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Jazz Saxophonist Randy Scott credits Detroit as musical influence

By Raina L. Baker
Special to the Michigan Citizen

DETROIT — “People don’t know that Detroit has some of the best musicians,” said Randy Scott in a July 28 interview. Scott was born in Baltimore, Maryland, moved to Philadelphia for high school and then attended Michigan State University on a Classical Music Scholarship. He changed his major his junior year to Music Education, which required him to learn all instruments in order to graduate.

Scott uses his education and musical talent to teach others. His students have ranged in age from elementary school age to college. He’s also taught privately.

“You’re never too old to learn music,” he told the Michigan Citizen, remembering one of his students who was 70-years-old.

Scott currently teaches music at Birney Middle School in Southfield. He’s been there for 14 years.

“Middle school is the most challenging group of students but also the most impressionable. “I feel that this is where God wants me to be because I’ve seen the effects I’ve had on them. “ Scott says that working with children keeps him humble but also inspires him. “The biggest compliment I’ve ever gotten was some of the kids saying ‘I wish you were my father’ because they didn’t have those male figures in their life.”

The Birney Middle School band under Scott’s direction has been winning national competitions for years. He said that most of the students come to his class having never played an instrument and have no idea of what instrument they want to play.

“Within two years of working with them they’ve been winning the Music in the Parks Cedar Point Band Festival for the last 11 years. They sound amazing. They don’t sound like middle school or even high school students,” he said.

“Detroit has some of the best musicians in the world. There’s a certain flavor that Detroit musicians have that nobody else in the world has,” Scott said. “That’s why a lot of the big name entertainers, Usher, Lady Gaga, Neyo, all their band members for the most part are from here. You can literally take any major artist and I guarantee they’re gonna have at least one or two Detroit people in their band.”

Scott says Detroit musicians don’t get a lot of credit. “It’s here,” he said. “I’ve played in pretty much every major city. I have a band on the west coast in LA, a band here, and I have a band in Europe. It cuts down some of the expense of having to take one band all over the place. In light of that, I can honestly tell you that each band has a different feel. Nobody’s band is like Detroit’s.”

Detroit musicians put a lot of soul and flavor on even the simplest of notes, says Scott. It’s the emotion and the feeling behind the music that makes Detroit musicians like none other. “And that says a lot because I’m not even from here,” he adds.

Scott listens to all kinds of music and has favorites in every genre and style. His favorite old school jazz in Detroit is Marcus Belgrave, a trumpet player and for contemporary, Demetrius Nabors, a young upcoming artist and also Scott’s music director. He says Kirk Whalum and John Coltrane are also favorites.

Although he believes that music is spiritual, Scott says “never allow music to be an idol.That’s how you draw the line of passion. I use music to worship but I don’t worship it.” He says that a big problem with musicians is that they allow themselves to love music so much that they put it ahead of everything and that’s why their families fall apart. He’s set a goal to never do that.

He says he has seen the affects of being away and will not agree to do a long-extended tour because of that. Scott says that he still travels a lot but mostly does weekend events. Scott has a 4-year-old boy who has shown interest in music by beating on every and anything and an 8-year-old daughter who sings.

The saxophonist has played at all kinds of events including Pistons and Tigers games. He says that he’s not nervous when he plays but there are certain situations where he’s a bit anxious because anything can happen.

“My biggest turning-point for my nervousness was when I was on Showtime at the Apollo and that was the American Idol back in the 90s early 2000s. It’s 10 times worse in real life than it is on TV because a lot of stuff is edited out.”

Scott recalled that there were three tapings of the show in one day in order to make the show look weekly, which required changes of clothes. Scott said he told the producer of the show that he did not know there were three tapings and did not bring changes.

His response was, “It don’t matter because you ain’t gon win anyway.” Four of the six professional acts were booed which made Scott “tremble on the stage” during his performance. He had one song and performed that song for each performance. That song won him the show.

Listed on the 2011 Grammy Ballot, gold/platinum record certified from working with those like Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond, Scott says that he hasn’t gotten to his greatest accomplishment yet. “My biggest accomplishment would be the Grammys. That and outselling Kenny G,” he said jokingly.

Scott shared that he has many mentors but Rover Washington Jr., a jazz saxophonist and one of the most respected musicians of contemporary jazz from Philadelphia is the whole reason he plays, he said. “My mother was a fan and took me to a concert and I was hooked.”

Scott mentors at Don Boscoe Hall and works with at risk youth on lockdown. “It has been challenging but rewarding to play for them.”

Some of Scott’s biggest inspirations are his parents, pastor, grandmother and his students. “Children keep imagination, Keep you grounded. Keep me very humble. None of the stuff I’ve done really matters to them.”

Despite all the motivation and inspiration, he admits that sometimes he loses passion. “Sometimes I go through discouraging spells because of the business aspect.” He said that jazz becomes very commercialized like “smooth” jazz.

There’s an actual formula for getting your music played and the cookie-cutter songs are what you often hear, he said. The radio doesn’t play a lot of traditional jazz or jazz with edge. “Don’t confine me or put me in a box.” He says that’s how you make jazz boring. “That’s not music to me.”

Scott has been playing professionally since 1992 and encourages people to make music that allows them to be themselves, not cookie-cutter. He says to know your craft better than anyone else but have a backup.

“I sold a horn to eat once. As much as I didn’t want a plan B, I had to have one. But your plan B has to still be something you’re passionate about.”

Randy Scott will perform at Wayne County Community College District’s Heinz C. Pretcher Educational and Performing Arts Center with Detroit-based jazz pianist Demetrius “Krayon” Nabors Aug. 11. The center is located at 21000 Northline Rd, Taylor, MI 48180. The band will take the stage at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 734.374.3200.

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