Article - Scotty Barnhart brings jazz to the King Center

Decatur native releases Say It Plain

On a summer night in 1982, trumpeter Scotty Barnhart saw his future. Then a senior at Gordon High School in Decatur, Barnhart journeyed downtown to the Fox Theatre to see the Count Basie Orchestra perform. He came away from the concert dead-set on becoming a professional jazz man.

“From that time on, I knew I was going to be in the band one of these days,” he says. “I didn’t know how; I just had that feeling.”

Barnhart currently plays lead trumpet in the Basie band and has just released Say It Plain, his first CD as a leader. The album features pianists Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts, trumpeters Clark Terry and Wynton Marsalis, and drummer Herlin Riley, among others.

For years, Barnhart — who teaches trumpet at Florida State University in addition to his rigorous touring schedule — has relished the chance to record his own album. “I put the solo thing on hold because I was on the road with Basie 40 weeks a year beginning in 1993,” he says. “There was no time to do anything else.”

Growing up in metro Atlanta, Barnhart was exposed to classical and religious music through services at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Jazz was on the periphery — explored mainly by way of family record collections — but he remembers being surrounded by music as a child.

“My family always had records playing — not necessarily jazz, but there was always music in the house,” he says. “When I got to college is when I really started to study it and try to find out what it was all about.”

While researching the history of his instrument, Barnhart learned of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s love of jazz and its role in the Civil Rights Movement. Say It Plain includes a dedication to King, which is fitting since the King Center will host Barnhart’s first Atlanta concert since the record’s release.

“King loved jazz, so for me it was a natural thing.”