Scott Hamilton has never been an innovator, but he has certainly been consistent. "Groundbreaking" isn't a word you will ever hear in connection with the breathy tenor man, who has excelled by sticking with the type of 1940s-minded jazz that he's known for. Although recorded in 2000, Jazz Signatures never loses its swing-to-bop mindset. Joined by pianist John Bunch, bassist Dave Green, and drummer Steve Brown, Hamilton has one foot in small-group swing and the other in early bebop and, true to form, he is as expressive on medium-tempo and fast numbers (Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck," Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz") as he is on ballads (Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now"). Some of the songs have been recorded countless times - Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" certainly fits that description - but Hamilton also unearths some neglected jewels, including Don Byas' "Byas a Drink" (a variation on Benny Goodman's "Stomping at the Savoy") and the gorgeous Hank Jones ballad "Angel Face." Jazz Signatures falls short of essential; it's solid and consistently rewarding, but then, the New Englander recorded a lot of equally rewarding albums in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Nonetheless, Hamilton's hardcore fans will find a lot to admire about this CD.
All Music Guide
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Composers write the songs, musicians play them. Truth or truism? It took the pop world a few generations to acknowledge the singer/songwriter, but in jazz, the player/writer was always a recognized force. Here Scott Hamilton-a Concord artist these twenty years!-places his stamp on several tunes of some of jazz's best players.
With typical candor, Scott explains: "I usually fight the idea of concept albums, because they limit the material, make the artist ignore his current performance material, and may end up sounding forced and uncomfortable. But this date was just a happy coincidence. I'd been playing all these tunes with this quartet last year. Most are numbers that John Bunch and I worked up on our annual Christmas/New Year's gig at London's Pizza Express. When it came time to record something new, I really wanted to use John, Dave, and Steve; we toured the Continent to very good public reaction."
A little digging into persona! history shows that Scott's coming up with this present repertory has been a lifelong research project. Jo Shields, my wife, sometimes visited Scott and his sister Victoria, when they were all children together in Providence, Rhode Island. The Hamiltons lived on the East Side, where dad Robert, a painter, taught at nearby Rhode Island School of Design. Their house overflowed with art on the walls and music in the air. Scotty would commandeer the upright piano in the hall, and proudly play his latest pieces for all who'd listen.
"When I was eight," recalls Scott, "I started clarinet lessons with Frank Marinacchio of the Rhode Island Philharmonic. He was a wonderful, legit clarinetist, and I got to hear him play a little jazz on a gig. I studied for a few years, but never tried to play jazz. But I was already listening to Johnny Hodges and Charlie Parker."
Scott was soon wailing on tenor saxophone with guys like guitarist Fred Bates, bassist Phil Flanigan, and drummer Chuck Riggs. Providence in the 70s no longer had The Celebrity Club, a rough-and-tumble bar where you could see Bill Doggett, Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie, Dinah Washington. But it did have Alarie's, a semi-upscale white restaurant on South Main for pianists like Mike Renzi; Bovi's Town Tavern for Duke Beilaire's Big Band; and Fred Grady was still a beacon of bop and swing on late-night radio. Still, Scott and friends idolized the tenor-sax led small-bands of the swing era,and stood as stalwart throwbacks to an earlier age.
"I listened to tenor players for years before I began playing seriously," recalls Scott. "Ben, Hawk, Lester, Bud Freeman, Chu Berry. When I took up tenor sax at 16, I was particularly interested in Gene Ammons, Illinois, Arnett Cobb, Lockjaw Davis, Red Prysock, Jimmy Forrest, Paul Gonsalves, and Flip Phillips. They're still the guys I listen to! Nothing compared to seeing a great player live. The times I saw Illinois play in the early 70s in Boston are still my most truly thrilling musical experiences. Later in New York, I heard Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, who made great impressions on my playing."
I, too, was raised in Providence, but my path didn't cross Scott's for years. When I was 10, my dad bequeathed me his '38 Prueffer clarinet and thick Benny Goodman Columbia Masterworks LPs, The 1937-8 Carnegie Hall Concerts. I preferred noodling along with Goodman and Jimmy Giuffre to studying scales with the same Mr. Marinacchio. After communing with my Classical High mates at the soda shop, pouring nickels into the counter-top Wurlitzer juke box for Bill Haley's "Rock-Around The Clock" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," I'd retreat to the Providence Public Library to fill up on Bartok, Monk, Stravinsky, and Ellington's Newport odyssey.
One autumn afternoon in 1974, as editor of the Boston-based, short-lived Jazz New England, I drove home to review The Blue Flames at a Providence haunt. It was Joe's Upstairs, a Fountain Street restaurant with dim lights, art deco, and racing stripes. My dad came along, a Bellaire fan and Lester Young buff. This is what I wrote:
"The Hamilton / Bates Blue Flames have been playing mainstream jazz around Providence with a strong swing-pop flavor for a year. Barely 21, Scott Hamilton, a slight, brisk guy who looks like an "Our Gang" alumnus, sports an anomalous DA hairstyle, and a large round, tenor tone, which he can bend toward any of his many mentors. I heard Ben Webster in his huffy intro to "Dolphin Street," and in broad smears on "Laura." On Hawk's "Rifftide," he emulated the master's hammer tonguing and aggressive crescendi. Pres's legato phrasing and warm tone were everywhere. Scott also claims Arnett Cobb, Red Prysock, Lockjaw, and Illinois as influences, yet even at his age, his style is not a cord of firewood but a sandpapered butcher-block. He can build on that."
Scott owned even then the reverence and keen ear for the sounds of Ben and Hawk, and the melodies of Illinois and Byas that he exhibits here, albeit with more savvy and suavity.
Strayhorn's masterpiece Raincheck starts like a riff tune, but then takes a sly slide into song form (16+16) with a hooting tag. Scott refers to Ben Webster-in both content and tone-in his 1940 solo (and to a lesser extent Paul Gonsalves's 1967 recreation), and John and Dave have their says.
Scott treats the Brubeck favorite - In Your Own Sweet Way, written early (1952) in his long, mellowing career as a waltz-typically as a 4/4 swinger, and ekes Zoot-like heat from his choruses. John's choruses span Teddy Wilson pizzazz and Hank Jones charm. The tag is played amoroso, with smears.
Waller's waltz is a waltz, a lively one, with Steve whacking rimshots and tom-tom accents, as well as a capable solo. "I've recorded Jitterbug Waltz with Bucky Pizzarelli [The Red Door]," says Scott, "but John's arrangement is so strong we felt it was like an entirely different tune."
If You Could See Me Now excels as a sweet ballad moan. "I've always loved Sarah Vaughan's recording," says Scott, "and I've been trying to learn it for years."
Move moves in forward bop fashion speedily to its conclusion, propelled by Steve's snappy stick-work. Long in Scott's repertoire but premiered here on disc, it's by drummer Denzil Best, best heard for fine brushwork in George Shearing's early quintets.
Scott affords When Lights Are Low its composer's wonted jaunty manner and elegant melodicism, so far as to inserting, on his last eight bars, a typically Carteresque flippant fillip. John takes a tasty bite, and Scott and Steve engage in lusty exchanges before all exit politely. Let's let Scott take over here:
"Byas A Drink is a variation on 'Stomping at the Savoy' that Don made in the '40s under various titles; the riff was used years later by Clifford Brown and Max Roach.
"You Left Me All Alone is one of the first ballads I ever learned to play," recalls Scott. "Illinois wrote it in the '40s and recorded it with an all star big band in an arrangement by Tadd Dameron, who may have had a hand in this arrangement. I never had the nerve to record it before, as Illinois played it so definitively. I feel like I've figured out a way now to put a little of myself into it without losing too much of Jacquet's original version. This number is meant as a tribute to the tenor player who I've always admired the most.
"Hank Jones wrote Angel Face for a 1947 Coleman Hawkins date; Lucky Thompson and Milt Jackson recorded it in the '50s. I think it's one of Hank's most beautiful songs.
"The ringer here is John's Bunch," claims Scott. "John-who gave me my first record date in his quintet-wrote this years ago, and it came out sounding so natural, we had to include it."
Actually John's inclusion is a perfect capper, a bluesy bit of personal history from a composer who's been first and foremost a solid pianist. He's worked the big bands of Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, played hard for Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, and led his own tight bunches. John signs his closing stamper with a boogiewoogie flourish.
And thus have the moving fingers of veterans Scott and John and youngsters Dave and Steve played for us yet another chapter in the book of jazz, and having signed, move on!