After the piano and the upright bass, my favorite tool in the jazz tool belt is the tenor sax. As much as I enjoy a great drummer and the rhythm that a drum kit adds to a trio, there is just something about the big warm sound of a great tenor player backed by a piano and bass that really appeals to me. When it comes to the tenor sax, I fall into the camp that there is no school like the old school. Players like The Prez, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Zoot Simms or my personal favorite, Ben Webster. I could listen for hours to Ben Webster recordings (and have) and his breathy romantic style of playing. Sure, he could swing with the best of them, but no one IMHO could touch him on ballads. No one. However, in the 1950’s with the advent of bee bop and then hard bop, the style of the old masters somehow became old fashioned and increasingly fell out of favor. Fortunately, there are still tenor players today who continue to play in the style of the old masters. For this writer, the best of these players is the subject of this piece, Scott Hamilton. While Scott’s recorded output is vast, I have picked out five of his recordings that I go back to time and time again during long listening sessions. All feature excellent sonics.
1. Live at Smalls
If you only get one Scott Hamilton recording, this is the one to get. It was recorded in 2014 at Smalls, a tiny and dare I say intimate jazz club on W. 10th Street in Manhattan. Located in the basement, Smalls holds all of 60 people. This recording puts you right at the center of the stage, close enough to reach out and touch Scott’s tenor. This recording takes you into the club. The entire ambiance of the club is there, from the chatter and the clinking of glasses and silverware. Behind Scott in the soundstage is Rossano Sportiello on piano to the left, J.J. Shakur on bass and to the right, Chuck Riggs on drums. This set has it all. It swings and rocks. All four of the musicians are on the top of their game and clearly love playing together. Tight does not even begin to describe this group. Did I mention that the sound is fantastic? I believe that the CD is out of print. I have a 24/88.2 file from the usual sites. Check it out. You will be glad you did.
Purchase via HDtracks Scott Hamilton - Live at Smal's (24/88.2)
2. Live at Pyatt Hall
This is another live recording, this one set at Pyatt Hall, at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music. While Pyatt Hall is larger than Smalls, it only holds about 130 people. The sound captured is just a tad more distant than the Smalls set and I mean just a tad. This set has more ballads than the Smalls set, but still features Scott’s large tenor sound front and center, with some brilliant accompaniment by Rossano Sportiello on piano. The capture of the piano on this recording is sensational as is the recording of Scott’s sax. If I had one quibble with this recording, it would be that the recording of J.J.’s bass is a bit more diffuse than I would like, almost as if it was recorded out of phase. A very enjoyable listen nonetheless and a great recording with the lights out late at night.
Listen via Qobuz Scott Hamilton - Live at Pyatt Hall
Listen via Tidal Scott Hamilton - Live at Pyatt Hall
3. Hamilton and Hamilton Live in Bern
This set is a bit of a twofer, as it features Scott Hamilton on tenor with the great Jeff Hamilton Trio. I have mentioned Jeff Hamilton before as he is the drummer on the fantastic Montreux Alexander recording. Jeff has a regular touring trio featuring the sensational and underrated Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass. This trio has been together for years and it shows. This is a rather unusual live recording in that it was recorded in an empty hall in Bern Switzerland the morning of their engagement there. For those not familiar with this trio, this is a great recording on which to check them out with the added bonus, of course, of the great Scott Hamilton.
Listen via Tidal Hamilton & Hamilton - Live in Bern
4. Who Cares?
This is a recording on, dare I say it, a boutique audiophile label, fone. This set was recorded in the cellar of the Hotel II Castello in Italy. On it Scott is accompanied by Andrea Pozza on piano. It is a somewhat laidback ballad set with exceptional sonics with natural reverb and decay. Scott has several recordings on the fone label. They are all worth checking out. There is another set with Andrea Pozza entitled, I could Write a Book, as well as Bean and the Boys and Ballads for Audiophiles.
Listen via Qobuz Scott Hamilton - Who Cares?
Listen via Tidal Scott Hamilton - Who Cares?
Purchase via HDtracks Scott Hamilton - Who Cares? (24/88.2)
5. Back in New York
This set was released in 2005 on the Concord label. It features Scott Hamilton accompanied by another great touring trio with Bill Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Again, for those of you unfamiliar with Bill Charlap and his trio, this recording is a fine introduction to his music. This set is a bit different than the others in that it is a studio recording and has a much more bee bop vibe. It is well worth a listen.
In these pieces on Audiophile Style, I am writing about great jazz musicians who are still with us and actively touring. If you see any of these fine musicians coming to your town, by all means, see them live.
Listen via Qobuz Scott Hamilton - Back in New York
Listen via Tidal Scott Hamilton - Back in New York
Joe with Jeff Hamilton at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola in NYC.