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June 2007

Tony Scott
A Jazz Life
Kind of Blue

Clarinetist Tony Scott was never much of a critical favorite, and for his last few decades he didn’t record much either. Plus, he had been living in Italy, far from the centers of jazz, and hadn’t gotten much attention. However, his new disc deserves to be heard…by everyone.

A Jazz Life is full of vitality. It’s difficult to reconcile the music with the fact that Scott was 84 when it was recorded in February 2006. (Scott died this March.) It’s bookended with vocal performances, and, man, are they something. Scott had a deep, gravelly voice, and he talks and scats through his “Low, Down, Dirty, Good for Nothing Blues,” which is as fine a blues as you’ll hear. His clarinet shrieks and wails like a sax through a delicious arrangement of “Caravan,” and it’s soft and breathy on another Duke classic, “Come Sunday.”

Aside from two of his own pieces, Scott visits some of the greatest tunes in jazz: “Summertime,” “Night in Tunisia,” “Body and Soul,” and so forth. His version of Monk’s “’Round Midnight” tweaks the melody and harmonic structure just a bit, and his careful solo manages to jut its elbows here and there. Then he’s suddenly weepy, bending notes downward, on a bossa-inflected take of “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that stretches the boundaries of harmony. It’s as though Scott has thrown down the gauntlet and declared: Here’s what I can do. A Jazz Life feels like a final statement, the culmination of a career.

Originally published in June 2007
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