David Scoggin

Venues for jazz may ebb and flow, but not David Scoggin's passion for the music.

The 54-year-old jazz pianist has been playing for half a century, first making a name for himself in Minneapolis playing in bands produced by Prince's Paisley Park record label in the 1970s and '80s.

"I was a first-call player with the jazz bands, but I played a lot of funk," Scoggin says. "I was hooked up with a few bands that were part of Prince's organization that were being produced by him."

Scoggin moved to Ashland 12 years ago and spends his time teaching classes at Southern Oregon University, giving private lessons and playing gigs throughout the Rogue Valley.

He'll be playing a tribute show to the great jazz composers at 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at Avalon Bar and Grill, 105 W. Valley View Road, Talent. Joining him will be Michael Vannice on saxophone, J. Jorgensen on bass and Chicken Hirsh on drums.

The quartet will play pieces from Thelonius Monk, Wayne Shorter, Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington. There is a $5 cover charge at the door.

For the Tidings Café, Scoggin performed "A Felicidades" by Antonio Carlos Jobim with bassist Michael Moellman in the SOU Rogue River Room.

The jazz greats that Scoggin looks up to include Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Horace Silver, Ahmad Jamal and Wayne Shorter.

Tributes to his forebears aside, Scoggin is a modernist, striving for new sounds in his music.

"I like jazz to be a living, breathing art form that's growing right now," Scoggin says. "I want it to sound modern and current. I don't want it to be a tribute to some historic relic, or a museum piece.

"So I've always tried to express myself, just as it comes out, improvising and not be trying to adhere to an era or something like that."

Electronics has been a major influence in both Scoggin's music and his livelihood. After earning a degree in electrical engineering, he developed music software in the Bay Area before migrating to Ashland.

"I became kind of a music notation and software guy," Scoggin says. "I've always had computers and a home studio. I've owned a synthesizer since 1974, so I've been into electronics for a long time."

Though programs such as Garage Band and software synthesizers are more available than ever, Scoggin believes electronic music's heyday is over.

"It peaked in the '80s when synthesizer sounds were fresh and when Prince was doing lots of stuff and Weather Report were still around," he says.

Scoggin admits it's tough making a living as a musician in Southern Oregon. Back in Minneapolis, he says, "I could make my rent in a night and a half of gigging, and gig six to seven nights a week. Here you couldn't possibly make your house payment if you took every single gig that came your way.

"This is a unique area for playing — it doesn't pay," he says. "I make the same here literally that I made in 1975 in Minneapolis and my rent was $80 a month then."

When he's not teaching private lessons or working at SOU, Scoggin is in his home studio, recording a CD he's nearly finished.

He says he got sidetracked last fall, but he has just one more drum piece to add to his recording, before it's mixed and completed.

"I still try to play live because it's fun, it's my art," he says. "The jazz scene, as long as I've been in it, it goes in ebbs and flows in different cities. It's not the players that go through ebbs and flows, it's the clubs, and right now is a real low point."

But Scoggin believes that will change.

"Everybody is still practicing and working on their music as hard as ever," he says. "That never changes, but sometimes you have to hustle a new venue. That's how Tease started out. It's not the end of jazz venues, it's just a lull."

Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at avalencia@mailtribune.com.

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