May 19-25, 2004
How Latin jazz guitarist Scott Whitney uses his marketing
and sales background to create a music career
By Sarah Quelland
HIS CHARM and enthusiasm make Scott Whitney the antithesis of the
stuffy jazz snob; he has no patience for pretentious music elitists.
At 43, the acoustic Latin and jazz guitarist is as likely to be
rocking out to the Bone as he is grooving along to a smooth-jazz
The Los Gatos resident known as "Fat-Dad"
to viewers of KPIX Channel 5's Get Fit With Malou sold
almost 35,000 albums through his website before he made a live appearance.
Then, soon after he decided to start playing in public, he got booked
at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga.
Recently, he performed at The
Mansion in Las Vegas, an exclusive resort area reserved for
million-dollar rollers that's secreted inside the MGM Grand.
Whitney--a longtime Silicon Valley techie--has been working diligently
to become a career musician and realize a dream decades in the making.
Whitney got his start in music playing drums in junior high school.
He soon determined that you can't bring your drums to the beach
and pick up girls. As fate would have it, he found a guitar in the
trash can that was missing one string. He took it home, and soon
he was killing the first four bars of Deep Purple's "Smoke
on the Water."
He borrowed his father's piano book, The Greatest Hits of the
'60s and '70s, and began teaching himself guitar using the
square fingering diagrams that accompanied some of the songs. "I
would come home and spend 12 hours a day doing nothing but going
through that book and playing all the chords, just fascinated by
it all. My fingers were bleeding from doing this kinda thing. But
I loved it," he recalls. "I realized this was fun, and
I could bring a guitar to the beach. And I did."
After high school, Whitney joined the U.S. Air Force. He kept up
his hobby while assigned to electronic warfare and stationed at
Castle Air Force Base in Merced County. He got a little house and
stocked it with equipment; he says he recorded about 200 original
rock songs during what he calls his "heavy-metal" period.
"Really hardcore," he says with a smirk, letting out a
classic rock "huwaaaaaaah" for effect.
An Air Force guitar teacher introduced him to classical composers
and helped him see there was more to music than rock & roll.
It began to crystallize that, unlike Kiss, Whitney probably wouldn't
be able to keep up the arena-rock jumps forever, so he turned to
After his service ended, Whitney entered the Silicon Valley workforce,
working for Varian in Palo Alto. While attending a sales meeting
at Pebble Beach, he heard classical, jazz and Latin guitarist Jeff
Linsky performing in the lobby of the Four Seasons.
"Everybody else is out running around, drinking, playing golf,
and I'm in front of this guy going, 'My God! What are you doing?'"
When Linsky asked for requests, Whitney offered up the theme from
"He played the most beautiful ballad I've ever heard in my
life, ... and it was The Flintstones. I was like, 'Dude,
how do you do that?' [and] he goes, 'I don't know. My fret board
just kinda lights up.'"
Later, after a stint as a marketing director for Compaq, Whitney
decided to start up his own web-development company and devote more
time to his music. He tracked down Linsky and offered him a deal;
Whitney traded his website expertise in exchange for the guitarist's
ear and advice.
The deal paid off. Over the next five years, this one-man marketing
machine used his Internet savvy and sales skills to sell thousands
of copies of his two holiday albums, ChristmAcoustic
II, and his all-original acoustic Latin-jazz album Guitjazzathon,
all released through his own Spinario
His business strategy--to establish himself as a serious musician
through his album sales rather than club gigs--enabled him to skip
several steps in the paying-your-dues program many musicians follow.
He primarily plays corporate events and private parties and loves
"Part of my job as a marketeer, as a salesperson, is to develop
momentum," he says. "If you look at my gig list, there's
a lot of stuff going on there. I'm not opening up for big-name guys--that
will happen, I think--but now I'm doing well, and I'm getting paid
what I think I'm worth."
He's living off the music and is currently in preproduction for
his fourth album, Who's Your Bossa, Nova?, which he expects
to release this fall or winter. For kicks, he's been playing drums
in a blues band called Blue Truth, which frequents area wineries.
He has a number of websites and businesses he's preparing to launch.
He intends to use his marketing know-how to help other independent
artists take advantage of his business strategies to get their name
It frustrates him that so many talented musicians get overlooked.
However, he's not resentful of so-so musicians who find a large
audience. "They did something right," he insists. "You
can't suck on all levels and get famous. I think you have to have
"The most fascinating thing about making it in music,"
he continues, "is [that] music skills in and of itself isn't
it," he says. "There are great musicians who
aren't making it--great musicians playing on the street. You can
argue that eventually they'll be discovered, and that's probably
true. Stanley Jordan was busking in New York and the next thing
you know, he's one of the biggest jazz guitarists around. But it
helps to make stuff happen," Whitney says.
"What's that line? 'The harder I work, the luckier I get.'
It's true. You do have to work at getting in front of people."
Scott Whitney performs at the Equinox Wine Makers Dinner Tuesday
(May 25), 6:30-9:30pm, at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. The evening
offers a five-course menu by executive chef Rodney Baca that features
tastes of the Mediterranean with a hint of Asian flair. The dinner
is $115 per person plus tax and gratuity. (408.741.2819)