Tony Scott’s death at eighty-five in Rome on March 28 set off a flurry of remembering by people who may not have thought about him for years. A clarinetist with a large sense of daring, a massive sound and nearly supernatural upper range, Scott was an important player in the New York bebop milieu of the late 1940s, an intimate of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was an encourager of post-bop talent in the fifties. He exposed Bill Evans as the pianist’s career began to accelerate in the mid-1950s, hiring Evans regularly and featuring him on recordings.
Whether or not he initially intended to be, with a big-selling album, Music For Zen Meditation, in the sixties Scott was a pioneer of what came to be known as new age and world music. He was also a character known, even celebrated, for his conviction, flamboyance and occasional outrageousness. Jazz Times has a comprehensive, if rather dry, Scott obituary on its web site. The New York Times obit includes a splendid latterday photograph and the late critic John S. Wilson’s description of Scott “playing his clarinet in his own uncompromisingly distinctive manner, a manner which encompasses both a feathery, light-as-air impressionism and an intense, emotional ferocity that makes the old-time ‘hot’ men sound as though they were blowing icicles.”
Scott and I conducted a sporadic correspondence that began after I did a radio program about him in 1967. It fell off for a few years, then resumed in October of 1982 with a letter from Rome. I’m sharing the letter with you because it gives a sense of Scott’s personality and the passion with which he lived his life. I retain his punctuation, spelling and usage. My clarifications are in parentheses.
Hello Doug are you still there? I left NYC for Europe 1967. To Africa 1968/70. Live Italy 1970 till now. I am still alive and kicking. I have written a book. 700 pages of my life in jazz with Bird Lady Ben (Charlie Parker, Billie Holday, Ben Webster), 52nd St, Harlem, jazz in NYC 1939 till I left in 1959. My life in jazz with the giants, my travels, philosophy. About 100 photos I took of Lady Miles Ben Prez Mahalia (Holiday, Davis, Webster, Jackson).
My past has been 1967 to Europe with wife/child. 1968/70 to Africa playing a jazz show with locals I trained in luxury hotels. Then settled in Senegal 5 months study African music/rhythms.
1970 to Italy Roma to settle. Played mostly with Romano Mussolini on tour. Enjoyed life in Roma. 1975 divorced. Wife remarried. Two daughters Nina 10 Monica 5 live in Roma. I leave Italy for jobs in Europe for 2 years. Tired of travel. Stay in Roma 1977/78 see daughters – practice piano write music for big bands in Italy and Europe. Pays aboutr $3000 a show total for 3 day rehearsal & radio concert with public. 1979/80 travel around Europe always based in Roma.
1981 in and out of Italy. 1982 stay Holland 8 months with nice lady. Have $10,000 dental work. Lose feeling to play clarinet. Write book. Made a suite “African Bird” dedicated to Charlie Parker in 1981. Recorded in London. Glenn Ferris (USA) trombone, percussion, marimbas, flute, alto and vocal. Hope to sell in USA when I come in November for one month to sell book and “African Bird.”
See lots of old friends on tour Dizzy Buddy Blakey (Gillespie, De Franco, Art Blakey). Seems they are all here to work. I like Italy. My roots. I played with Kenny Clarke (drummer) in Sicily at festival. Good success. We played bebop. I want to do college tour with Kenny plus talk and photos & films of old days, Bird Monk Harlem. Kenny is 69 but OK and wants to make college tour with me. I need to play with my cats to get an urge to play clarinet.
My Music For Zen Meditation gives me money to live on. Sells 15,000 a year for 10 years now. 10,000 in Europe, 5,000 in USA. Japan put out my RCA Big Band with Clark Thad (Terry, Jones), Bill Evans. Made 1956. Have you got it?
In USA, thinking of teaming up with Buddy De Franco for a clarinet clan show. Regards to any fans or friends.
Scott’s autobiography has never found a publisher. I’m told that members of his family are still trying to place it. His web site, yet to be updated with his death, has historical sections and photos.