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Artist Feature

Scott Gwinnell

Scott Gwinnell has been a composer and pianist since he was just eight years old. And over the course of a successful music career, he has also, out of necessity, become an accomplished bandleader. He’s written more than 300 pieces of music and toured with such jazz greats as Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Billy Hart, Delfayo Marsalis, John Clayton, and Jon Hendricks, for whom Gwinnell was music director for three years. He plays with various projects, but composes mostly for his 16-piece group, the Scott Gwinnell Jazz Orchestra. On his Mack Avenue Records/Detroit Music Factory debut however, Gwinnell stripped things down just a little.

He composed The Cass Corridor Suite for just six parts. The orchestration choice was a deliberate ode to his subject matter, a Detroit neighborhood with a reputation for both poverty and artistic expression.

“The tradition of Detroit’s jazz music,” Gwinnell notes, “has been rooted in ‘hard bop’, a style of jazz that frequently implemented these instruments (trumpet, alto sax and tenor sax, accompanied by piano, bass and drums). Even though I was tempted to extend my orchestrational pallet, I wanted to be true to Detroit’s ‘sound’. I’ve also tried to incorporate the musical elements of hard bop, such as: a focus on groove, mercurial tempos, and a touch of the blues. Barry Harris, Jones Brothers, Kenny Burrell, and Pepper Adams come to mind as influences for this music.”

Gwinnell lived in the Cass Corridor while pursuing a master’s degree in music at Detroit’s Wayne State University. “Being a child of a sheltered suburban community,” he says, “the Corridor was my growing up, my awakening into adulthood.”

For many years, the Cass Corridor was considered a crime-ridden artist’s ghetto. But, Gwinnell says, the gunshots and abandoned house were merely a layer of grime masking a brilliant artistic vibrancy. “As I learned more about my surroundings,” Gwinnell says, “I discovered the rich cultural past of Cass Avenue. But the most wonderful thing was that the Corridor’s artistic influence was not confined to the pages of Detroit history books. It was alive in the many young artists and musicians like myself who were living their passion and shining through a spectrum of vocations.”

This recording is also special, albeit unintentionally, because it happened to be the last professional recording for Detroit jazz legend, euphonium player, and producer on this album, Brad Felt; as well as Andrew Kratzat, one of Detroit's best bassists. The record is dedicated to them both.