Born: June 17, 1921 | Died: March 28, 2007 Primary Instrument: Clarinet
Tony Scott, a distinguished jazz clarinetist who in the 1950s helped steer his instrument out of the swing era and into the sax-infested waters of bebop. With Buddy DeFranco, Mr. Scott was considered one of the leading bebop clarinetists. (The two men were often described as the only major clarinetists to take on bebop, a style thought to be incompatible with the instrument’s soft, sweet sound.) Mr. Scott, who also played the saxophone, performed and recorded with some of the titans of mid-20th- century jazz, among them Duke Ellington, Ben Webster, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday.
If Mr. Scott was not widely known to the American public, it was partly because his eclectic style made him unclassifiable: over the years, he ranged through bebop and what today would be called New Age and world music. It was also because he was peripatetic: for decades he roamed the globe, clarinet in hand. He had lived mostly abroad since the late ’50s.
Mr. Scott was also well regarded as a composer and arranger. His composition “Blues for Charlie Parker,” which he created extemporaneously at a concert in Yugoslavia in 1957, became his most- requested number. He also arranged hits like “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” for Harry Belafonte.
In a profile of Mr. Scott in The New York Times in 1967, John S. Wilson described him “playing his clarinet in his own uncompromisingly distinctive manner, a manner which encompasses both a feathery, light-as-air impressionism and an intense, emotional ferocity that makes the old-time ‘hot’ men sound as though they were blowing icicles.”
By the end of the 1940s, the swing style popularized by Benny Goodman was on the wane, and the clarinet was falling out of favor as a jazz instrument. Mr. Scott persevered, touring Sweden, South Africa, Senegal, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and elsewhere. His 1964 album “Music for Zen Meditation” (Verve), a collaboration with traditional Japanese musicians, is considered an early example of New Age music.
Among his other albums are “The Touch of Tony Scott” (RCA Victor, 1956); “The Modern Art of Jazz” (Seeco, 1957); “Tony Scott in Afrika” (A World of Music, 1997); and “A Jazz Life” (Kind of Blue), scheduled for release next month.
Anthony Joseph Sciacca his family name is pronounced “Shaka” was born on June 17, 1921, in Morristown, N.J., to parents who had come from Sicily. His father was a barber and amateur guitarist; his mother played the violin. He began playing the clarinet at 12 and in 1942 earned a diploma from the Juilliard School.
During World War II, Mr. Scott was stationed with the Army on Governor’s Island in New York. This meant he could spend many happy nights in Manhattan, playing the jazz clubs that lined West 52nd Street. He was such a ubiquitous presence there, Mr. Wilson wrote in The Times, that “one night an out-of-town visitor, making his way down the street, began to worry about what the booze was doing to him because he noticed that, in club after club, the clarinetist always seemed to look the same.”
Sciacca, was a late comer to the scene of bebop and cool jazz, playing on Sarah Vaughan in Hi-Fi (may 1950) with the gotha of bebop (trumpeter Miles Davis, trombonist Benny Green, guitarist Freddie Green), and forming a Septet that recorded Scott's Fling (january 1955) with trombonist Kai Winding and bassist Milt Hinton. He experimented with several formats that shunned the ruling styles.
An Orchestra consisting of members of Count Basie's and Duke Ellington's orchestras plus a rhythm section with pianist Bill Evans, Hinton and Green, recorded The Touch (july 1956), containing Vanilla Frosting On A Beef Pie, and The Complete (february 57), containing I'll Remember April. Three permutations of trumpeter Clark Terry, baritonist Sahib Shihab, trombonist Jimmy Knepper, pianist Bill Evans, bassist Henry Grimes, drummer Paul Motian recorded the twin albums My Kind of Jazz (november 1957), The Modern Art of Jazz (november 1957), containing Blues For 3 Horns, and Free Blown Jazz (november 1957), with Portrait Of Ravi.
Scott played clarinet, sax, piano, mandolin on Sung Heroes (october 1959), also known as Dedications, whose pieces were dedicated to dead musicians, the recording that, de facto, marked the debut of the Bill Evans Trio with Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro.
In 1960 Scott left the USA and went to explore the Far East. The result was Music For Zen Meditation (february 1964), a collaboration with koto player Shinichi Yuize and shakuhachi flute player Hozan Yamamoto (notably the trio The Murmuring Sound of the Mountain Stream, the koto-clarinet duets After the Snow, the Fragrance, Prajna-Paramita-Hridaya Sutra and Sanzen), that predated both new- age music, world-music and ambient music.
Having contributed to create the hare krishna zeitgeist of the hippy era, Scott followed that exploit with Homage to Lord Krishna (november 1967) and especially Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys (february 1968), a duet with sitar player Collin Walcott.
Journeys to Africa yielded the solo percussion album Music for Voodoo Meditation (1971), on which Scott played only African percussions, African Bird - Come Back Mother Africa, with the 16-minute African Bird Suite (february 1981) that married Charlie Parker and African percussion, and the triple-CD Voyage Into a Black Hole (1988) for radio waves, clarinet and synthesizer.