Scotty Barnhart: New Director of Count Basie Orchestra Talks Jazz Education

Scotty Barnhart, the new director of the Count Basie Orchestra performs at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta.  (Photo Credit:

Scotty Barnhart, the new director of the Count Basie Orchestra performs at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in Atlanta.
(Photo Credit: Jina Wilson/Joni Heart Photography)

Scotty Barnhart was recently named the new director of the Count Basie Orchestra (CBO). The talented jazz trumpeter returned home to Atlanta on Sept. 25 to pay homage to jazz greats Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams and Basie at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

The concert, part of Larry Rosen’s ‘Jazz Roots’ series, was Barnhart’s debut as CBO’s leader. Barnhart says ‘Jazz Roots’ perfectly aligns with his goal of ensuring jazz music and history are both preserved by young musicians.

“The students are the future of the music. If we don’t pass back to them what we’ve been given, that’s crazy. I’m here just to try and give back whenever I can,” says a mildly gray-haired Barnhart.

Barnhart’s 2009 solo effort, Say It Plain, received rave reviews by fans such as comedian Bill Cosby. After 20 years of performing with the 78-year old, 18-time Grammy Award-winning musical ensemble, Barnhart is now responsible for CBO’s mesmerizing melodies and lush arrangements remaining front and center.

“The transition is a continuation of the legacy that Basie and [Duke] Ellington started. I’m fortunate to be given a chance to actually help preserve and protect the orchestra and legacy of Basie,” says Barnhart following a pre-concert meet-and-greet.

One minute, the accomplished Florida State University jazz studies professor pats out drum cadences on his chest for one of the musicians. The next minute, the Florida A&M University alumnus blares a solo from behind the microphone. “I enjoy teaching. It’s one of the things I love doing. It’s all about giving – leaving this music in good hands for the next generation. It’s that simple,” says Barnhart.

For the remainder of the show, Barnhart, the author of The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy, sits in the rear of the orchestra. The musical outfit had just returned from performing a two-week tour of Japan. “This is the greatest jazz orchestra in the world,” proclaims Barnhart prior to intermission.

A double Grammy award-winner himself, Barnhart was joined by jazz vocalists Kevin Mahogany and Janis Siegel for the musical tribute. Post-intermission, the sought after instrumentalist was awarded a proclamation from the Atlanta City Council, an honor from DeKalb County and a signed letter from Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.

As Barnhart accepted his accolades, he credited his older brother for teaching him to play trumpet. The accomplished musician and educator further acknowledged his parents seated in the audience and CBO trombonist Clarence Banks for their influence and mentorship.

“Whatever dreams you have in life, follow them. No matter how far you go in life, you have to be nice to kids,” says Barnhart during his acceptance speech.

Christopher A. Daniel is a pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.

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