Tony Scott is an acquired taste, much like squid-ink pasta or amaro. At first, the sound of his clarinet will seem uneven, as though you're listening to someone who just started to play the instrument. If you're used to hearing the well-paced, round sounds of Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Buddy DeFranco, then Scott's lurching, queasy attack may appear rough. But not so fast.
My suggestion is that you dismiss your initial impressions and dig in. Scott's emotional intonation and determined swing in the 1950s will grow on you fast, and when they do, you'll be a smitten fan, like me. For Scott's rough edges and hurtling swing are what make him stand out. A good place to start is Tony Scott in Hi-Fi.
Actually, Tony Scott in Hi-Fi was a 12-inch compilation from 1957, when high-fidelity was first introduced. The album combined two earlier 10-inch LPs—Music After Midnight and part of Jazz for G.I.'s. Both albums were recorded in 1953, just as the 33 1/3 LP era was catching on in the industry.
Though introduced by Columbia in 1948, the LP was adapted by most labels by 1953, putting pressure on record companies to find inventive musicians who could execute at a high level. The goal was to build up their catalogs and fill the bins of discount record stores. Many New York jazz labels turned to capable sidemen in big bands.
Scott had been recording since 1945 with orchestras, starting with Buddy Rich. Scott had a mix of recording dates in the '40s, ranging from R&B sessions with Earl Bostic to jazz dates with Lucky Millinder, Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday, as well as club appearances with Charlie Parker.
By 1953, Scott was signed by Coral-Brunswick for a series of recordings, among them dates with tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld and singer Jackie Paris. During this period, Scott had become close with Paris, Parker, Dick Hyman, Dick Katz, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson, Ed Shaughnessy and other musicians deeply into the bebop and jazz-classical scenes in New York.
The first of Scott's leadership dates—Music After Midnight—was recorded on February 5, 1953. According to the June 13, 1953 issue of Billboard, the four tracks on Music After Midnight were recorded live at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem and featured Katz (piano), Hinton (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). The reviewer called Scott's playing "superb."
Scott's next leadership date on December 22, 1953—Jazz for Gi's—featured Katz (piano) [pictured], Earl May (bass) and Osie Johnson (drums), with Percy Heath replacing May on tracks. The album was split with Mat Matthews, with just two tracks by Scott. The balance of the songs recorded were likely issued originally only as singles.
Billboard, in its May 22, 1954 issue, zoomed in on I Cover the Waterfront from the date:
"Here's a tender, slow-paced rendition of the evergreen by the Tony Scott combo, with Scott turning in some fine solo work throughout over delightful piano stylings. Jazz fans will want."
Goodbye, which must have been the flip side, also received high praise.
Taken as a whole, Scott's work throughout the 1950s remains uniformly exuberant and nearly always exceptional, with solos loaded with risk-taking, creative edge and lots of surprises. Don't let your ears lead the way here. Instead, let your heart do the listening.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Tony Scott in Hi-Fi (Verve) at iTunes and Amazon here. Katz' Meow, After After Hours, I Never Knew and Away We Go are from Music After Midnight. The balance is from the Jazz for G.I.'s recording session.
One small note: For some strange reason, Brunswick in the 12-inch era did not include two tracks on Tony Scott in Hi-Fi from the Jazz for G.I.'s session: Blues for Frankie and Ava (Parts 1 and 2). Not enough room—or politically incorrect? Either way, I've never heard them nor have I seen them on another release. Another jazz mystery.
JazzWax clip: Here's Tony Scott on Swootie Patootie, from the Jazz for G.I.'s session...