Jazzanooga's Living Jazz Review & Interview with Booker T. Scruggs

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Information about Jazzanooga's Living Jazz Review & Interview with Booker T. Scruggs

Published on March 3, 2014

Author: DAWhite7

Source: slideshare.net


A review of Jazzanooga's Living Jazz opening performance at Barking Legs Theatre in Chattanooga with the Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble and a brief interview with its leader.

Jazzanooga’s Living Jazz Series: Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble at Barking Legs Theatre February 23, 2014 Review & interview by Drexel A. White Jazzanooga gave Chattanooga a sampling of events scheduled throughout the month of April; the official Jazz Appreciation Month or JAM. Considering admission to many scheduled events will be free the crowds should be large and arriving early strongly recommended. Celebration of this musical form and Chattanooga major contribution is well over due so to some it will be a learning experience to others it will be savory memories and still others (new to our little hamlet by the river) a fresh appreciation for the history of their adopted home. First in the Jazzanooga series was the Living Jazz performance Sunday, February 23 at Barking Legs Theatre featuring the Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble performing classic Jazz and Gospel standards by regional musicians such as W. C. Handy, Henry Glover, Thomas Dorsey, Richard Smallwood and Charles Tindley. After hearing only praise as well as posted clips on the internet I was eager for the performance to begin. Of course Booker T. Scruggs was blowing clarinet and tenor saxophone with Nancy Westmoreland on piano/vocals; William Price strumming the big bass; and Greg Malone on drums. The first half began with a handful of jazz standards beginning with Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues” before sliding into Ellington’s “Solitude” both solid arrangements. While the entire band is more than first rate, the vocals Nancy Westmoreland delivered on Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” and Glover’s “Drown in My Own Tears” sent me back to a smoky speakeasy before shining a spirit filled light during Tindley’s “Leave It There” and Andrae Crouch’s “I Don’t Know Why”. “God Bless the Child” especially came over like it was just written. Sometimes its easy to forget the under penning of a group but Malone’s drum and William Price of the “Big Nine” era kept a solid foundation for Scruggs and Westmoreland to launch from while managing to get in some noteworthy riffs for themselves. file photo The Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble consists of Phillip Westmoreland (MIA Sunday), guitar; Booker Scruggs, clarinet; Nancy Westmoreland, keyboard; William Price, bass; and Greg Malone, drums.

Sitting down with Booker T Scruggs Booker T. Scruggs is already a local hero for his efforts with area youth by advancing educational opportunities and impacting residents through practical community involvement. In addition, he’s host of the nation’s longest running local television show; Point of View. Before the performance I had the chance to sit down with Mister Booker T. Scruggs for a precious few minutes. Fans and friends barraged him throughout the night but those questions we didn’t get to that night he was happy to answer later. [DW] Given your range of music standards, classic jazz and gospel which was the genesis of this ensemble? Are these all original members or from other bands you’ve worked with? [BTS] Our group started primarily as a jazz and ole-school classics musical ensemble, primarily because some of our first and constant playing dates were at a restaurant on Amnicola Hwy called Blue Orleans. Jazz and ole-school classics are what they wanted us to play. Each of the present members are from the original group which started in 2008. (William Price, bass player, and I transitioned to The Ensemble from The Maxtiam Trio, after pianist, Maxine Bartlett departed the group.) [DW] From all the different forms of music you perform the one that best displays the talents of this group would be? [BTS] The type music that most displays our talents, I believe, is gospel--both Nancy Westmoreland, keyboard/vocalist, and I both come from gospel backgrounds. We both grew-up playing in churches, and we still do. [DW] Maintaining musical cohesiveness during the up and down times of the music business has to be an issue or have you reached a point it doesn’t matter if you perform every day or every other week? [BTS] Because everyone in the group, other than Price, works a "day job," playing every other week is an ideal situation for us. [DW] Any local up and comers catch your eye? [BTS] The only other "young artist" that I can think of is Frank Bumpass, "Frank B." He is a very talented jazz saxophonist. [DW] Jazz here seems to go through cycles much the same as it does elsewhere. Where would you say Chattanooga is now? What is the local jazz scene? [BTS] Jazzanooga is providing opportunities for jazz to be played at various locations throughout the city. In terms of a "jazz club," that is what is really needed in Chattanooga. [DW] With the city becoming a destination location are more venues opening up as a result? How about Barking Legs Theatre? Have you performed here before? [BTS] I do not foresee any new places for jazz opening in Chattanooga. Yes, I have performed at Barking Leg before, but as The Maxtiam Trio. This was in 2006, just after we recorded the CD, "A Salute to The Duke."

[DW] What does the spring and summer look like for you? Are there more Jazzanooga dates coming up for you? [BTS] In terms of future play date, we will probably be playing for the Four Bridges Art Festival which will take place March 13, after we play at the Walden Club on March 3, for a Mardi Gras. At this time, I know of no other Jazzanooga dates that we will be playing. [DW] Any solo projects or other projects? Maxtiam Trio? [BTS] I will be doing some fast-food restaurant dates (don't have specifics) on their various "gospel nights" throughout the city. This would include Wendy's, McDonalds, Dairy Queens, etc. The Maxtiam Trio no longer exists. [DW] You’re big time into community activism. I see where moneys from CDs go to support BethWiley Youth Group, Upward Bound and other scholarship programs; what’s hot on your plate right now? [BTS] I am currently in the process of recording a Christmas CD entitled, "Let Heaven and Earth Rejoice." The CD will consist of five "Heavenly songs" like SILENT NIGHT; and five "Earthly songs" like "Let It Snow." Also, I will be putting into circulation within a few weeks at funeral homes primarily a CD, "Harmonies of Heaven," a compilation of songs from my three gospel albums that would be appropriate to play during bereavement periods. [DW] Ok, I gotta ask, why the clarinet? I can see the sax but why the clarinet? [BTS] My question--Why NOT the clarinet? In the first grade, I played a flutophone (now called a recorder), which looked like a miniature clarinet. So maybe this started me on the woodwind track. In addition to the clarinet, I played bassoon in high school. After joining the Chattanooga Gospel Orchestra some fifteen years ago, I started playing the saxophone. One advantage of playing the clarinet, other than say the tuba, is that it is easily transportable. With the greetings coming more frequent and show time nearing, we quickly wrapped up until the break. Barking Legs Theatre is a true performance hall. Having been on both sides of the mic there I can confirm this because the place is suited to the performer. The audience gets to watch an artist’s creation fill the stage in this case a four piece band produce album worthy music. The intimate setting even in the “cheap seats” isn’t lessened. One note though the seats are on the slender side. I recommend dressing comfortably; don’t bulk up. See www.barkinglegs.org for upcoming events. The Living Jazz performance was a grateful retreat from the noise of today. Gospel took over in the second set morphing Barking Legs into church. Makes sense given the day. Chattanooga’s Jazz scene may be lacking but with gems like these around finding the hideaways, learning the secret handshake and password is worth it for aficionados or those that just enjoy good American music. Jazzanooga 2014’s schedule officially begins April 3 JAM sending everyone to Jazzanooga (U)niversity. In partnership with WTVC the Jazzanooga crowd is set to present a real-time video allowing viewer questions or comments from any internet connected device. The discussion continues each Thursday throughout the month. Other month long activities include, lunchtime mini Jazz Festivals at the Waterhouse Pavilion each Friday and Jazz cruises on the Southern Belle every Saturday are two. A full day of live music in the Bluff View Arts District ending at Hunter

Museum on April 6; a picnic festival, parade, exhibits and more local history centered on and around (hint hint) the Big Nine. I won’t tell you but depending on how long you’ve lived in Chattanooga or know a longtime resident then you know what the Big Nine is. Look for memorable Big Nine events throughout the month. To get you ready for a summer of fun Lalah Hathaway and Rueben Studdard are scheduled preceded by culinary historian Michael Twitty’s Edible Jazz. Check www.jazzanooga.org for additional schedule information.

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