When Scott Brown, the award-winning band director at Roosevelt High School in Seattle for 38 years, retires at the end of this school year, he will leave behind an amazing legacy.
Brown, who announced his retirement this month, led Roosevelt’s jazz bands to four wins at the world-renowned Essentially Ellington competition and festival, presented in New York by Jazz at Lincoln Center. He’s run Roosevelt’s music programs since 1984, but is making “a clean break,” he said. Once he steps down, he will not continue as the jazz band’s manager.
“I was a lucky man,” Brown, 64, said. “I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also been incredibly lucky. I’ve only had one job in my career. That just doesn’t happen anymore.
Brown’s announcement drew an outpouring of praise.
“Scott Brown is a man of style, smarts and fire,” Wynton Marsalis, general and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, said through a spokesperson. “His bands were always excellent and reflected his absolute dedication to American culture. He is a true jazz man with grace and sophistication to spare. I will miss his enthusiastic leadership on our Rose Hall stage.
Former students joined the choir.
“Scott Brown changed my life,” wrote Grammy-winning singer Sara Gazarek (Class of 2000), on tour in Europe when she heard the news. “I arrived at Roosevelt High School in 1996 without an ounce of information about the history, culture or musical styles of this beautiful black American art form…I take it with me to every performance and recording .”
Drummer D’Vonne Lewis (Class of 2002), who plays with Brown in the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra and fronts the band Limited Edition, has also acknowledged Brown’s influence.
“Everything I do comes from him,” Lewis said. “Dynamics, precision, swing, blues feeling and basically playing with your heart and giving your all. Going to Roosevelt High School with Scott Brown was like being in college while we were in high school.
Born in Seattle, Brown grew up after age 11 on Bainbridge Island, where he played trombone at Bainbridge High School and performed at home in an impromptu family band. In 1984, a year after earning a degree in music education at the University of Washington, Brown started at Roosevelt, succeeding Waldo King, who started the first jazz programs in Seattle schools in the 1960s.
Although Brown is best known for big band jazz, alumnus Kelly Clingan (Class of 1997) points out that he also led a marching band, concert band and the pit band for musicals and even taught piano and vocal jazz lessons.
“He’s a true educator,” said Clingan, who carries on Brown’s legacy as director of education for the Seattle nonprofit JazzED. “I’ve seen him help people switch from flute to trombone. He really got in there and did the dirty work.
Brown also exposed his students to the world, leading bands on trips to Europe, where they performed at jazz festivals in Perugia and Montreux, among others, as well as in China and Mexico.
Brown has fond memories of the band’s 1995 trip to Mazatlán, Seattle’s sister city in Mexico, where the band donated instruments to local musicians and shared the stage with them at Teatro Angela Peralta.
“We really cooked,” he recalls. “It was very powerful.”
He’s also immensely proud of when Roosevelt brought the band Count Basie to the 5th Avenue Theater in 1991 and the kids opened the show. A gigantic poster commemorating this concert still hangs in the Roosevelt Music Room.
Brown’s accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. In 2007, he received the KCTS Golden Apple Award, the state’s most coveted honor for teachers. DownBeat magazine, the “bible of jazz,” named Brown Jazz Educator of the Year in 2004. Seattle Earshot Jazz and the Washington Music Educators Association have both inducted Brown into their halls of fame.
Observers attribute Brown’s success to a combination of musical excellence, confidence, and high expectations from his students.
“It works like they can and will deliver and there’s no reason they can’t,” said Nelson Jay, whose son Toby (class of 19) played bass trombone in a jazz band.
“He really trusts his students,” said Ruben Van Kempen, Roosevelt’s retired drama teacher. “I replaced his classes, and when it comes to a jazz band, they come in and they know exactly what to do when he’s gone. He created leaders.
Humble by nature, Brown will tell you, if asked, that between 1999 and 2022, the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band made Essentially Ellington’s final 22 out of 24 tries and placed in the top three 11 times, beating all the other bands in the country. on both planes. But modesty doesn’t create numbers like that. When asked if he would have considered retiring before 2019, when Roosevelt won his fourth Essentially Ellington competition, tying Garfield High School’s record, Brown laughed.
“Probably not!” he admitted. “You think there’s a thread of competitiveness there?”
Brown’s retirement program does not involve competitions. He plans to play more trombone and woodworking in his home shop and do a lot more sailing.
“Sara Gazarek just asked me to play with her at Jazz Alley in July,” he said. “One of my dreams is to sail in September instead of doing band camp.”