During my years as a jazz writer I have spent considerable time interviewing and writing about musicians who, for one reason or another, decided to pack up and establish permanent residency outside the United States. Many of the old beboppers (Art Farmer, Johnny Griffin, Ed Thigpen and others) whom I had encountered through the years were literally forced to leave (if they wanted to keep performing their art music) because of the rock n'roll juggernaut. During the period of the late 50's to the mid 80's when jazz clubs all but disappeared in most U.S. cities the aforementioned boppers settled in Europe where they could work steadily and receive needed respect and appreciation for their efforts.
Since that period there has, of course, been a greater demand for jazz here in Gotham and a steady immigration of foreign artists who use New York as a recording and performing springboard. But in other cities around the U.S. jazz (as well as classical music) can be a very hard sell. And for those artists who have attained world-wide recognition through recordings and international concertizing the temptation still exists to move. Europe, with its annual outpouring of jazz festivals (over 800 by one estimate) and its huge turnouts of adoring fans is still the place du jour for American artists who seek aesthetic solace.
Such is the case with tenorist Scott Hamilton. Born in 1954 in Providence R.I., Hamilton, who began playing at 16, caused a great stir in jazz in the late 70's when he revived the old swing sound of yore and became something of a media star in an America where swing dancing, clubs and music had once again become a fad. Hamilton's smooth improvisations impressed audiences everywhere as well as established stars such as Benny Goodman. In 1982, I produced a well- publicized concert with Goodman who said he would do the show if I procured the services of Hamilton, Warren Vache and Phil Flanigan because they were recognized newcomers "who could really swing." Hamilton appeared on countless CDs for Concord records and gained wide audiences playing alongside Rosemary Clooney. Magazines and newspapers everywhere published articles on the "Scott Hamilton Swing Revival." After a long period of enormous popularity Hamilton left his native land and moved to London. Years on the continent proved fruitful for whatever motivation he may have had for the move but recently he left England and moved to a "beautiful little" medieval village in Tuscany where he resides at present.
He still performs in London several times a year. I saw him at the Pizza Express in Soho fronting a quartet and playing with an aplomb and fluidity that exceeded the eyebrow-raising execution of the old days. Hamilton rolled out ancient swing ditties such as "Lullaby in Rhythm," "The Jitterbug Waltz" and resurrected Ellington's "Tonight I shall sleep with a smile on my face." The music was phenomenal, the sidemen special and the audience warmly receptive. The Pizza Express is a cozy venue with reasonable pricing and a sensible menu. Soho is abuzz with talent these days. Vocalist Liane Carroll and guitarist John Etheridge have just released their latest CD Break Even with classic performances destined to turn heads.
As for Scott Hamilton, he continues to enjoy the European limelight and reception he garners from audiences all around the continent. The Pizza Express seems to be his favorite London haunt however, and he will be back April 1-6 and again in August.