02/24/13 By Ken V
SFJAZZ presents a classic jazz concert that few will forget
Saxophonist Scott Hamilton swings into jazz history
For Immediate Release
February 24, 2013
Scott Hamilton and the romance of the jazz saxophone
By Ken Vermes
For almost fifty years or more the saxophone was the instrument that dominated jazz. And it was no coincidence that Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, all played the instrument and led the evolution and popularization of the music. It is not that the other instruments were not important. But it certainly was true that the saxophone players seemed to symbolize the romance, the allure and the revolutionary air of a music always trying to make its place in the crowded American popular musical landscape. And even with the advent of rock n’ roll in the 50’s, it was the bawlin’ and honkin sax that captured the growl and grit of the new music.
Which brings us to a concert at the new SFJAZZ center in San Francisco that was a thrilling and amazing celebration of the saxophone on a cool late winter night in February. Scott Hamilton began his career as a child in Rhode Island and decided on the saxophone at age 16. He would develop his music with the help of a whole generation of jazz greats who were closing out the swing era with a final and dramatic flourish. His biggest mentor was the trumpeter Roy Eldrige, who had demonstrated that the older style of swing based jazz could include exciting pyrotechnics and deep melodic style that he had developed over many years. A second and equally important influence was that of a California record label called Concord Records, led by an ex-car dealer named Carl Jefferson. Concord would play a major role in Scott’s career, and gave him the world wide exposure that would propel his career to this day.
Maybe sensing that he would be one of the main representatives of both the classic period of jazz, and the instrument that once so dominated the art form, Scott fronted a band that included another sax player, Harry Allen. And few in the audience realized that sitting in with the band was the early jazz piano virtuoso Rossano Sprtiello who added a special excitement to the group. The band performed both originals and classics like “Just you, just me”, and “Skylark”. The entire concert flowed like a piece of sweet apple pie on a summer day.
It is surprising that major jazz festivals, world-wide, have mostly left the older styles of jazz behind. The audience that remains for this music is aging and the events for this music are far and few between even when new, younger performers of the music like Sportiello and Stephanie Trick, and Scott Hamilton, for example, have emerged. But for one night, a San Francisco audience was left to bask in the glow of the classic sounds that once were the popular music of the whole nation. Many in the audience were hungry for more.
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