In the ranks of unsung organists Shirley Scott has to be among the most overlooked. A veteran of countless Prestige studio gigs and an indispensable creative cog in the Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis organ combo of the late 1950s her role in popularizing and broadening her instrument’s appeal is difficult to overstate. Yet she’s rarely named among the roll call of her male peers like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff and so many others. The reasons behind the disparity are tough to pinpoint. Some might cite gender politics as the chief culprit; others might finger her prolific career as session musician. Whatever the cause behind her comparative obscurity this recent Prestige two-fer, which collects the Moodsville albums The Shirley Scott Trio and Like Cozy into one convenient package, offers a fresh reason for reappraisal and restitution.
Like so many other players Scott’s approach to the organ was grounded in her earlier career as a pianist. Both of these dates provide a rare chance to compare her styles on the two instruments up close. Beginning with the easy syrupy swing of “Sweet Lorraine” on organ, she switches to piano for “I Thought I’d Let You Know.” Coming full circle of sorts “I Should Care” features her on both through the studio wizardry of overdubbing. Differing from most of her colleagues Scott regularly employed a bassist in her group, freeing up her feet from the necessity of pedal work and allowing her to focus more efficiently on melodic and harmonic possibilities in her improvisations. Her approach to acoustic keys is likewise grounded in relaxed lyricism and cleanly articulated chording.
In typical Moodsville fashion all of the tunes on each of the albums are standards or ballads taken at slow to medium tempos. Duvivier and Edgehill (colleagues from the Davis group) fit like a rhythmic glove around Scott’s lead statements and Tucker adopts a similarly sensitive touch when it comes to accompaniment on the piano pieces. Track lengths are limited to the four to five minute range, keeping things concise, but Scott still finds the space for plenty of relaxed and imaginative invention. Visit her hard-edged vibrato-heavy lines on “Laura” for just one of many examples. And while there isn’t a burner in the bunch this collection works as a lavishly programmed source of elegant small combo jazz with liberally placed soulful accents. Hopefully it will rekindle wider interest in the substantial talent that was Scott’s gift.
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Sweet Lorraine/ I Thought I
Shirley Scott- organ, piano*; George Tucker- bass*; George Duvivier- bass; Arthur Edgehill- drums. Recorded: October 23, 1958, Hackensack, NJ, and April 8* & September 27, 1960, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.