Tony Scott, 85; Jazz Clar­inetist Ex­plored Eclec­tic Mix of Mu­sic

The Washington Post Sunday - - Obituaries - By Matt Schudel

Tony Scott, 85, a jazz mu­si­cian who helped ex­pand the mu­si­cal lim­its of the clar­inet and who was an early pro­po­nent of what is now called world mu­sic, died March 28 at his home in Rome, where he had lived for more than 30 years. He had prostate can­cer.

A mu­si­cian of vast and eclec­tic range, Mr. Scott found fame in the 1940s as one of the first clar­inetists to mas­ter the dif­fi­cult new jazz id­iom of be­bop, with its tricky chords and ac­ro­batic runs. He led his own groups as a clar­inetist, played in the sax­o­phone sec­tions of bands led by Duke Elling­ton, Tommy Dorsey and Buddy Rich and also per­formed as a pi­anist. In the mid- 1950s, when he was mu­sic di­rec­tor for singer Harry Be­la­fonte, he wrote the ar­range­ment for “ Ba­nana Boat Song ( Day- O),” one of Be­la­fonte’s big­gest hits.

Mr. Scott recorded with such renowned mu­si­cians and singers as Dizzy Gillespie, Th­elo­nious Monk, Bill Evans, Sarah Vaughan and Bil­lie Hol­i­day, yet he spoke fondly of times when he’d walk down streets in Bul­garia or In­done­sia, pip­ing away on his clar­inet. He spent sev­eral years in Asia and Africa in the 1950s and ’ 60s and made al­bums re­flect­ing his in­ter­est in the mu­sic of other cul­tures.

“ I was search­ing for some­thing new, emo­tion­ally and spir­i­tu­ally,” he said in a 1966 in­ter­view. “ The jazz world here had turned cold for me — cool jazz, cool peo­ple. It was with­out pas­sion. I found the warmth I sought in Ja­pan.”

He had an out­go­ing per­son­al­ity that made him pop­u­lar with other mu­si­cians. He wrote songs for Hol­i­day, with whom he recorded on clar­inet and pi­ano, and also com­posed mu­sic for short films fea­tur­ing strip­per Lili St. Cyr.

At his peak in the 1940s and ’ 50s, Mr. Scott was con­sid­ered the most ad­vanced clar­inetist of his gen­er­a­tion, ri­valed only by Buddy DeFranco. In 1953, critic Nat Hentoff wrote in Down Beat mag­a­zine: “ No other mod­ern clar­inetist has the fire, the drive, and the beat Tony gen­er­ates.”

“ Mr. Scott has stretched the jazz range of his in­stru­ment farther than any of his con­tem­po­raries,” John S. Wil­son wrote in the New York Times in 1958. “ He is the most ex­cit­ing jazz mu­si­cian play­ing to­day.”

Mr. Scott, whose given name was An­thony Joseph Sci­acca, was born June 17, 1921, in Mor­ris­town, N. J., the son of Si­cil­ian im­mi­grants. He be­gan play­ing a metal clar­inet at age 12, formed his first band at 14, quickly mas­tered the pi­ano and was play­ing in Har­lem jazz ses­sions by the time he was 18.

He stud­ied for three years at the Juil­liard School, per­form­ing Elling­ton’s “ So­phis­ti­cated Lady” on pi­ano as his au­di­tion piece. He played in Army bands dur­ing World War II and spent nights in New York jazz clubs.

In 1943, he first heard sax­o­phon­ist Char­lie Parker, one of the pro­gen­i­tors of the new be­bop style, and was de­ter­mined to bring Parker’s mu­si­cal ad­vances to the clar­inet. They of- ten per­formed to­gether, and Mr. Scott would later call Parker the great­est man — not just the great­est mu­si­cian — of the cen­tury.

At a con­cert in Yu­goslavia in 1957, two years af­ter Parker’s death, Mr. Scott im­pro­vised “ Blues for Char­lie Parker,” which be­came his best- known com­po­si­tion.

“ It was a spur- of- the- mo­ment thing,” he said. “ The au­di­ence gave me a five- minute stand­ing ova­tion. Mu­si­cally, it was the high point of my life.”

In 1970, he set­tled in Rome and formed a five- year mu­si­cal as­so­ci­a­tion with Ro­mano Mus­solini, an ac­claimed jazz pi­anist who was the son of Italy’s ex­e­cuted fas­cist leader. Mr. Scott ex­per­i­mented broadly with mu­si­cal styles in the 1970s and ’ 80s be­fore re­turn­ing to more tra­di­tional jazz late in his ca­reer.

“ With­out ex­per­i­menters, jazz would die a lin­ger­ing death,” he said on his Web site. “ I be­lieve in be­ing re­cep­tive to all mu­sic. . . . If you stop learn­ing, you might as well throw your horn away.”

Cul­ti­vat­ing an air of ec­cen­tric­ity, he grew a chest- length white beard and some­times took apart his clar­inet on­stage, pre­tend­ing to use it as a tele­phone. None­the­less, his play­ing re­mained strong, and he con­tin­ued to per­form into his 80s.

In ad­di­tion to his per­form­ing ca­reer, Mr. Scott had a large col­lec­tion of pho­to­graphs of jazz mu­si­cians and made jazz- in­flu­enced paint­ings.

Sur­vivors in­clude his third wife, Cinzia Scott of Rome; and two daugh­ters from ear­lier mar­riages.

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