Russell Scarbrough, a 33-year-old Eastman School of Music doctoral student, is the first recipient of the new Billy Joel Scholarship. He is a native of Baltimore, Md., and since his youth has been intrigued by all aspects of music.

Scarbrough has a true love for music and by the time he reached high school, he was determined to build a career out of his passion. At that point, he became more interested in the creative arts and pursuing a career in music.

He is currently a second year doctoral student in the department of dance and contemporary media. Scarbrough received his masters in jazz composition from Eastman and, with this scholarship, is returning to complete his doctorate in jazz and contemporary media.

The scholarship application began when an e-mail was sent out on Sept. 8 to the experienced Doctor of Musical Arts students in the jazz department at Eastman. A proposal of 150 words or less was requested for a project that would address the relationship between popular and classical music.

Department chair Harold Danko assigned the proposal’s deadline as the Monday after that weekend.

“I didn’t put the bit in about the scholarship – I wanted to seek out their potential,” Danko said.

With a natural love of music, Scarbrough set out to meet the challenge. He wrote about composing an orchestral piece – a concerto grossi. This approach included a group of soloist instruments – in this case, a jazz quintet.

A committee of Eastman jazz professors made the selection by Sept. 13 using a general rubric.

“I put together a scale within a week’s time after the press release,” Danko said.

The committee had a list of different attributes they looked for in the proposal, such as the Eastman resources that were used and the community involvement of the project. The candidates’ proposals had to be manageable within the timetable of their courses as well as keeping in-line with their career and educational goals.

Scarbrough’s proposal was chosen for several reasons, including his well known abilities in the department.

His program was especially appealing to the purpose of the Billy Joel musical education initiative.

“I was especially excited about Russell’s proposal because of its ability to reach a large number of people and it includes a recording plan,” Danko said.

The Billy Joel Endowment Fund was created with the purpose of providing music scholarships to east coast universities and music schools, signifying a beginning for the reform and future of music education. There was no announcement of the total monetary value of the fund – leaving the decision up to the individual institutions.

The fund has given a $320,000 gift to Eastman, which allowed the school to create the Billy Joel Scholarship. As the first Billy Joel Scholar, Scarbrough received $6,000 from the fund.

In recent years, Billy Joel has given generous gifts to a number of schools in New York and Massachusetts – approximately seven schools in total. At Eastman, the scholarship will be annual and the funds will come out of the endowment.

The musical education of students has become an increasingly important endeavor among musicians. Looking back on the “Save the Music” campaign of the 1990s, the music industry has brought music back into high schools.

The students of that movement are now in college and the artists have not forgotten about them. The Billy Joel Scholarship, and others like it, are securing the future of the production and quality of music.

Whitman can be reached at

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