When the idea occurred to me to write about Scott Hamilton this week, I had to check the list of reviews I’ve already written twice. I could not believe that I had not already written about this man, who is of course one of the greatest jazz musicians alive today.
Scott Hamilton was born September 12, 1954 in Providence, Rhode Island. He began playing the clarinet when he was eight years old, and when he was fifteen or sixteen he switched to the saxophone. Except for a few clarinet lessons, his musical skills are self-taught. Roy Eldridge got Hamilton his first professional gig, and that led to his working with Anita O’Day and Hank Jones. He signed with the Concord record label in 1977 and remains with them today. He currently lives in Italy. In February 2013, he appeared with local jazz luminaries Dave Frishberg, Dave Captein, and Gary Hobbs at the PDX Jazz Festival.
Hamilton has released a huge number of albums over the years, and the one I want to tell you about this time ’round is his 1984 release, “The Second Set.” As you may know or have guessed, this album was recorded live in Tokyo, Japan in June 1983 and is a companion to the previously released “In Concert.”
The personnel for this outing are:
Scott Hamilton, tenor sax
John Bunch, piano
Phil Flanigan, bass
Chris Flory, guitar
Chuck Riggs, drums
The album opens with the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern classic, “All The Things You Are.” If you never heard any other song played by Scott Hamilton, this one will tell you everything you need to know about him. His style and pacing here are masterful, and he’s not bashful about stepping back to let the boys run with it for a while. Even Riggs, when he takes his drum solo, makes it respectfully short and easy to listen to.
“Time After Time” by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne is next. The big, deep sound of Hamilton’s tenor gives this song a wonderfully warm feel, and this arrangement really swings. The rhythm section adds just the right amount of heat to this one, and guitarist Flory, whom I had never heard of before this, really shows his stuff.
Up next is “Taps Miller,” from the combined pens of Count Basie, Buck Clayton and Bob Russell. This song was a tribute to Buck Clayton’s best friend, the lyricist, dancer and trumpet player Marion Joseph “Taps” Miller, who rose to fame in the 1930’s. This one cooks from the first note and doesn’t let up. It makes you want to jump up out of your chair and move! When Hamilton lets the boys take their solos, the action really heats up. Flory once again displays wonderful fretwork, Riggs beats the whatever out of his drums, and the whole time you are still trying to control your body parts that want to join in the action!
“All Too Soon” from Duke Ellington and Carl Sigman is a quiet little song that gives us Hamilton hitting the higher register of his tenor, while Bunch quietly urges a slow, mellow string of notes from his piano. When Hamilton steps aside and lets Bunch take over he raises the volume without changing the tempo. Riggs and Flanigan give an excellent, unpretentious backing that fills in the holes beautifully.
Next the guys give us “How Insensitive,” written by Norman Gimbel and Antonio Carlos Jobim. As you might imagine, this one has a bit of a samba touch to it. A little samba usually goes a long way for me, but even though this is the longest song on the album, running just over seven minutes, I never found myself anxious for it to be over. It’s a delightful piece, and the audience at Yamaha Hall in Tokyo let the boys know they thought so too.
“I Never Knew” is a song I never heard of before I got this album. It was written by Gus Kahn and Ted Fio Rito, whom I also never heard of. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, one lesson I learned during my eight and a half years programming “Saturday Night Jazz” was that “unknown to me” does not equal “no good.” That advice applies equally well to songs and artists, by the way. This particular song is animated right from the beginning and doesn’t let up even when Hamilton steps back to let the boys take their solos. Pianist Bunch does a fantastic job on his turn, and drummer Riggs does a nice little bit playing his sticks while Hamilton does a weird little here and gone, here and gone bit of business on his tenor. The audience loved it, and so do I.
The penultimate song is “For All We Know” from Fred Coots and Samuel M. Lewis. It opens with Bunch giving us some mellow piano before Hamilton steps in with his tenor and continues in a mellow tone. Then guitarist Flory takes over for a while, giving us yet another example of his precise, tender picking. Finally Hamilton returns and his full, rich tenor takes us to the ending.
The set closes with a Jay McShann/Charlie Parker classic, “Jumpin’ The Blues.” Pianist Bunch opens it and is quickly joined by Flanigan and Riggs before Hamilton enters the fray. There’s not a lot about this song that hasn’t been said, it is after all a standard. This group of guys does give it one hell of a showing, however. Solos abound, including Flory on guitar again. Hamilton gets almost downright funky now and then on this one, which is a nice change. Flanigan gets a short solo shot, which is nice because his bass has been mostly relegating to rhythm-section duty throughout the proceedings. It all ends with a bang and the audience loves it.
I am fairly certain that “The Second Set” featuring the Scott Hamilton Quintet will make a superb addition to your personal playlist, for a Saturday or any other night!
To learn more about Scott Hamilton and his music, visit his web site. Also, recording engineer/recording studio owner Jim Merod has an extensive interview with Hamilton in .pdf format available on the JazzStudiesOnline web site. And JazzTimes has an excerpt from Judy Carmichael’s “Jazz Inspired” interview with him, which you can read here.
I was unable to find any excerpts from “The Second Set” online. However, Hamilton does have two pages devoted to YouTube uploads of songs he has performed. You can find the first page here. I am certain you will find something there to enjoy!
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