It is a pleasure to share an exclusive interview with celebrated Kansas City jazz trombonist, composer, arranger and educator Brian Scarborough. In addition to leading his own group, Scarborough is member of several noteworthy jazz ensembles, including The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, the Boulevard Big Band, and the Brandon Draper Group. As if that weren't enough, he not only has extensive experience with numerous musical theater companies, he is also a respected educator who has taught in Kansas City as well as in Northern Germany. In this interview, Scarborough discusses his musical background, creative vision and shares his book, music and movie recommendations.
Please introduce yourself. Describe your music for new listeners.
My name is Brian Scarborough and I am a Kansas City based trombonist, composer, improviser, and educator. I have been playing trombone since 2001 and hold a Bachelor’s of Music degree in Trombone Performance from the University of Kansas (2013) and a Master’s degree in Jazz Studies from DePaul University (2015). I began performing in the greater Kansas City area in high school and moved back from Chicago in 2015 to begin my life as a full time musician.
It is my ultimate goal that both my playing and composing/arranging feel and sound organic. My music stems from the jazz tradition, but I have also been influenced over the years by folk music, world music, classical music, and rock and roll, among others. I like to try and explore non-traditional forms and phrase lengths, aiming to find melodies, bass lines, grooves etc. that make them feel organic.
Talk about what and who got you hooked on the idea of pursuing music. Who were your earliest musical influences?
In 2007, my high school jazz band went to New York City and in one night, we went to Birdland to see the house big band and then to the Village Vanguard to see Chris Potter’s Underground. Chris Potter's group was making their live recording Lift that weekend, and it was absolutely incredible. I left the Village Vanguard with my mind blown, knowing that I wanted to pursue music for a living. Not long after this trip, my family saw the traveling production of Wicked when it came through the Music Hall. I, like many of the people who’ve seen the show, was in awe at the end of the first act. This was another defining moment where I knew that music was it for me.
My brother, Brett, is five years older than me and is also a trombone player. I grew up going to his performances with the high school jazz band, concert band, district and state honor groups, and all of his college ensembles. I always looked up to him, wanting one day to be in those same groups. He went on to pursue Music Education at KU and know works in the KCK Public Schools as an elementary music teacher. Over the years (and to this day), he has exposed me to a lot of phenomenal music; he was my earliest and most profound musical influence.
In addition to being a band-leader, composer and teacher, you’re involved in several prominent music, dance and theater organizations. How do you prioritize and make the time to compose?
I am very fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to lead my own groups, and play with a number of other musical groups and theater companies throughout the city. I live by my calendar; it is something that I have to keep up to date and check on a daily basis. Whether I am in a musical or working a variety of freelance work, it tells me what part of town I need to be in on any given day and when (and if) I will have any free work time. Typically during the run of a show, since the work is mostly in the evening and I cannot overplay before work, I actually have a decent amount of time to compose, arrange, transcribe, or create educational materials. However, there are practice sessions, or even times when I am spending time with my family, that an idea or new composition starts to become clear to me, and I’ll get up and get to writing right away. Fortunately, my wife and dog are pretty understanding of this!
Describe your creative process. How do you move through creative blocks? What apps or software, if any, do you use to transcribe your work?
Singing plays a big role in my approach to composing and arranging. For me, this process feels very natural and leads to organic musical ideas. I also use the piano in this process for part writing and to hear full chords, something that cannot be done on the trombone as a melodic, one note at a time, instrument. Over the last several years, I have been using a MIDI keyboard to record new compositions into Logic. This allows me to record multiple tracks, change the sounds of the instruments, and be able to hear the new piece come together, so that I can experiment with different musical ideas instead of trying to play everything at once on the piano. Once a piece is finished, it is notated using Sibelius (a music notation software), formatted, printed, taped, and put in the folders.
What music are you currently raving about?
Recently, I have spent a fair bit of time listening to Guillermo Klein’s recording Filtros. The pieces are very interesting, with cool approaches to melody and some great rhythmic passages as well. I have also been listening to Ella and Louis, featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, and am blown away every time. This recording is just fantastic. Also, Billie Holiday’s Lady in Satin. The whole record is terrific; Billie Holiday sounds great, and there are a couple of terrific trombone solos by J.J. Johnson and Urbie Green.
My favorite album of all time is Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil. Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Elvin Jones….it’s just masterful. If I sit down to listen to this recording, I pretty much always listen to it twice all the way through. Absolutely brilliant.
If anyone is looking for jazz trombone recordings, I absolutely love Slide Hampton, JJ Johnson, Frank Rosolino, Carl Fontana, Steve Davis, Michael Dease, Marshall Gilkes, Ryan Keberle…..I could probably keep going all day. I listen to these artists regularly and would say that every listen leads to me raving about them.
What are you looking forward to in 2019?
2019 is already shaping up to be a great musical year. I have two musicals on the books as of now, a number of performances with both my quartet and quintet, and I will head back to Europe as an Artist-in-Residence for the Classical Beat Music Festival, with performances in Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Ultimately, I am looking forward to the music, and the opportunities to work with great people and organizations, and the opportunity to meet and make music with new people.
If people would like to stay up to date with my musical endeavors, visit www.brianscarboroughmusic.com for a performance calendar, and audio and video recordings of my work. You can also sign up for a newsletter that comes as an e-mail once a month highlighting the upcoming month’s performances and any new projects or news.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Both The Night Circus and all seven Harry Potter books create worlds that inspire me. I am continually blown away by the creativity of these works and the people that brought them in to the world. Of the Harry Potter series, I particularly enjoy Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince.
Birth of the Cool by Miles Davis
Miles Smiles by Miles Davis
Basie, Straight Ahead by Count Basie Orchestra
I have a hard time selecting music, because there are so many recordings out there that I absolutely love. However, here is a place to start.
Jaws. This score for Jaws is fantastic. I would also recommend pretty much anything with a John Williams score. The music is great, but the way the music works to aid the story telling is brilliant.
Doctor Who . The new television series. Similarly to The Night Circus and Harry Potter, the creativity and storytelling of this show blows me away. I continually find myself inspired by this show, and while I have not yet dove into the “Classic Who” universe, I recommend the reboot to everyone.
Bob Ross DVD’s - Watching these painting videos is simply amazing. I actually got into oil painting a little bit over the past year, and while I have not picked up my brushes for a couple months, I find beauty and wisdom in these programs. And while I had my doubts about actually being able to paint, I was able to create something that looked like it was supposed to on a number of occasions!