Brian Scanlon’s “Brain Scan” is a sizzling debut

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Saxophonist Brian Scanlon is a seasoned artist. In fact, the word “seasoned” might not be the word to accurately capture what Scanlon has accomplished in his storied career. His debut album, “Brain Scan,” is a collection of original songs that Scanlon was determined to release before his 60th birthday. Scanlon reached his goal. Released in the fall of 2019, “Brain Scan” is a recording full of cool, sometimes cerebral, and subtly electrifying songs. “Brain Scan” contains eight original songs, plus 1938’s “Harlem Nocturne.”

About Brian Scanlon

While Scanlon’s determination to release “Brain Scan” by his milestone birthday is laudable, what the musician accomplished before the release is worth noting, too.

Scanlon’s life as a professional musician found him working as a first-call studio musician. For 32 years, Scanlon’s playing has been found in projects such as “La La Land,” “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “Mad Men,” “Family Guy,” and “American Dad.”

In addition to his work on big and small screens, Scanlon also works as a sideman for other notable musicians. He has played with Bob Dylan, Randy Newman, Phil Woods, Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Seth McFarlane, and Doc Severinsen.

For the past 17 years, Scanlon has been a member of Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band. He was part of the ensemble when the group won a Grammy in 2015.

Scanlon is a native of New Jersey, but his burgeoning career soon took him to Los Angeles, California. In his youth, Scanlon completed his education by earning a bachelor’s degree in music education, and a master’s degree in music specializing in Jazz Studies and Contemporary Media.

But Scanlon’s forays into jazz began long before college. As a child, Scanlon spent time learning the rudiments of the saxophone from his grandfather. Scanlon began playing saxophone as a fourth grader because of the influence his grandfather had on him. Scanlon recalls blowing into a saxophone while sitting on his grandfather’s lap while his grandfather worked the keys.

The sound of “Brain Scan” by Brian Scanlon

If there is one word to describe Scanlon’s work relevant to this recording, the word is “nuanced.” The elements of each song adds up to the overall impression that the song makes on listeners.

Songs such as “My Right Foot,” written to recollect the surgeries that Scanlon endured as a child as treatment for his club foot, and “Scandalized” that ends the recording, demonstrate Scanlon’s rare talent. His instrument blends in with the spry upright bass and shimmering drums. On each song, audiences can hear the build and breakdown of songs. The elements add texture and dynamics to each track. And, because the pieces are so rhythmic, audiences come to rely on the feel of each. The songs are not predictable, though. On “Scandalized,” the mood is more melancholy, and the saxophone has space to fly in enthralling passages, while the rest of the soundscape maintains a mix of smooth and classic jazz.

“Brain Scan” might have been a long time coming, but jazz fans should be glad that it has arrived.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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