Scotty Barnhart CD Release: Saying it Plain

*Thanks to guest blogger, Wayne James for covering this show for me and to Fiona Bloom for the media pass!

by Wayne James, blogger and bass player for Gritz and Jelly Butter

I have to admit that I am guilty of a certain kind of elitism when it comes to distinguishing the traditional art form of jazz from the newest variations. Not that variations are bad, but I suppose I want to separate the unmistakable sound that my father’s jazz represented from...well, everything else. So when I got the opportunity to cover the release of solo CD Saying it Plain, by one of Atlanta’s jazz greats, trumpeter Scotty Barnhart, I jumped at the chance to be reminded of the original beauty and passion of this distinctly American art form.

Barnhart has toured the world with definitive jazz institutions such as the Count Basie Orchestra, and has recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Joe Williams, Ray Charles and Tito Puentes. Say It Plain includes musical contributions from Eddie & Wynton Marsalis, Clark Terry, and Marcus Roberts among others, standing as a testament to Barnhart’s high regard among his peers.

Barnhart played trumpet as a young boy at Ebenezer Baptist Church, and was christened by Martin Luther King Jr., and baptized by Martin Luther King Sr. Barnhart’s performance at the historic Martin Luther King, Jr. Center was double billed as both a CD release and an honorable tribute to an era and a people that were at the heart of the civil rights revolution and heavily influenced his early life.

I was taken immediately by the simplicity, humility, and effortless nature of Barnhart’s sound especially when compared with the backdrop of today’s entertainment-oriented music scene. With Bill Peterson on piano, Kevin Smith on bass, and Leon Anderson on drums, Barnhart walked on stage, cordially greeted the audience, and began to make beautiful music. The album’s title track, “Say It Plain,” eased us into his world with an infectious, finger-snapping groove, peppered with Barnhart’s growling trumpet. His set grew adventurous as he plunged the audience head first into “Burning Sands,” an exhilarating and up-tempo display of his technical prowess wrought with rapid tempo and mood changes.

The night included guest appearances from a number of talented artists/musicians: saxophonist Ricardo Pascal, jazz guitarist Rik Waller, and vocalist Jamie Davis who joined Barnhart for the classic ballad, “Young at Heart.” Davis’ warm, husky baritone, reminiscent of Lou Rawls, combined with Barnhart’s muted trumpet had me grimacing with appreciation.

By the time we got to “Haley’s Passage,” a soft & contemplative stroll that successfully highlights Barnhart’s well-known soloist ability, I was a committed fan. Barnhart and his band closed out the night with an all out jam session during which any musician in the audience was invited to participate.

After the concert, I asked Scotty what he’d say to younger musicians trying to find their way in this new era of music. He paused for a moment and said, “Pay attention to what you’ve been given”. Now that is saying it plain.

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