Trumpeter Scott Belck — who holds a doctorate in music studies, so that’s Dr. Belck to you and me — has a résumé that is almost ridiculously annotated with some of the greatest names in Jazz and Pop music, including the Woody Herman Orchestra, Manhattan Transfer, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, Doc Severinsen and our own Blue Wisp Big Band. He’s toured with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, among others, performed with some of the country’s top symphony orchestras and been a member, bandleader or musical director of a dizzying array of groups and orchestras. Belck has sessioned and gigged with dozens of high-profile artists and been featured on an equally impressive number of recordings, including with his own trumpet ensemble, Tromba Mundi.
To top it off, last fall Belck was named Director of Jazz Studies at University of Cincinnati’s world-class College-Conservatory of Music, succeeding longtime department head Rick VanMatre, who retired last spring.
If Belck’s considerable roll call of accomplishments lacked one particular bullet point, it was the release of an album of original compositions under his own name. But he’ll be able to check that off his to-do list with the imminent release of At the Cannibals’ Prayer Breakfast.
“It’s been sitting in the can for a year,” Belck says over lunch at King Wok in Clifton. “Or (in) the hard drive. A lot of it has been done over the years, some of it is more recent. It was time to put a small group together and make a CD while there’s still a chance to make CDs, before they go away.”
Part of Belck’s intention with At the Cannibals’ Prayer Breakfast was to move away from some of the more populist work he’s done over the past decade and a half and stretch out in a small ensemble atmosphere (saxophone, piano, bass and drums). That mission is accomplished admirably on Prayer Breakfast.
“Part of it was the possibility of getting back into small group playing,” Belck says.
“I’ve spent a lot of the last 10 or 15 years doing more commercial types of things — shows and lead playing, high note kind of stuff. Prior to that, I spent most of my time playing Jazz, so this was a way to get those roots, as it were. It occurred to me that I was playing on other people’s recordings, and it was time to have my own.”
Perhaps more to the point, Belck wanted to play in a more typically flavored Jazz setting than in his role as talented but sporadically spotlighted sideman. Clearly that kind of work will pay a lot of bills but it doesn’t begin to touch an artist’s soul.
“A lot of the work I’ve done has been a lot of reading for a session or a show,” Belck says. “There’s improvisation involved, but me coming back here is part of that changing dynamic of shifting the focus of my career. I’ve written what I like to think is more contemporary Jazz, based on and paying tribute to my compositional influences, like Pat Metheny. I don’t get to play with Pat Metheny, so the idea is to play stuff that’s in that groove.”
Groove is the perfect word for Belck’s work on Cannibals’ Prayer Breakfast, as he executes his compositions with a precision that points up his extensive musical education (University of Tennessee, masters from University of North Texas, doctorate from CCM) as well as a soulful elegance that is unteachably intuitive.
The Morgantown, W.V., native’s musical path has been circuitous, from his introduction to the trumpet in fifth grade (“My best friend was walking past my house, I asked him where he was going and he said, ‘To get a trumpet to play in band,’ and I said, ‘That sounds like a good idea.’ ”) to his first exposure to Cincinnati in 1987 as a UT music student playing Dixieland at Kings Island and then infiltrating the local Jazz scene. After cruise ship gigs and his stint with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Belck got his master’s degree at UNT then joined the Air Force and played with the Air Force Field Band at Wright Patterson, which eventually overlapped with his doctorate studies in Trumpet Performance from CCM.
“I knew that if I did that (Air Force) band, I’d be getting out as an in-state student on the G.I. Bill,” Belck says. “I always kind of wanted to make my way back to Cincinnati.”
Belck’s session experience also blossomed as his reputation spread. Over the past 15 years, he has become one of the more in-demand trumpeters in the country.
“When I was in the Air Force, I started a big band because I was bored and we had a bunch of players who were really good,” Belck recalls. “In the process of growing that group, it started to blossom into a career of contracting for shows, or corporate events or producing Jazz festivals, mainly because I had a good Rolodex. They knew I had a phone and knew how to use it.”
With the release of Cannibals’ Prayer Breakfast, Belck says he isn’t overly concerned about airplay or acclaim. He just wanted to get the music in his head out into the world. And that’s no mean feat, particularly where the trumpet is concerned. With the instrument’s sonic possibilities determined by just three valves, on the surface it might appear to be a limited tool. But great players like Belck find a way to make the trumpet a vessel of artistic expression with few boundaries. How?
“I ask that very question every day,” Dr. Belck says with a laugh. “I open the case and I ask myself that question.”
SCOTT BELCK (www.scottbelck.com) celebrates the release of his new album with a show Saturday at the Blue Wisp Jazz Club