Born Anthony Joseph Sciacca on June 17, 1921, in Morristown, NJ. Education: Degree in clarinet, piano, and composition, Juilliard School of Music, 1942. Addresses: Record company--32 Records, 250 West 57th Street, Suite 620, New York, NY 10107;; Verve Music Group, 1755 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10019.
Whether Tony Scott fans appreciate his be-bop jazz from the 1950s or his New Age music from the 1960s, they agree wholeheartedly on one thing: he isn't as well known as he should be. Perhaps his love of travel, his ability to play multiple instruments, and his refusal to be pinned down to one musical style, have made him difficult to categorize. Over the past 50 years, he arranged the hit "Day-O" for Harry Belafonte, studied traditional music in Japan, performed with Charlie Parker, recorded the first New Age album, and lived in three different countries. He repeatedly won Down Beat critics' and readers' polls, and composed classic instrumentals like "Blues for Charlie Parker." Scott also proved that the clarinet wasn't just an old-fashioned instrument for swing jazz; he showed that be-bop could be played and played well on the instrument.
Scott's parents emigrated from Sicily at the turn of the century. His mother played violin, his father guitar, and by age 12, Scott began studying clarinet, influenced by the sounds of Clarence Hutchenrider, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw. Scott attended Juilliard from 1940-42, receiving instruction in clarinet, piano, and composition, and building a strong background in classical music. Drafted into the United States Army in 1942, he was stationed at Governor's Island in New York harbor and spent his spare time immersed in the jazz scene on 52nd Street. His most musically transforming event occurred in 1943 when he saw Charlie Parker play for the first time. "My mouth dropped," Scott told Matthew Landan of the Herald Tribune. "He played so many notes that it sounded like ... Chinese music from the moon." Scott and Parker later became friends.
From the mid 1940s to the mid 1950s, the fast chord changes and complicated progressions of be-bop would dominate the best and the brightest in the jazz world. There were very few clarinet players who showed interest in be-bop, and many believed that the new music was ill-suited for the instrument. Scott set out to convince critics and skeptics otherwise. Ben Webster would greatly influence him, serving as his mentor and informal teacher for a number of years. Scott played and recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and Charlie Parker in the late 1940s, and by 1954, led his own quartet in a successful run at Minton's Playhouse, the location that gave birth to be-bop. "By the early 1950s he had developed a far more confident approach," wrote Jim Burns in Jazz on Record, "and his soloing became more intense and swinging." In 1953, Scott won the Down Beatcritics' poll as "New Star" on the clarinet.
Despite Scott's interest in be-bop, he was sometimes compelled to play popular music in order to make a living. In 1953, he played for a month in Duke Ellington's orchestra, and in 1955, worked as Harry Belafonte's musical director, arranging the hit "Day-O." Scott made nearly $1,500 dollars per week with Belafonte, and was offered a lucrative contract to form a jazz orchestra for the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). While these opportunities may have tempted other musicians, Scott wasn't interested. He told What Music online that he did not put his name on "Day-O" because "I don't wanna be known as Tony Scott the calypso writer I wanna be Tony Scott the jazz clarinetist." He also turned down the RCA offer, feeling that he would be forced to play watered-down jazz. His desire to play artistically challenging jazz did not lead to more opportunities though. To make matters more difficult, jobs for musicians became increasingly scarce on the New York jazz scene during the 1950s.
In 1957, Scott began an extensive tour of Europe that included a side trip to South Africa. "He 'sat in' all over the world," wrote John S. Wilson in the New York Times. He began the tour in Sweden, performing with the Harry Arnold Orchestra, and forming his own quartet to record "Swingin' in Sweden" and other pieces.While in Yugoslavia, he spontaneously performed the instrumental "Blues for Charlie Parker," dedicated to his friend's memory. It would become Scott's most requested composition. "It was a spur of the moment thing," Scott told Wilson. "The audience gave me a five-minute standing ovation. Musically, it was the high point of my life." Scott also traveled to South Africa, a country still gripped by apartheid, where he was allowed to play to multi-racial audiences. He received a letter of commendation from Vice President Richard Nixon when he returned, thanking him for his goodwill musical tour.
Scott returned to New York in the later part of 1957, but he would only remain for two years. He played at the Show Boat Club in Greenwich Village in New York City, appeared on a number of episodes of the television show, The Subject Is Jazz, and received good reviews for his performance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. In 1959, he recorded Sung Heroes with Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro, and Paul Motiam. Despite these successes, Scott once again decided to travel, this time to the Far East. By this time, many of the friends who had most inspired him--Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, and Lester Young--had died. Going to the Far East, Scott believed, would help to revitalize his sagging spirits.
Scott traveled extensively, touring the Philippines, Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. "He was the first modern American jazz musician," wrote Leonard Feather, "to make extensive visits to these areas." He played on United States Army bases in Japan, appeared on Japanese television, and performed before the king of Thailand. He played in Hindu temples in Hong Kong and played with an all women's orchestra in Bali, Indonesia. While Japanese music tended to be more formalized and structured, Scott convinced koto player Shinichi Yuize and bamboo flute player Hozan Yamamoto to improvise music based on classical Japanese scales. Their collaboration would lead to the recording of Music for Zen Meditationin 1964, an album highly influential to the New Age music movement. Unlike the be-bop Scott had played during the 1950s, this music flowed freely, neither building nor climaxing. While Creed Taylor's offer of $5,000 for the recording didn't seem like a great deal of money to Scott, the album remained on Verve Record's back catalog for years, earning generous royalties.
In the mid 1960s, Scott returned to New York City. He played the Newport Jazz Festival in 1965, and worked at the Dom in the East Village for two years. Scott toured Africa between 1968-70, stopping in Egypt, Tanzania, Ghana, Morocco, and Senegal, and recorded traditionally based ethnic music on Tony Scott in Afrika. In 1970, he settled in Rome, Italy, forming a musical partnership with Romano Mussolini, son of the dictator Benito Mussolini. Scott also pursued photography, collecting a large number of pictures of well-known jazz musicians. In 1996, he recorded The Old Lion Roars for his seventy-fifth birthday. He also spent time writing his autobiography, Bird, Lady, and Me, covering his memories of 52nd Street.
Scott's musical ventures have taken him around the world, fearlessly sharing and learning from other cultures. He continues to record, and completed a project--yet to be released as of early 2001--titled Music to Heal the Wounded Soul; he also hopes to see Bird, Lady, and Me published in 2002. Few jazz musicians can lay claim to having played with Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Charlie Parker, Clark Terry, and Sarah Vaughan. "Tony Scott has emerged from his bop roots and his new-age experiments," wrote Shaun Dale in Cosmik Debris magazine online, "as the senior statesman of the clarinet." His ability to play a number of jazz styles, combined with openness toward different cultures, has made his music diverse and distinctive. "I decided a long time ago I would rather be a jazz musician than rich and famous," he told Landan. "I never regretted that decision."
by Ronald D. Lankford Jr
Tony Scott's Career
Began playing clarinet at age 12; formed first combo at 14; served in U.S. Army, 1942-45; played tenor saxophone and clarinet with Ben Webster, Buddy Rich, and Sid Catlett, late 1940s; arranged for Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan; played in Duke Ellington's band for one month, 1953; led combo at Minton's, 1954; worked as musical director for Harry Belafonte, 1955; toured Europe and Africa for seven months, 1957; began traveling throughout the Orient exploring world music, 1959; recorded the influential Music for Zen Meditation, 1964; toured Africa between 1968-70; recording actively, 1993--.
Tony Scott's Awards
Down Beat critics and readers poll, best clarinetist, 1955-59.
- Selected discography
- Scott's Fling , RCA, 1955.
- The Touch of Tony Scott , Victor, 1956.
- Music for Zen Meditation and Other Joys , Verve, 1964.
- Music for Yoga Meditation and Other Joys , Verve, 1967.
- Tony Scott in Afrika , Music of the World, 1996.
- Homage to Billie Holiday: Body and Soul , Philology, 1998.
- At Last (reissue), 32 Jazz, 1999.
- Feather, Leonard, Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties, Da Capo,1986.
- McCarthy, Morgan, and others, Jazz On Record: A Critical Guide to the First 50 Years: 1917-1967, Hanover Books, 1968.
- Herald Tribune(Bologna, Italy), July 20, 2000, p. 1.
- New York Times, April 23, 1967, Section ll, p. 26.
- "Tony Scott/Franco D'Andrea Quartet," Cosmik Debris, http://www.cosmik.com/ (January 15, 2001).
- "We Catch Up With Tony Scott," What Music, http://www.whatmusic.com/home/index.html (January 20, 2001).