Born on September 12, 1954, in Providence, RI. Addresses: Record company--Concord Records, P.O. Box 15096, Beverly Hills, CA 90209, phone: (310) 385-4455, website: http://www.concordrecords.com.

Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton emerged as a major jazz talent in the late 1970s by bucking the trend. Whereas many jazz artists had gravitated toward free jazz in the 1960s and jazz fusion in the 1970s, Hamilton looked back toward swing and bop from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Grounded in the classic American songbook, his style embraced the lyricism of Ben Webster and the passion of John Coltrane. "What I love about his consistent tenor sax playing," noted John Barrett Jr. in Jazz Review, "is his ability to present these old standards the way the songs were originally intended---a refreshing change as everything is new again." Despite his dedication to old styles, however, Hamilton has excelled by leaving his own mark on yesterday's standards. Mark Miller in the Toronto Globe and Mail noted that "Hamilton has shaped his formative influences into a forthright style of his own."

Hamilton was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1954. As a child, he first learned to play the clarinet and took piano lessons. He also learned to play harmonica, and worked for a short time in a rock and roll band before returning to his primary love, jazz. As a teenager he listened to his father's extensive collection of classic jazz recordings from the 1930s and 1940s, and used them as a basis to teach himself to play the saxophone. In 1976 at the age of 22, Hamilton left Rhode Island for New York. The This Is Worcester website noted, "This was all several years before Wynton Marsalis and the new jazz renaissance would usher in a rediscovery of mainstream sensibilities."

In the mid-1970s Hamilton began his long residency with Concord Records, a label devoted to early styles of jazz. In 1977 he released his first album on the label, Is a Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill, on which he included versions of Coleman Hawkins's "Stuffy" and Hart-Rodgers's "The Blue Room." Early reviewers noted Hamilton's debt to jazz greats from the past. "He blows beautifully," wrote David Lancashire in the Globe and Mail, "using the kind of big, breathy, sandy tone that went out of style with Chuck Berry, Coleman Hawkins and Hershel Evans." Others brought attention to his ability to transform his influences into a unique approach. "It's not quite so novel now," wrote Miller, "and although Hamilton ... has developed a more personal style, he can no longer just be praised for his devotion to the older styles, he must be judged by them."

In 1982 Hamilton joined a number of his label mates in the Concord All-Stars, a group sponsored by John Norris, the publisher of Coda magazine. The group completed a brief tour of Canada and Europe, performing shows in Toronto and Bern. The showcase for Concord's talent also included individual spotlights, featuring Hamilton on such classics as "Stella By Starlight." By 1984, in addition to his work with his contemporaries, he led his own band, playing venues like Bourbon Street in Toronto. As the 1980s progressed, he also found himself working with a number of established players, whose styles reached back to jazz's golden age. In 1985 he was invited to perform with George Weins's Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars; in 1986 he recorded with trumpeter Ruby Braff on A Sailboat in the Moonlight; and in 1987 he performed a number of live dates with tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips.

In 1990 Hamilton simultaneously appeared on three Concord albums, revealing his strengths as a leader, a sideman, and a purveyor of multiple styles of jazz. On the first, Radio City, he led a quartet on a set list that included less-frequently played classics along with originals. On At Last, Hamilton co-led a quintet with pianist Gene Harris that featured guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown. And finally, on Sabia, he backed singer Susannah McCorkle on a set of Brazilian songs. Referring to the set of albums, Lloyd Sachs wrote in Jazz Notes, "The more I listen to this prolific young veteran ... the more I'm convinced there are only a few jazz musicians who are as consistently enjoyable." On Red Door in 1998, he joined with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli to offer a tribute to an early idol, saxophonist Zoot Sims. The duo decided to record without either a bassist or drummer, giving the set an intimate feel. The album also reflected a 1973 project between Sims and Pizzarelli. Scot Yanow at All Music Guide noted, "This excellent, slightly offbeat outing is highly recommended to fans of swinging mainstream jazz."

Hamilton spends a great deal of time on the road and has frequently toured abroad. European audiences have seemed even more appreciative of his classic style, leading to invitations from a number of festivals. "You just don't find these types of venues in the States," Hamilton told Barrett. "There are so many places to play here [Europe]." After living in New York for 25 years, Hamilton relocated to England. He has also appeared on a number of tribute albums, starting with 'S Wonderful, a tribute to Ira Gershwin in 1979, and including the memorable Organic Duke in 1994.

In 2005 Hamilton recorded Back Home in New York, marking his 28th year on Concord. "Listening to Back in New York," wrote Jon W. Poses in the Columbia Daily Tribune, "is like spreading butter and strawberry jam on hot toast: You know what it is; you know you will like it; you're used to it; and it fits a comfort zone." Hamilton also appeared on Jay Geils Plays Jazz, working with pianist Al Wilson to back the ex-rock singer, and toured with the Scott Hamilton Quartet. With re-issues of his early recordings, multiple new releases, and an upcoming Japanese tour in the fall and winter, Hamilton has become one of the leading practitioners of mainstream jazz. "As the world's outstanding exponent of mainstream tenor saxophone," wrote Jack Massarik in the Evening Standard, "this relaxed New Englander would argue that if you're tops at what you do, you'd be stupid to tinker with it."

by Ronnie D. Lankford Jr

Scott Hamilton's Career

Recorded first album, Is a Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill, Concord Records, 1977; appeared on Rosemary Clooney's Here's to My Lady, 1978; toured with Concord All-Stars, 1982; performed with Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars, mid-1980s; appeared on Radio City, At Last, and Sabia, 1990; recorded with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli on Red Door: Remember Zoot Sims, 1998; toured with Scott Hamilton Quartet and released Back in New York, 2005.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

PeriodicalsOnline

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 8 years ago

Hamilton is the greatest. But where do you go to find out what his performance schedule is. Do I have to go abroad to hear him live. I'll consider it.