Scotty Barnhart — a Florida State University College of Music professor and internationally acclaimed Jazz trumpeter — won his third Grammy Award during the 66th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony held Feb. 4 at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles.
Barnhart, director of the Count Basie Orchestra, received the Grammy for “Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album” for the Count Basie Orchestra’s “Basie Swings The Blues.” The Grammy is Barnhart’s first as the group’s director.
“I’m just happy for the orchestra, but more so happy for Mr. Basie,” Barnhart said. “He literally was a genius. This man started an orchestra 89 years ago that’s still at the top of its game. He died exactly 40 years ago, and his orchestra is still winning Grammys.”
Basie, the American jazz legend, founded the Count Basie Orchestra in 1935, leading the group for nearly 50 years. Barnhart has played as a featured trumpet soloist for the Orchestra since 1993. In 2013, he was announced as the group’s new director.
Count Basie Orchestra’s “Basie Swings The Blues” album features collaborations with some of the greatest living blues and jazz artists, including Buddy Guy, Bobby Rush, Keb’ Mo’, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Cray, Charlie Musselwhite, Betty LaVette, Ledisi and George Benson.
“I’m just fortunate to be at Florida State. I love doing it, and I’ll be there until I can’t play or walk or talk anymore. This is not work to me. This is what my passion in life is.” — Associate Professor Scotty Barnhart
Barnhart found inspiration for the album while attending the Blues Awards in 2019 — the same year Basie was posthumously inducted into the Blues Awards Hall of Fame. He wanted to record an album that featured one of the top jazz orchestras with the top blues artists.
“Then I started realizing that what I wanted to do had never been done before,” Barnhart said. “That floored me because I thought somebody surely has done this.”
As the world shut down for COVID in March 2020, Barnhart and the Orchestra were scheduled to play a private gig at a wealthy businessman’s wedding reception in Virginia. The show had to go on — and Barnhart was glad it did.
While the Orchestra played with seven substitute musicians to a pared-down guest list, the groom asked if he could sit in with them with his new Gibson electric guitar. Barnhart asked him, “What do you want to play?” He said, “The blues.”
The melding of the two genres was what had been on Barnhart’s mind for a year.
“I knew I finally heard it,” he said. “Under the most incredible — almost not going to happen circumstances — one guy asked me to sit in and I said yes. He started playing, and I was literally in tears.”
In preparation for recording the album, Barnhart listened to every blues album he could find and traveled to the Mississippi Delta to immerse himself in the land where blues began. He attended performances at blues clubs throughout the area and visited Clarksdale, Mississippi, also known as Devil’s Crossroads, where legend says that musician Robert Johnson sold his soul to the Devil for the ability to play the blues. Barnhart even shot the photo that graces the back cover of the album on the trip.
“These were all things I knew I needed to do so that this project was authentic in every way,” he said.
Barnhart is in his 21st year teaching at the College of Music and continues to give lectures at universities around the world and tours with the Count Basie Orchestra for three months of the year.
“I’m just fortunate to be at Florida State,” he said. “I love doing it, and I’ll be there until I can’t play or walk or talk anymore. This is not work to me. This is what my passion in life is.”
Todd Queen, dean of the FSU College of Music, lauded Barnhart’s accomplishment, as well as his work as a faculty member.
“Professor Barnhart’s impeccable work leading the Count Basie Orchestra continues to resonate across the national music landscape, as evidenced by his most recent Grammy award win,” Queen said. “Scotty is an integral part of the world-class jazz faculty here at FSU, and they continue to shine on the national stage, making this a top destination for any student wanting to study jazz.”
Barnhart is recognized as an expert in jazz trumpet history and has given two keynote lecture-demonstrations at the International Trumpet Guild Conference. Two of his former students have won first place in the National Jazz Competition.
“When I’m teaching, I’m learning,” Barnhart said. “I just love working with the students there. And any piece of information that I get, I give straight to them.”
Barnhart has performed or recorded with Frank Sinatra, Wynton Marsalis, Quincy Jones, Lena Horne and Barbara Streisand among others.
Profiled in the book “Trumpet Kings: The Players Who Shaped the Sound of Jazz Trumpet” by Scott Yanow, Barnhart is heralded amongst legendary jazz trumpeters like Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis. His own book, “The World of Jazz Trumpet – A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy,” received critical acclaim following its publication in 2005.