This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Scott balances careers as academic, musician

Published: October 14, 2004

Reporter Contributor

Reynold Scott balances a life of academia with the fast-paced world of a touring jazz musician.



As a lecturer in the Department of African American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, Scott teaches "Introduction to African American Music" and the "Evolution of Spiritual and Gospel Music." He has put together a videoconference to be held on Oct. 28 with the Zurich Jazz Institute of Switzerland that is designed to share musical experiences and instrumental information, as well as feature time for on-line performances. Sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and the Interdisciplinary Research and Creative Activities Fund, the videoconference is one of more than 50 inaugural events being held this month in conjunction with the investiture of John B. Simpson as UB's 14th president.

Scott also works with young audiences—kids in kindergarten through 12th grade—through Jazz It Up, a local arts-education group.

As a professional musician, Scott has performed and composed music for the past 30 years, appearing with the legendary Lionel Hampton and Tito Puente.

His most recent gig is as a baritone saxophonist and flutist for the internationally touring, avant-garde jazz band Sun Ra Arkestra.

The band and Scott recently returned from the mountaintops of Siberia, where they performed at the Ustuu-Huree Festival in the Republic of Tuva, Russia, during the first week of July. Instead of wearing shorts and attending clam bakes, Scott and his fellow experimental musicians spent their summer vacations enduring the 40- to 50-degree "dry cold," and living in tents—the Jurta was big enough to be a circus big top—with the resident Buddhist monks.

Scott's group learned of the festival while performing in Pasciavo, Switzerland, with the Double Throat Singers from Tuva. The Throat Singers, who perform deep-voiced, native folk music, invited the Arkestra to play at the live world music and interfaith festival in their hometown. All income raised from sponsors of the festival is being used to restore the temple at the Ustuu-Huree Buddhist monastery and to encourage the revival of spirituality in Tuva. More than 30 musicians of all genres performed during the festival, which was free for citizens through a government subsidy.

The Arkestra performed five times during its three-week stay in Tuva. The village's residents had heard of jazz through groups in Finland and Russia, but Scott said they had never seen anything like the Arkestra, adding that it was the first time an American jazz and African-American band had played in Tuva.

The Sun Ra Arkestra plays in colorful metallic capes with space headgear of its own design. The costuming matches the music—a traditional, big-band format with overtones of psychedelic science fiction and ancient Egyptian religious rites. The band frequently improvizes with its instruments, creating a gorgeous cacophony of musical inspiration.

"Sun Ra (the original founder, now deceased) believed he was not of this world, and the music became a kind of mythology—a sort of intergalactic, free, spaced, avant garde jazz," Scott says. The Philadelphia-based band performs a variety of musical styles, from stomps of the 1920s to Charlie Parker to Duke Ellington swing—but not jazz fusion or rock, he stresses. While it plays Sun Ra's old orchestrations, it also performs many new arrangements by Marshall Allen, the 80-year-old director of the 14-member band, which was founded in the 1930s and has played all over the world.

It is difficult for band members to play a short set, Scott notes.

"We set the time, usually around 80 minutes," he says. "There are no interruptions. It's a progression. It's a zone. We roll with it. If we are stopped early, it feels like you are being woken up and in a state of shock."

Scott says he is trying to get a residency at UB for the Arkestra, which, he says, would provide an excellent opportunity for music students at the university to learn different techniques.

The trip to Tuva was a unique experience for the band, Scott says. The group took four air flights and a five-hour van ride—a total of 46 hours of travel time—to get to the village and arrived in during a rainstorm.

"There were no roads, and the Russian vehicles have big wheels," Scott says. "I got (car) sick while we drove. It's all mountains, and they make their roads by driving. The rainstorm was worse than a plane. Now I can go on any rollercoaster."

But once the band arrived, the three weeks spent in Tuva were fantastic, Scott says.

"The people were great," he says. "All over, people want to speak to you. We were like celebrities. They wanted to come to the festival. They wanted you to come and eat at their homes."

He points out that not many tents had electricity, and television was extremely rare. Band members had to use outhouses and get their own water to bathe. Residents of the small mountain village are poor, but they work hard to get by and live within their means.

The people of Tuva frequently asked band members two questions, Scott says. "One was, where are you from and the other was, how old are you.

"I'm 60 years old and people were amazed I am still alive," Scott says "I'm one of the youngest (of the band members) and was one of the oldest to the people of Tuva. They were amazed at how young and vibrant we were."