published Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Curtain Call: Booker T. Scruggs plays music for fun

Booker T. Scrugg, Jr. plays clarinet for residents of the Boynton Terrace Apartments in the Golden Gateway.
Booker T. Scrugg, Jr. plays clarinet for residents of the Boynton Terrace Apartments in the Golden Gateway.
Photo by John Rawlston.

BOOKER T. SCRUGGS II

Hometown: Chattanooga.

Education: Howard High School, social science at Clark Atlanta University, Masters at Clark.

Age: 69.

Children: Son, Cameroun Scruggs.

Vocation: Instructor of sociology UTC, former director of Upward Bound Program.

FAVORITES

Movie: "The Pursuit of Happiness."

Book: "The Purpose Driven Life."

Performer: Pete Fountain.

Actor: Samuel L. Jackson.

Quotation: "Good, Better, Best -- Never Let it Rest, Until Your Good is Better, and Your Better is Best."

Booker T. Scruggs II started playing music in the first grade. His first instrument was a flutophone. Over time, he has played the saxophone, the clarinet and the bassoon.

All along the way, his grandmother, Mamie Walton, was his biggest fan and supporter. She pushed him to take up the clarinet and to continue to play through high school and college.

For most of his life, his playing consisted of weekly church services, but about 15 years ago, Scruggs crossed paths with some other musicians who wanted to play, and he found himself in a trio with Maxine Bartlett and William Price.

Since then, he has been a part of four albums, played in four groups and performed at every imaginable local event that might feature jazz or gospel music.

His Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble will play at a special event at the Hunter Museum of American Art on Jan. 13.

Q: How and when did your interest in music start?

A: I've been playing since elementary school. My grandmother, Mamie Walton, who lived to be 105, was instrumental in my playing the clarinet.

She encouraged me to play so I did at all kinds of functions -- teas, church, parties, socials. I joined the band at Howard High School. I actually started when I was in junior high school and Prof. [James] Kendricks encouraged me to continue.

Q: Howard has always had great bands. How is it you started in junior high? Was it normal to bring kids up or were you that good?

A: (Laughter) I really don't remember now that you ask. I knew I was going to high school there and they had practices on Saturdays for anybody that wanted to go.

Q: Did you continue to play in college and was it on scholarship?

A: Yes. I played at Clark and then played even in grad school up the street at Clark in grad school.

I actually played the bassoon at Howard. That was really rare because it is an expensive instrument. How Howard, which was not known for being a wealthy school, came to have a bassoon my senior year, I have no idea.

Q: Did you plan to have a career in music or was it a means to attend school?

A: It was a means. I received a scholarship and I played to honor that. I went to study psychology and ended up majoring in sociology and minoring in psychology.

Q: You've played in several groups. Can you name them?

A: I've played in the Chattanooga Gospel Orchestra for maybe 15 years. Then I joined the Chattanooga Clarinet Choir a few years later. I was encouraged to do that by Jay Craven, who started the group.

I've also played in Spectrum Jazz Band, started by Erskine Peoples. It has some of the same people that are in the gospel orchestra. My own group is the Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble. That started as the Maxtium Trio in 2003. It featured Maxine Bartlett and William Price.

Q: Tell me about the CDs you've recorded.

A: "A Salute to the Duke" was all Duke Ellington music. That CD generated $10,000 for students in trio programs including from Upward Bound, which I was involved with for many years. It helped students from low income families.

It was done in 1998 and then redone in 2002 with an updated electronic sound.

I also recorded a couple of gospel albums. The first, "To God Be the Glory," was a tribute to my father and the money from it went to his church, Hurst United Methodist. It was all his favorite songs he heard at that church.

The second was in honor of my grandmother. Money from "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled" went to Wiley United Methodist, her church.

Q: You kind of came to playing in groups or more public playing later in life. Was that always your plan?

A: I didn't plan it. It just came up. I came up on some folks who wanted to play. It just sort of happened. Music was not really my vocation. I didn't plan to make a whole bunch of money playing and I haven't.

Q: Are you having fun?

A: Yep. I'm still having fun.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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