Bobby Scott (above) was a remarkable arranger, composer, multi-instrumentalist and singer. If you’re unfamiliar with him, you certainly know his biggest pop hits in the 1960s: A Taste of Honey and He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. Before he topped the Billboard charts, Scott began his recording career on jazz piano for Savoy in 1953 at age 16. The following year, he was discovered by producer Creed Taylor, who recorded him between 1954 and ’56 for Bethlehem and then ABC-Paramount. These albums included Great Scott, The Compositions of Bobby Scott Vols. 1 and 2, Scott Free and Bobby Scott and Two Horns. He also recorded during the decade as a sideman for RCA Victor (with Hal McKusick) and for Verve (with Gene Krupa and others).
Then in 1963, just as his pop career was beginning to take hold, Scott recorded what I believe is his finest album as a composer-arranger. It’s The City, an album by the Larry Elgart Orchestra for MGM with inventive charts by Scott on par with Gil Evans and Gary McFarland. It featured Elgart on alto and soprano saxes and Scott on piano. From the scant original liner notes, Al DeRisi split the lead trumpet with Clyde Reasinger while Lew Gluckin played muted trumpet, Lucile Lawrence was on harp and Maurice Marks played drums. I’m uncertain of the personnel that fills out the rest of this large orchestra. Someone would need to look at New York Local 802’s session sheets to find out.
Though discographies list this album as 1961, the album’s liner notes say that Bobby was 26 at the time. Since he was born in 1937, he would have been 26 in 1963, not 1961.
What makes this album so special is the swinging modernist personality of the New York-themed suite, the wailing musicianship of the Larry Elgart (above) orchestra on extremely challenging material and Scott’s inventive approach and how the orchestra’s sections converse with each other. This isn’t pop in the traditional sense nor is it soundtrack-y. It’s just seriously hip music.
In short, it’s an impressionist valentine to New York, in the same spirit as Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train and Harlem Air Shaft, Charles Mingus’s Scenes in the City, George Russell’s New York, N.Y., Michel Legrand’s New York 1958, Kenyon Hopkins’s Sound of the New York and other similar album-length interpretations. The other blessing of this album is you can listen to it over and over again and enjoy it the same way each time.
Bobby Scott died in 1990 at age 53.
The City also is available at Spotify, paired with Scott’s Joyful Noises.
JazzWax clip: Here’s the entire album, starting with Scheme Street…