Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 12 September 1954, Providence RI) Tenor sax. He was influenced by his father's record collection; he played harmonica professionally at 14, took up tenor at 16, formed a quartet at 18 with Chuck Riggs (drums), Chris Flory (guitar), Phil Flanigan (bass). Hamilton went to NYC in 1976 and soon found lots of work (with Benny Goodman '77, again in '82); the group re-formed with Norman Simmons, Mike LeDonne or usually John Bunch on piano. (Schoolmate Preston Hubbard, later bassist with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, had earlier played with Hamilton for several years.) His recording debut was in '78 as a sideman on A Tribute To Duke on Concord with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett, Woody Herman; his own debut as a leader was Scott Hamilton Is A Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill: he had made nearly 30 albums on Concord as a leader by '97. He is not a good sight-reader: 'I can read a chord chart, and I know theory. The thing I can't do is sit down in a saxophone section in a big band.' But this has kept him away from session work and also kept his ears stronger: 'If you can't write something down you have to memorize it.' He played a Selmer saxophone older than he is and became a star in a climate of reappraisal and renewal of jazz styles, playing Swing Era tenor as though nothing had happened since, but he is really no more a revivalist than people who are still copying John Coltrane. His big tone on ballads meant that he was compared to Ben Webster, but he felt more affinity with Lester Young.
His swinging good taste was heard on albums by Herman, Clooney, guitarist Ed Bickert, pianist Dave McKenna, the Concord All-Stars; more albums included Scott's Buddy and Back To Back with Buddy Tate, Tour De Force with Tate and Al Cohn, Skyscrapers and In New York City with Warren Vaché, Soft Lights And Sweet Music with Gerry Mulligan, A First and A Sailboat In The Moonlight with Ruby Braff; of Hamilton's own sets as leader label boss Carl Jefferson said, 'I wish I had 50 more like him.' On other labels: Grand Appearance and All-Star Tenor Spectacular, also The Man I Love with the Derek Smith Quartet, all on Progressive; Bob Wilber With The Scott Hamilton Quartet on Wilber's Bodeswell label; The Swinging Young Scott Hamilton '77 on Famous Door, with Vaché, Bunch, Butch Miles on drums, Michael Moore on bass; Bunch's Famous Door LPs as leader included John's Other Bunch '77 with Hamilton, Vaché, Connie Kay and Moore. Hamilton's Organic Duke on Concord featured LeDonne on organ, Tenorshoes had McKenna, Scott Hamilton With Strings had Alan Broadbent. Hamilton had felt intimidated by publicity, but thought that he'd gained in confidence during the '80s; his recordings with the British trio of pianist Brian Lemon were very highly praised: East Of The Sun '93, Live At Brecon Jazz Festival '94. My Romance '96 was a reunion with Simmons on piano, with trombonist Joel Helleny varying the mix.
[Joel Edward Helleny (b 23 October 1956, Paris Texas; d 20 June 2009, Herrin Illinois) was a busy and highly regarded freelance musician in New York City from the early 1980s onwards.]