Tony Scott's recordings from the 1950s are an acquired taste. Some people find his clarinet playing uneven, making you feel as though the wheels of the train you're aboard aren't firmly hugging the rails. Others find his tone lacking in warmth. Still others insist his approach is too solemn and not swinging enough. All of these observations have some basis in truth but overlook the work in progress that was known as Tony Scott and the depth of his intent.
A good introduction to Scott is Both Sides of Tony Scott, which was recorded in January 1956 for RCA. The session featured Scott playing six ballads and two up-tempo tunes backed by two different pianoless trios.
Four of the six ballad pieces feature Mundell Lowe [pictured] on guitar, Teddy Kotick on bass and Shadow Wilson on drums. Backing Scott on the album's remaining two ballads as well as the two peppier numbers are guitarist Dick Garcia, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Osie Johnson.
The ballads are absolutely gorgeous and showcase Scott in a highly pensive, patient mode. The torch songs recorded with the first trio are Cry Me a River, My Funny Valentine, Stardust and More Than You Know. The fifth and sixth choices (with the second trio) are Everything Happens to Me and You and I. Each ballad is taken pulse-slow, giving you a chance to truly hear the richness of Scott's thinking and his bluesy feel. Cry Me a River, in particular, comes mighty close to being the definitive instrumental version of this song.
The faster tunes—the so-called "other side" of Scott—are Counterpoint Pleasant and East Coast Westside . The first has a rat-race pace and demonstrates Scott's linear writing. Scott and Garcia play off each other in a fugue feud that has an early free jazz feel. East Coast Westside rambles, swinging in and out of concepts that don't always work, with Garcia playing the foil to Scott's reed.
The ballads here make you realize that Scott was most at home on slower songs and that faster tunes only drew critical comparisons to clarinet contemporary Buddy DeFranco, a contest Scott was never going to win.
JazzWax tracks: Unfortunately, Both Sides of Tony Scott hasn't been re-issued on CD in the U.S. (along with hundreds of other RCA gems that are gathering dust in some vault). However, the material above with Dick Garcia appears on a European import called Tony Scott and the Three Dicks here. But the session's best tracks, Cry Me a River, My Funny Valentine, Stardust and More Than You Know, are available only on a Japanese import here.
Worry not, though. If the tracks exist online buried in some downloadable compilation, someone will likely know about it and let readers know in the Comments section.
JazzWax clip: Here's Tony Scott in 1955 on Scott's Fling, another great RCA album that's out of print. The song is Sunday Scene, with Jimmy Nottingham (tp) Billy Byers (tb) Eddie Wasserman (ts) Danny Bank (bar) Milt Hinton (b) and Osie Johnson (d)...