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music?
Brian Scarborough: – I was born in a suburb of Chicago, but grew up in the Kansas City area. Growing up, I attended my older brother’s band and jazz band concerts, which were always inspiring. When it came time to start band, it felt only natural to follow in his footsteps and pick up the trombone. I really enjoyed playing from an early age and started to attend summer jazz camps which introduced me to theory, improvisation, and the history of the music. Additionally, I feel that growing up in Kansas City left a lasting impression on me as a musician. There is a tremendous amount of jazz history in KC that is ever-present in the scene to this day.
JBN: – How did your sound evolve over time? What did you do to find and develop your sound?
BS: – My sound has evolved over the years, and continues to do so to this day. In my undergraduate and graduate studies, I was heavily informed by the music I was studying on a daily basis. From learning jazz ensemble literature in rehearsals, to practicing/transcribing/listening, to lessons with tremendous teachers, to being surrounded by great peers, there was inspiration and guidance coming from every direction. As my career has developed, it has been a balance of developing from those experiences and finding my own voice as a composer and improviser.
JBN: – What practice routine or exercise have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical ability especially pertaining to rhythm?
BS: – I love to practice. The challenge of playing music is one that, while sometimes overwhelming, is more often than not inspiring to me. Daily practice of trombone fundamentals and improvisation are a must for me, and I try to continue to find new ways to approach melody, harmony, and rhythm to keep things fresh. While in graduate school at DePaul University in Chicago, I had the opportunity to take lessons with drummer, Dana Hall. At the core of our lessons was incorporating more rhythm and different rhythms into improvisation. Whether using specific rhythms, or groupings of rhythms, or superimposing different time signatures over the actual time signature, these are skills I still work on to this day.
JBN: – How to prevent disparate influences from coloring what you’re doing?
BS: – As a composer and improviser, I try to be open to wherever the music takes me. I find that if I try hard to write or play a specific idea, I may be forcing that idea, which results in music that doesn’t flow well. But being open to different avenues can result in more organic music. At the end of the day, I try to be myself and take chances with my music.
JBN: – How do you prepare before your performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
BS: – This is a great question. If I am able to take it easy the day of a performance, and get in a relaxed warm up and not be too busy, I find myself in a pretty good place going into a performance. But this isn’t always the case, as I may be coming from teaching or another gig, or something else. No matter the circumstance, I commit to every gig, whether it is a high dollar gig or a free gig. I love the music and the music deserves that level of respect. Additionally, I typically find myself in performance being inspired by my peers, which inspires me to dig deep and be at my best.
JBN: – Ism is culled from a variety of lives dates with various performers over the course of a few years. Did your sound evolve during that time? And how did you select the musicians who play on the album?
BS: – My quintet has been around for a few years, but the first time this lineup played together it was clear there was something special there. The band played so well together and communicated on such a high level. They are active contributors to the music, bringing their best every time out and taking chances in performance. It is always special to share the stage with this group of musicians.
JBN: – What’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
BS: – That’s the question right? There is definitely a need to know the theory behind the music, but there has to be feeling to what you’re playing. Playing all the right notes with no feeling doesn’t work, so it’s a balance of both of intellect and soul. Perhaps Bird put it best, that you need to learn everything, then forget it and just play.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; you’re okay with giving the people what they want?
BS: – I believe that audiences want organic, honest performances, regardless of genre. This is what I strive for with my music and my groups. If I am myself as an artist, working hard every day to improve and produce genuine music, then that will make an impression on any audience.
JBN: – Please any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
BS: – Nothing too interesting or out of the ordinary actually.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of the standard tunes are half a century old?
BS: – To continue building audiences, we need to continue to reach out to, and inspire, young people through school programs, camps, and masterclasses. We need to share this music, the people who helped it develop and evolve, and connect students to the history that is present in cities throughout the country.
JBN: – John Coltrane said that music was his spirit. How do you understand the spirit and the meaning of life?
BS: – I believe that I was put on this planet to create. To make music and to inspire audiences and students alike with the power of live music.
JBN: – If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
BS: – I would love to see a musical world without canon. There’s so much music that falls outside of the musical canon that is truly great, that has been forgotten about. Contributions from women, people of color, and music that fell outside of traditional labels haven’t received the same “coverage” as music that falls within the canon. Fortunately, there are a number of musicians and historians working to uncover and rediscover this music and share it with the world.
JBN: – Who do you find yourself listening to these days?
BS: – Recently, I have been listening to the music of Guillermo Klein. I find his music very interesting, and particularly like the use of rhythm and the way the music develops.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
BS: – I strive for my music to feel and sound organic and evolve naturally. I like to experiment with melody, rhythm, form, and harmony and find new ways for the music to develop. As an improviser, I try to be open to where the rhythm section takes me and look for opportunities to musically communicate in performance.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go?
BS: – There are a ton of musical performances that would be great to see. But for this, I’m going to go back to May 7, 2019 – Leg 2 of the Champions League semi-final, Liverpool vs. Barcelona. Even on TV, the intensity and emotion came through. But to be at Anfield, as a Liverpool supporter, for this historic comeback, would be pretty special.
JBN: – I have been asking you so far, now may I have a question from yourself…
BS: – What inspires you to continue to cover jazz and blues music on a daily basis?
JBN: – Jazz and Blues music my LIFE!!!
Interview by Simon Sargsyan