Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Scott, Stephen

Pianist Stephen Scott’s polished tone, impressive articulation and elegant phrasing have drawn attention since his arrival on the jazz scene in the late 1980s. Alongside bassist Ron Carter and tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, Stephen has forged a new path for contemporary piano styles.

As a leader and composer, Scott has demonstrated that a multi-faceted technique and an unbreakable ensemble can win the the respect of both his contemporaries and veterans of the jazz idiom.

Stephen Scott was born on March 13, 1969 In Queens, New York. At the age of five, Scott began to study the piano, receiving his first lessons from his mother. Stephen later expanded his musical education by receiving private lessons at the famed Julliard School of Music where he studied classical music. During this time, he listened to reggae and salsa music on the radio, further exposing his musical curiosities to different styles of music.

While attending the High School of Music & Arts and Performing Arts in Manhattan, Scott was introduced to jazz by alto saxophonist Justin Robinson. Stephen’s initial influences included pianists Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and McCoy Tyner while he admired the compositional talents of trumpeter Booker Little and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.

It was during this time that Scott began to perform locally, receiving early exposure with saxophonist Arnie Lawrence and trumpeter Dave Burns. In 1986, he was awarded the Young Talent Award from the National Association of Jazz Educators.

Beginning in March 1987, Scott received a major boost in his profile in the jazz community when he began to perform with singer Betty Carter. The following year, Stephen appeared on Carter’s album Look What I Got. Later in the year, he left Carter and found himself in demand as a sideman, performing with trumpeters Jon Faddis and Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Benny Golson and Dexter Gordon and vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson.

1988 also saw Scott joining the band The Harper Brothers alongside trumpeter Philip Harper, drummer Winard Harper, bassist Michael Bowie and Justin Robinson. The group released their self-titled debut on the Verve label the same year. Bassist Ron Carter produced the album, and was impressed by the young pianist's talent.

In 1989, The Harper Brothers released Remembrance: Live at the Village Vanguard. Recorded at the famed club, the album featured the Scott original “Always Know.” The following year, Stephen joined alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Billy Higgins on trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s second release as a leader Public Eye.

In January 1991, Scott began the recording sessions that would yield Something to Consider; his first album was a leader. Recorded for Verve, the album featured a who’s who of Scott’s contemporaries including Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, and tenor saxophonist Craig Handy amongst others. The album was well received by fans and reached the number seventeen position on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart.

1991 also saw Scott appearing on saxophonist Joe Henderson’s breakthrough album Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn and bassist Charles Fambrough’s The Charmer. The same year, Stephen performed with the studio group Good Fellas alongside alto saxophonist Mark Gross, trombonist Jamal Haynes and drummer Yoichi Kobayashi amongst others.

Around 1992, Scott began performing with bassist Buster Williams’ quintet Something More and also with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson’s small group Horizon and his big band Tailor Made. The same year, he released his second album Aminah’s Dream. The album featured the leader in a trio with Ron Carter and veteran drummer Elvin Jones.

The album’s title song is an excellent example of Scott’s compositional and arranging efforts. With the added horns, Stephen voices them so that they are an equal part of the ensemble, not just a back round device. With the added parts, he carefully solos around the instrumentation, choosing melodic designs that simultaneously stand out as well as balance the ensemble. The result is a bold harmonic invention that equally showcases each part.

Scott’s association with Carter began to flourish after the completion of Aminah’s Dream. In December 1992, Stephen recorded with Ron on the bassist’s album Friends. During this time, Scott began to perform with his own groups, whose sideman included bassists Ray Drummond and Dwayne Burno, drummers Ben Riley, Clarence Penn and Carl Allen.

By 1993, Scott found himself performing at several noted clubs throughout New York City including the Greenwich Village hotspot Bradley’s and the famous Village Vanguard. The same year, Stephen performed with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard on his album Monk, Miles, Trane & Cannon; an album dedicated to the four jazz greats.

1995 saw Scott’s freelance career was in full swing with recordings on Roy Hargrove’s album Family and guitarist Mark Whitfield’s 7th Ave. Stroll. In April of 1995, Stephen co-led an album with Hargrove and Christian McBride entitled Parker’s Mood. The album featured the trios rendition of several songs by alto saxophonist Charlie Parker including “Yardbird Suite” and “Dewey Square.”

The following year, Scott began an association with Sonny Rollins. After spending part of the year touring with him, Stephen appeared on Rollins’ album Sonny Rollins Plus Three. The same year, Stephen performed with saxophonist Pete Yellin on his album It’s You or No One and trombonist Steve Turre’s album Steve Turre.

By the mid 1990s, Scott was becoming known not only for his performance skills but for his compositional skills as well. In 1996, Stephen received a commission from Jazz at Lincoln Center to compose an original piece for their orchestra. In the winter of 1996, Stephen’s piece “Postcards From Home” premiered under the direction of trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Jon Pareles from the New York Times declared that his piece “roved from introspection to gleaming declamations up to burnished, brassy chorales and back to a languorous dirge, thinking all the way.”

The same year, Scott released the album Beautiful Thing. The album was applauded for its use of other forms of jazz including Latin and Soul jazz. During the late 1990s, Scott’s schedule was packed with sessions and touring with Carter, Hargrove and Rollins. On January 1998, Stephen began the sessions for Rollins’ album Global Warming. Recorded for the Milestone label, the album featured contributions from bassist Bob Crenshaw and drummer Idris Muhammad.

A highlight of this album is the group’s rendition of composer Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners.”

The song effectively demonstrates Scott’s superior accompanying skills and how he adjusts his performance to fit whatever Rollins so happens to be performing rhythmically and melodically. During Scott’s solo, he carefully fulfills every nuance of the chord changes, but adds finesse to his choice of notes that perfectly complements the overall feel of the song. His performance is enhanced by Muhammad, whose solid skills inspire the entire ensemble.

In 1999, Stephen released the album Vision Quest, his first for the Enja label. The album featured seven originals as well as the standards “Cheek to Cheek” by Irving Berlin and “Virgo” by Wayne Shorter. In 2000, Scott performed on Rollins’s album This Is What I Do. The album was critically hailed and eventually won the “Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Individual or Group” Grammy Award.

On February 18, 2006, Scott recorded sessions for Carter’s album Dear Miles. The album features seven songs that were associated with trumpeter Miles Davis including “Someday My Prince Will Come” and “Seven Steps To Heaven.” The band is exceptionally riveting on their version of composers Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.”

Scott begins the song with a short introduction that contains stylish, rhythmically effective phrasings and articulations. Upon the entrance of Carter, Stephen continues to anchor the ensemble by continuing the strong rhythmic design. Scott takes the all too familiar melody and adds subtle motifs and decorations, resulting in a fresh take to a classic standard.

Scott’s allegiance to jazz education has seen him teach and lecture at Lincoln Center as well as Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead, a music residency program hosted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. Stephen has also taught at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and has led various workshops. Topics covered in his curriculum include jazz history, arranging and composition.

Scott’s recent performances include at stint with bassist Charnett Moffett’s trio at the Iridium and Carter’s nonet at the Blue Note. In August 2009, Stephen performed with trombonist Clifton Anderson’s quintet alongside tenor saxophonist Eric Wyatt, bassist Russell Black and drummer Steve Williams.

Scott lives in New York where he maintains a prolific recording and performance schedule.

Select Discography

As a leader

Something to Consider (1991)

Aminah’s Dream (1992)

Renaissance (1994)

Beautiful Thing (1996)

Vision Quest (1999)

With Betty Carter

Look What I Got (1988)

With Ron Carter

Friends (1992)

Bass and I (1997)

Orfeu (1999)

When Skies Are Grey (2001)

Eight Plus (2003)

Dear Miles (2006)

Jazz and Bossa (2008)

With Roy Hargrove

Public Eye (1990)

Approaching Standards (1994)

Family (1995)

With Roy Hargrove & Christian McBride

Parker’s Mood (1995)

With Joe Henderson

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (1991)

With Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins Plus Three (1996)

Global Warming (1998)

This Is What I Do (2000)

With Mark Whitfield

7th Ave. Stroll (1995)

Contributor: Eric Wendell