Sly Scott studies the classical masters and fits into any imaginable musical scenario. He has an ear out for World Beat, R&B, movie and TV theme music, rock, and more. Though he finds unusual places to practice, he keeps moving, grooving and growing as a musician.
When did you realize music was your path?
I was 16 when I first took up music.
What was the first instrument you played?
The clarinet. I still play it but somewhat infrequently. I switched to alto sax and eventually tenor sax became my primary instrument, with guitar and flute on occasion.
How would you describe your style?
I generally play with a lot of energy.
Artists who have inspired you?
Coltrane, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Howlin’ Wolf, Steely Dan, Nina Simone, Jimi Hendrix, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Miller, and of course Aziza Miller!
You played flute on the iconic “Mission Impossible” and keys on “Westworld.” Which movie and TV composers do you like?
I have so many favorites. Ennio Morricone has written many beautiful movie themes and scores such as The Untouchables and Orca. His writing brilliantly displays triumph, honor and tragedy simultaneously as is so often called for in movie scenes.
Bernard Herrmann is a master of bringing out the fear as heard in his scores for Vertigo, Psycho and The Twilight Zone. Some of my favorite sci fi music was written by Dominic Frontiere for the Outer Limits. The theme is one giant event! Brilliant!
Of course, I love Lalo Schifrin for his smooth and slick themes like Mission Impossible and Mannix. He has some of the most memorable melodies for TV ever.
Where do you primarily perform?
Jazz shows in Harlem, musicals in Queens, NY and New Jersey, R&B shows in Westchester and rock shows on Staten Island. And I have toured through Europe (especially France) and Africa, playing with the band Circular Time.
Talk about the personnel in your band.
I play with a lot of different bands and only on occasion do I form a unit under my leadership. I have been more of a supporting musician most of my career.
The group that I perform with most is Circular Time which consists of some of the finest musicians I’ve ever played with. Under the leadership of Bart Douglas, we have toured the United States, Europe and north Africa. The band plays a variety of styles from classic rock to Herbie Hancock to Daft Punk to Coltrane.
Do you compose/arrange?
Yes. I have done arrangements and compositions for Circular Time and for various singers and bands that requested my creative input. Currently, I’m working on a project that will be called the Brahma Collective. It will be a comfortable blend of jazz, R&B, World Beat and experimental musical ideas that I’ve been dabbling around with.
Talk about your upcoming show as a guest of jazz artist, singer and songwriter Aziza Miller, to occur Sept. 30 at the Metropolitan Room/NYC at 7pm.
I am truly looking forward to it! Aziza and I are kindred musical spirits! She has the ability to express every aspect of life through her music. She is a genius and I am one of her biggest fans. I love every composition she has written and she has inspired me to write more.
Whenever I have the honor and privilege to perform with Aziza, I know that it will be a musical experience that I will love and remember forever. I have learned a great deal about music and the beauty of rhythm. She plays with such passion and depth and she is one of my dearest friends. I can’t say enough…
Most memorable performance or artists you have played with?
I’ve had many. One that comes to mind was during my tour with Bootsy Collins on a James Brown tribute. We played the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan. I’d never played for so many people! The energy of the audience was such that I stayed awake just thinking about it.
Playing on stage with Bootsy and Fred Wesley in The North Sea Jazz Festival was exciting as well. I have had some excellent performances with the Eric Person Big Band. Our shows at the Blue Note and Jazz at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola were amazing shows! My shows with Aziza in Japan represent some of my most musically fulfilling moments.
Where do you go in your head when you’re playing?
I try to get out of my own way, quiet my mind and just let the music happen.
Are you very self-critical?
I work very hard on things and I’m constantly evaluating my progress. I hesitate to say that I’m critical of myself because the word implies grim determination and that would suggest that I am not accepting of the present.
The best way to achieve a goal is to fully accept where you are, then change it if it’s a hindrance to your expression.
What’s the most unusual place you’ve rehearsed?
I often rehearse in my car because it’s impossible to rehearse in my apartment.
I’ve rehearsed in my closet a few times. That has always felt strange when I come out, I sometimes feel like I got nothing done. I have practiced fingers on the flute while on the plane.
What bands are you active in today?
Today I am active with Circular Time, The Marty Rizek Experience (formerly Slowburn), The 747’s, and of late, the Phil Young Experience.
What do you want your band to be known for?
I would like all bands that I have worked with to be known for bringing the joy of listening to their audiences.
What classical masters do you draw from?
I learn a lot from Bach and Beethoven. I practice their music very often. They inspire me greatly. I am currently learning Bach’s Cello Suite 1 on bass guitar with the help of master bassist Gary Foote.
What’s the most effective breathing technique for playing woodwinds?
It took me decades to learn this, but playing a wind instrument should feel as close and natural to breathing as possible. As little pressure as possible. Had I known this when I was younger, I would have avoided many a day fatigued from unnecessarily hard work.
Have you ever laid down tracks of yourself playing different instruments?
For the Brahma Project, I am expecting to lay down most of the tracks myself. Aside from that, I have done all the horns on various recording projects.
What was it like to play Jazz at Lincoln Center?
I’ve played Jazz at Lincoln Center a few times. Sometimes with pianist/educator John Senakwami and his school, and once with the Eric Person Big Band. Each time was wonderful – great staff, excellent sound and fantastic audience! I wish that I could play there more.
Do you have guest vocalists?
Once while touring with Circular Time, I suggested that singer/songwriter from Cameroon, Sally Nyolo, perform with us. She joined us for a great show in Paris!
Do you feel American jazz is popular around the world?
Yes. It’s an amazing music that lends itself to spontaneous self-expression and demands a fair amount of technical skill and theoretical musical knowledge.
Above all, it demands that the performer say something honest and meaningful whether vocally or instrumentally. For the listener who is willing to open him or herself to these high vibrations, it is a win-win situation.
How would you compare the audiences in France and those in NYC?
The audiences in France love jazz including New Orleans style. They love black music in France and recognize it as America’s best music. In New York, jazz is appreciated but not to the same extent except in Harlem and in colleges. That must change.
Why did you decide to arrange Coltrane’s “Fifth House”? Were you pleased with the results?
When I listened to the melody of Fifth House it reminded me of the music that I heard in Morocco. I wanted to honor Coltrane by expanding the form of the tune and adding soli sections and odd time signatures.
But I also wanted to stay true to the swinging spirit of the tune, and I wanted to include elements I learned from science fiction themes and compositions by Donald Fagen. I’m very happy with the results of my arrangement. The audiences even when they are pop audiences seem to really dig it!
Talk about Black Art Legends and how you came to be involved.
I was asked by bassist James Rokeach whose wife was affiliated with the organizers. I was very honored to be a part of such a momentous occasion. Vibraphonist Bill Ware was also a part of that event.
Projects in the works?
Along with the Brahma Collective, I am also putting together a horn section for hire that will be available for musical performers looking to add more punctuation to their performances.
I want to do more traveling and collaborating with musicians from different parts of the world and plan to utilize music and cultural exchange as a means of promoting world peace.
Future performance schedule for the rest of 2017?
I will be doing performances in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and France from October through the year’s end and of course the show with Aziza Miller on September 30.
It is my pleasure. Peace, joy and blessings.
Photo courtesy of and with permission of the artist.
(c) Debbie Burke 2017