Phil Scarff

photo: Purpleganesh

Phil Scarff has pioneered the performance of North Indian classical (Hindustani) music on soprano saxophone, capturing the music’s subtlety and depth. His performance at the famed Tansen Samaroh, Gwalior, India with Saskia Rao de Haas was the highlight of the festival (Dainik Bhaskar). He has made Indian classical appearances at India’s Nehru Center, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, and Dadar-Matunga Cultural Centre (Mumbai); Saptak School of Music (Ahmedabad); Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture (Kolkata); ICCR Theater and India Habitat Centre (Delhi); JKK (Jaipur); and Pt Chatur Lal Festival (virtual). His American appearances include LearnQuest Festival (Boston), Raaga Inc. (virtual), Dhvani (Columbus OH), Sangeet Mahotsav (New York City), Rocky Mountain Thyagaraja Utsavam (virtual), and Portland Balaji Temple (OR). 

Scarff is a master jazz saxophonist and leads the world-jazz ensembles Natraj and the Lewis Porter-Phil Scarff Group. He performs and records with creative jazz ensembles including Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Composers Alliance, Filmprov, and OddSong. He is featured on over 40 acclaimed albums and videos.

Scarff received extensive training in Hindustani music in Pune, India from vocalist Pt. Shreeram Devasthali, leading sundri artist Pt. Suryakant Khaladkar, and shehnai master Pt. Shyamrao Lonkar. In Boston, he learned from sitar master Peter Row and vocalists Kalpana Mazumdar and Warren Senders. Doordarshan (Indian national TV) and All India Radio have broadcast his Hindustani performances. He appeared on The Morning Show on SAAM TV.

Scarff has presented workshops at institutions such as New England Conservatory, Indian Musicological Society (Mumbai, India), Berklee College of Music, Tufts University, Kalakshetra Foundation (Chennai, India), University of North Texas, University of Oklahoma, Lawrence University, Bowdoin College, Dartmouth College, Guelph Jazz Festival, University of Rhode Island, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, LearnQuest Festival, Boston University, Berks Jazz Fest, College Conservatory at University of Cincinnati, and North American Saxophone Alliance conferences.

“Phil Scarff… great imagination… sensitively traditional… pleasing and infectious.” Songlines

“Phil Scarff… weaving magic through his saxophone with Raga Puriya… soul-stirring… sonorous… Raga Bihag was refreshing and delightful. He played… with great finesse and mesmerized the audience.” – Deccan Herald, Bengaluru, India


Ragamala Paintings Alive!

Release Date: October 13, 2023
Catalog Number: BR8983
21st Century
Composed by Phil Scarff and performed by world-jazz ensemble Natraj, RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! shines a contemporary light on historic artwork from India. The members of Natraj individually and collectively bring a wealth of experience exploring the intersection of jazz and global musical traditions. Their stunning performance showcased in this release is wide ranging, deep, and accessible, while firmly rooted in the rich tapestry of Indian classical music. RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! is part of a larger multimedia work created in collaboration with Indian classical dancer Jayshree Bala Rajamani, incorporating dance, music, spoken word, and projected images. It brings to life historic ragamala paintings, with each painting representing one Indian classical raga or melodic framework. Inspired by Modest Mussorgsky and his iconic work, Pictures at an Exhibition, Scarff threads the suite together with musical “promenades” that represent the viewer entering and moving about an art gallery, with each theme anticipating a painting or set of paintings to come. Whether heard on its own or experienced as a full multimedia performance, RAGAMALA PAINTINGS ALIVE! takes listeners on a compelling contemporary journey that celebrates classic ragamala paintings from India.