Susan L. Rife, Special to the Herald-Tribune
Although the theme for the June 17 Sarasota Music Festival concert is “Basically Baroque,” French hornist-composer Jeff Scott’s composition “Startin’ Sumthin’” is anything but basic, and not at all Baroque.
Instead, it fuses the New York-born musician’s love for both the jazz and classical idioms.
“It’s a modern take, if you would, on ragtime music. It’s kind of a shuffle, more of a dance style,” said Scott in a Memorial Day telephone interview before taking his family to a park for a picnic in Oberlin, Ohio, where he is an associate professor of horn at the Conservatory of Music. “The idea was to take an ensemble type that is traditionally used for purely classical music. You never hear wind quintets playing anything of this sort, and making the instruments swing.”
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Scott, who is new to the Sarasota Music Festival faculty this year, will be joined on the Sarasota Opera House stage by Anastasia Samsel, flute, Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboe, Kean Xiong, clarinet, and Frank Morrelli, bassoon. The program also includes Caroline Shaw’s “Stucco & Brocatelle,” excerpts from Handel’s “Water Music” and Bach’s Double Violin Concerto. (Shaw will be performing in a June 21 “creative Voices” concert with Gabriel Kahane.)
The concert is one of four programs on the second weekend of the three-week festival, which brings dozens of young musicians to Sarasota to study and perform with professionals. Pianist and former Artistic Director Robert Levin will perform on June 18 in the “Mozart and Brahms” conducted by current Artistic Director Jeffrey Kahane, and musicians will perform rarely heard works in the “Hidden Gems” concert on June 16. Festival fellows will take the spotlight in the second “Rising Stars” concert on June 19.
Scott wrote “Startin’ Sumthin'” when he was a member of the innovative and Grammy Award-nominated wind quintet Imani Winds, a position he held for more than 20 years. He has also been a member of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem since 1995 and has an extensive resume of Broadway music credits and original compositions.
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He calls his compositional style “urban classical.” It emerges from his background growing up in New York, where one of his closest friends was Puerto Rican and the best man at his wedding was Orthodox Jewish.
That cultural melting pot also included the two great musical loves of his life, classical and jazz.
“Jazz is a completely different (musical) language,” he said. “It has a completely different history. While it can be studied alongside classical music, there are completely different skills one must attain.”
He cited the “Third Stream,” “where classical musicians deeply influenced by jazz, would write in a classical style, approach the music in a way that’s more authentic” to the improvisational nature of jazz.
He came to the French horn as a sixth grade band student. With his last name coming late in the alphabet, there weren’t many choices left to him in the instrument closet.
“There was the set of friends that all chose saxophone, another set all chose flute,” he said. “By the time they got to me, I said, ‘Well, teacher, what do you have left?’ ‘We have one French horn in the closet.’ It looked like it had been through World Wars I and II. The kids just laughed and laughed because their flutes and trumpets were all shiny and new.”
He was completely unfamiliar with the French horn and its distinctive sound. But the first time he heard the principal hornist perform with the New York Philharmonic, “my jaw dropped” and he was hooked.
“No matter what it plays, if it’s a featured instrument, it’s so different from all the others,” Scott said.
That could be said about Scott himself. As a Black man, a rarity in classical music circles, he relishes the opportunity to work with young players, whether it’s in a festival setting or an elementary school classroom.
And his advice is the same regardless.
“Very few of us are just blessed musically from Day 1. Get in the trenches and play those scales,” he said.
SARASOTA MUSIC FESTIVAL
“Basically Baroque” will be presented at 7:30 pm June 17 in the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave., Sarasota. Tickets are $29-$50. Other concerts on the second weekend include “Hidden Gems” at 4:30 pm June 16 in Holley Hall, 709 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (tickets are $29-$40); “Mozart and Brahms” featuring former festival artistic director Robert Levin at 7:30 pm June 18 in the Opera House ($29-$65) and Rising Stars 2 featuring Festival Fellows at 2:30 pm June 19 in Holley Hall ($15-$22) . 941-953-3434; sarasotaorchestra.org