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Marilyn Scott

There is a headlining, sway appeal when the name Marilyn Scott is brought into conversation. Marilyn is the temperate tone of the modern day cabaret. Her eloquence comes in multi-faceted forms on stage, and off. It is one reason this iconic beauty defines the jazz vocalization of the past 30 years. Marilyn Scott is, in fact, a double bill by herself!

The Scott romantic technique is one in which the listener only needs to shut their eyes and allow the "feel" of her essence to penetrate their emotions. The psyche of the Scott tone then takes form in a very private way.

During the years of her professional life, there never really seemed to be a virgin spin because from day one, there was a sense of a therapeutic jazz reaction to all who listened to Scott’s melodies. She had you in her grasp and from where I sit crudely, but candidly testifying that ain’t all that bad!

No matter what aspect of her life you select to focus in on, music, performing, organic clothing or ecology, Marilyn surpasses expectations and puts forth a constant unparalleled effort. However, it’s her sound that captures the most attention, and so it should be. True to tone and evoking the fragility of our culture’s emotional intellect, Marilyn Scott stocks the shelves with a vocal jazz tapestry that blankets the most intricate of ambiances.

Between these sets, you will understand the journey, trials, tribulations and complexities of the jazz vocalist’s globe--a world where the only escape comes in the form of notes, clefs and applause. In Marilyn’s case, that is just a foregone conclusion, because jazz audiences embrace every stage she steps onto, knowing full-well she needs to earn by performing, with every accolade directed to her. Marilyn Scott is a performer who never relinquishes the memory of the efforts that earned her applause along her journey.

It’s now time to start our journey as we walk with Marilyn Scott, between sets!

JazzReview: Thirty years of recording .What does it all mean and feel to you now from where you sit?

Marilyn Scott: Hmm, well, that’s a loaded question. You know, I would like to think that whatever I brought to a recording or a performance, I brought with me some great musicianship with the players; or the people who helped me arrange a tune, write a tune. When I play some of those things from the past, it feels like some of the ideas that I would get today--although it could be dated in a way if I had been recorded. Technically, it would be a part of the sign of the times, like the 80s or the 90s.

Other than that, I think everything has been really interesting and I’ve always tried to put a standard tune on there, and maybe some blues on there that’s been recorded by other people to kind of have a balance to everything. I’m really proud of the things that I’ve been able to accomplish and the sense of being, getting recognition and all that. When you’re younger, you really want that, but when you get older, it’s really not as important as it is to survive in the music and be able to really work with people again. I think that’s what I want the most, to survive the moment long enough to do it again.

JazzReview: If you could summarize the most notable artistic change or transformation of your craft, what would it be?

Marilyn Scott: You know, I think of when I was doing a lot more contemporary jazz, there were a lot more radio stations that could play it. When that started to go away and it was more of a smooth jazz format, I was less likely to fit in. For whatever reason, I’m not sure, I can’t explain that, but a lot of radio embraced (smooth jazz). When they did play vocals, they chose to play older vocals. For example, Jonathan Butler’s instrumentals were probably getting played more than him actually singing, but he is incredible. I mean they would choose an older tune over a more up-to-date, contemporary jazz vocal. So, that kind of put me out of the mix in a sense, and it made me have to change. I always felt that I would change more and more, and evolve more and more as a jazz artist, but that would have to be embraced by the jazz community because you can’t just walk in and say "I’m a jazz singer."

I kind of overlapped in a lot of different genres. Although the changes in the tunes had a difficulty to them, they still had essence of blues and R&B. I’ve always had an abundance of incredible jazz musicians here in LA to play with so it would help change and twist that to more of a jazz approach. I think in one way, I wasn’t able to be as visible because I didn’t get heard. On the other hand, it pushed me to become more of a jazz singer in more of a traditional, swing sense.

It’s funny, because when you work with people like George Duke who are the traditionalists in the art, and study it, we ourselves talk about how we love our heroes, how the jazz music, and what’s happening today and how you keep it alive and put it into what you do. I’ve been with people when the conversation becomes endless, and that helps me as an artist.

JazzReview: What you said leads right into my next question. Of all the genres you have sung, and you’ve named a number of them already, which is your personal favorite to perform and which offers you the most freedom vocally?

Marilyn Scott: Well, freedom and fun it can all give you goose bumps, you know. In a sense, you’ve got tunes that are heavier, tunes that are with jazz traditional jazz. It’s the timing, tempos and things, and then there are things that are even more. Some have a gospel feel to them. You can have a very contemporary approach to a tune with some incredible vocals and that’s fun, especially more so, when and if you can do both. So, there’s not really one that I prefer over the other.

I always look forward to the next tune because I’m interested to see how it’s going to pan out. You choose these things and you’re not always sure that you’re going to be able to accomplish them. I think that’s half of the effort.

JazzReview: Some critics speak, and very positively, of the maturity of your voice--the classic tone. Talk to us about that statement and define for us what they’re addressing with that quote? At what point did you feel that maturity took form?

Marilyn Scott: Well, first, I think that if you’re able to perform, you get to evolve and the maturity of your voice really sweetens up. If you’re not able to, you fall in those valleys where you just don’t grow. I’ve been in many of those valleys. I’m actually kind of coming out of one now, but those are so important.

Since I started listening to R&B and jazz when I was really young, I was intrigued by the approach and timing, and there’s something all of that brought to me. I listened and mimicked some of those greats, as we all do. [The thing to do] is to find your own style and accept the good things that you’re about in that. Then try to keep away from the things that you aren’t good at. Keep trying them out.

Sometimes I think you have to know when you don’t sound good doing a certain thing. I worked with a guy, a wonderful arranger and writer, Peter Manus, and he said some really golden things to me that helped me think about singing--what to keep and what not to keep. I appreciated all that.

JazzReview: Jimmy Haslip of the Yellowjackets was up front and to the point about you. He said of you, "She is extremely honest in her conviction to convey the truth through her art, to share the love in music with poeticism of warmth and hope to all mankind." What was Jimmy trying to convey to us about you?

Marilyn Scott: Well, it’s beautiful that he put it that way. We (Jim Haslip & I) have written countless tunes, and we decided to do other people’s songs with Jimmy and Russell arranging the tune to try to take it to a different place. It has a message I’m always leading the Dylan tune we did that because we loved what it was saying.

I think that sometimes you’re compelled to try to do something in a musical sense. There are tunes out there to do that to, that have such a great message! We took a chance on things in order to say something that was really important. Not only that, we’ve written tunes together that I think have very important messages. That’s just part of being a writer. I’m happy that he’s always wanted to work with me, and we’ve been such great friends though the years.

JazzReview: One thing I really enjoy about your work is the way you interpret an American Songbook classic, and I’m talking specifics here. One in particular is "I Love Paris" on your new release Every Time We Say Goodbye. How do you go about putting your signature on a standard to make it a Marilyn Scott spin? Is there a process?

Marilyn Scott: Always! There’s a definite process. It’s also the pairing of people, because I can’t do it alone. I bring my ideas to some really accomplished people, but sometimes you just can’t. Sometimes, like in the case of "Every Time We Say Goodbye," we didn’t have a chance to get an arrangement together. We just sat down in the studio (I had a head chart) and we found a way to put it together. I knew that I wanted to do it really, really slow. I think it’s a very sad song in a sense, but it’s one that, you know, (something) a person thinks about all the time when they leave somebody that they love. So, we didn’t really have an arrangement, we just came up with it.

On the other hand, with "I Love Paris," Mitch Foreman did it for me. Mitch has such great ideas. I knew that I wanted it really up (beat). It’s funny because when you don’t have a lot of time, you gather some of the people that you know and trust, and just throw some ideas at them. That’s how it happened with "I Love Paris." Mitch did a good job.

JazzReview: Let’s get into your current project. "Every Time We Say Goodbye," I notice an insinuation or coating suggesting a heartache theme, more so than in your past recordings. Is that a fair statement?

Marilyn Scott: Well, yes, probably. Yeah, I would say so.

I suggested the tunes and those we, kind of, call it Destinations, or something like that. I’ve tried to pick tunes that were about places that we’ve gone to when in love. I guess sometimes you can’t help but play what you feel so it’s going to come across one way or another.

JazzReview: Okay, let’s get back to a classic moment on this spin, although there’s a couple more, but there are ones that jump out at me. One of my favorites is "Cry Me a River," which bleeds emotional heartache. When you first looked at this music sheet, what was the goal you were after in it?

Marilyn Scott: Mr. Hara, who was the co-producer on the CD and is the owner of the record, requested this song, and so we did it. I’ve been singing that song for many years. We do this Mardi Gras gig every year and that’s one of the tunes that we do, so I was familiar with the tune.

JazzReview: Well, it was exquisitely performed.

Marilyn Scott: Thank you.

JazzReview: Since we are on the subject of your new release, let’s party with the theory of its distribution. I’m curious, why the Japanese release?

Marilyn Scott: They came to me, and this is the second time. My Smile was also a Japanese release. They (Japanese) host many American jazz artists, mostly who are instrumentalists. They were looking to have more vocalists and were considering several. This time, my name was included and they decided to record me. It was a really happy thing when I got the call. Everybody was so sweet and I hope to do that again [with them].

JazzReview: Cole Porter’s "Every Time We Say Goodbye" has this solid romantic tale to tell, as did all of his work. He writes with the passion of the moment in mind, at least in the way I interpret it. Why did you select this tune, not only as the intro spin, but as the title cut as well?

Marilyn Scott: I didn’t. I mean I selected the tunes, but they (the label) put it in order, pretty much. Clearly, I think that he (Mr. Hara) really, really connected to the tune somehow and it was his feeling of what to call it. That was fine with me. It’s his project, so it was fine.

You know what? I’ve loved that song and there have been so many versions of it. I think most of these songs that I’ve selected haven’t been recorded that much, and that’s always a trigger for me.

I try to stay away from things that other vocalists have really made their own. I’m trying to move to a different tune and not get in the way of some of those other folks. There’s just a wealth of tunes to do. This collection of tunes seemed to be less recorded.

JazzReview: Speaking of the same tune, the brass of Ken Peplowski brought the heart out of this project. The song "Every Time We Say Goodbye" not only talked about a relationship, but exhibited a relationship between your vocals and his horns. You could definitely get the feel. Describe the studio time and recording.

Marilyn Scott: It is wild when everybody is playing at once and the solos are being done at the same time. You just, kind of, have all of these musicians who are just incredible.

JazzReview: Now we’ve talked about Ken, but let’s talk about the rest of the cast on this disc-- how things went the people themselves. Allow us some insight about what went on in the studio and other moments.

Marilyn Scott: Well, of course, I knew of Cyrus Chestnut. I’ve had his music in my home for many years so I was delighted when Todd thought we could get Cyrus to come and play. The other gentlemen, Gerald Cannon (bass), Paul Bollenback (guitar), and Willie Davis III (drums), I hadn’t met before. I hadn’t met Cyrus, by the way, so we all met in the studio for the first time, and we were very respectful. I know it’s tough when, especially [for] a vocalist, you’re not sure how much they know and where they want to go with things. I think that they had a good time. I think that’s what happens anyway because as soon as you start playing, that’s when you discover each other. I get shy sometimes and don’t say a lot, but I think it was just a great moment. They have worked together on several projects so they knew each other really well. It was a great mix of people that Todd put together.

JazzReview: "Autumn in New York" hit home for me. The strings just bled the crisp walks that I took as a kid, and an adult, in the northern states. Your vocals with the string escort added a new dimension to the piece. The embracement of the soloing ivories was brilliant. Who arranged the cut and was it a difficult piece to put together?

Marilyn Scott: Mitch Forman put that together and no, it wasn’t difficult at all! I just went over to his house with some renditions that I really liked. One of the renditions of "Autumn in New York" was a wonderful live recording by Chadwick; he’s a piano player in New York. He’s incredible. And, of course, Frank Sinatra has done "Autumn in New York" in a way that I think is so beautiful! A long time ago, Sarah Vaughn and Ella did that tune, but it doesn’t seem like anybody was picking it up lately so it was a perfect addition for me.

It’s a hard song, I’ve got to say. Once again, it’s a kind of a sad approach to one story in the life of love. I think a lot of people can relate to it.

JazzReview: Oh absolutely, and that’s why I said this album had that theme to it. This album really came across very emotionally.

Marilyn Scott: I’m really glad that you got that because that’s what I was hoping for. We had such little time to make it work, but it’s huge, you know.

JazzReview: What will the jazz populace take out of this spin that is different from past recordings you have done? Also, what will you take out of this after it was all said and done?

Marilyn Scott: I’m a little perplexed about Nightcap because I thought Nightcap was a really, really great disc. George’s arrangements were so good and I loved each and every musician that played on it. It just didn’t get any attention. They (critics) said this CD (Every Time We Say Goodbye), was my first real approach, and I don’t understand that. I have several CDs out that I included standards on.

I am mentioning standards now, because jazz radio and traditionalists, that’s what they seem to kind of judge you on. I’m not asking to be judged on the things that I have written that’s up for grabs. But, on the more traditional tunes, especially on Nightcap, I think that was a real approach, and I didn’t get. They didn’t seem to know that it came out.

JazzReview: Do you think that maybe the marketing was the problem? It seems that the marketing for Nightcap wasn’t any different from this current disk.

Marilyn Scott: I wouldn’t really say it was the marketing because they (label) had a lot of people working on it, and I know the effort was there. They just didn’t pay attention to it. I don’t know what happened.

JazzReview: Let’s digress and talk about your new, non-musical project "Starting Green." Many artists feel it’s the "in" thing to do, talk "Green." Green, however, is not a buzz or fad label in your case; at least this is not what I got from the press releases. You had an epiphany at an event, which charted this course. Tell us about LOHAS and the idea that grew from that.

Marilyn Scott: I have always been really environmentally aware of what’s happening and what we can do to make it a better world, and that’s written about in songs such as "The Wilderness" and "Love Understands." We’ve written a lot of tunes like that musically, but I was looking to do more work in a creative way. I’ve gone to LOHAS (Lifestyles of Healthy and Sustainable Living) several times just because I was interested, and I had people that would help me get in.

There were people there at LOHAS that were from different forms of industry, the dairy industry and the like, people from DuPont, people who were doing solar, and people who were doing all kinds of environmental things. I got inspired about doing something.

I have a niece who has a couple of kids and she was always talking to me about the clothes that she buys for them. I started to do some research and decided to try to make a few items with organic cotton in a few styles, and see what that would be like.

I spent the first year doing some samples and getting the legal end together of starting a business. I’ve worked on it for three years now. The website is www.startinggreen.com. It’s for the baby’s first year. There are three sizes for the most important year of a baby’s life. That’s when their pores open and they are much more susceptible to getting chemical pesticides. You know, you put them on the carpet or put them on a blanket, and it gets right in their skin.

That’s what I ended up doing, concentrating on the baby’s first year, and making the essentials out of 100% organic cotton from Texas, New Mexico, and the mills in North Carolina. I’m using people who design the fabric who are here from Northern California. We have all the clothes made in Los Angeles. Everything we use is natural. I think it’s a good thing. We’re little and we don’t make a lot of clothes, but I think we’re doing pretty well at it right now.

JazzReview: How has the response been with the line of clothes so far?

Marilyn Scott: Well, we’re getting really great response. Everybody keeps saying, "I wish you were making toddler clothes," because they love the styles a lot, but we’ll see how things go. Then I can move up to toddler clothes, but I’m getting good response. A lot of mothers are really thankful to have more choices about what they can buy.

JazzReview: Let’s slide out of the serious and have some fun. If you’re familiar with my interviews, I also get a little offbeat sometimes and ask some personal questions. So, I want you to be blatantly honest and up-front

Q: What is your favorite stress release?

A: Gardening. I have four different types of areas growing right now. I’ve got tomatoes, Japanese eggplant, regular eggplant and arugula. I’ve got all the herbs-garlic, chives. I also have lettuce, lemon cucumbers coming, and I planted my fourth tomato today because you know, the season just keeps going and you just keep planting. And yeah, I think about a lot of things while I’m in the dirt.

Q: Your favorite composer to perform?

A: Wow, let’s just say Cole Porter. He’s got a lyric! He’s just unbelievable.

Q: The place you go just to be you?

A: The beach--the water, the sand and the smell, and the kids screaming you’re lying on the beach and you hear the kids screaming because they’re playing. I love it!

Q: When you are unwinding, what drink is sitting in front of you?

A: Let’s have a Knob Creek bourbon and ginger ale with lemon on the rocks.

Q: What’s on your iPod?

A: What isn’t? There are about 3,000 songs I’ve got on I-tunes. I don’t know, everything--kid’s songs, classical, country, jazz, live, I mean more jazz than you can imagine, everything that I can’t play on a turntable anymore things that I’ve researched, things that I can’t find anymore, things like Esther Phillips live at the Pied Piper, that’s in there finally, lots of Stevie Wonder. It’s probably everything that most people have, but it’s a lot. I like it so much, it’s crazy.

Q: Any last thoughts for our readers?

A: I’m sure that it’s going to be about music, because I want everybody to have the opportunity to hear jazz music. Right now, we only have the support of a handful of radio stations that are at the colleges and NPR-type stations that can get the music out there.

I think music heals people. It doesn’t really have to be jazz, but music in general heals people. Some messages are stronger than others, that influence kids and people, but overall, I think it’s so important that it’s a healer and it’s a friend.

Love of music is at its highest and it seems like lately, people have their I-pods, but it’s not like having your radio on when you have somebody backing out and telling you about what you just heard and educating you about the players--making you say, "Wow, I’ve gotta go get that," or "That’s the second time I heard that you know, I really like it, who is that again?"

That’s how I grew up, with radio stations that taught you about (the songs they played). Jazz radio does that and some other stations do that, which is a beautiful thing. Other genres (stations), they want to sell stuff so that they can stay alive on the radio, so you don’t get that as much. I just really think that music is incredible and if we can keep it going, keep it alive and keep the information flowing, it’s a wonderful thing. I know XM and Sirius, they’ve got some incredible shows, but not everybody has it.

JazzReview: From the "Smile" of Nightcap in 2004 to today’s luxury of adopting the standards, but standard only in lyrics of Every Time We Say Goodbye, the outcome is still the same. This lady is one of those significant few who with a plush vocal styling, is a multi-tone chameleon who keeps surprising and stimulating every portion of our jazz experience.

The one constant in jazz is the hunger for new talent, new styles and classic sounds. In the end, jazz is the one genre that embraces and holds onto its own national treasure. One such treasure is the heart and gift of Marilyn Scott, for no matter how she stocks her stage, she will perform with her signature emotions.

Karl Stober is a freelance critic and journalist internationally who is always in search for the meaning of life through music and emotions Peace!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Marilyn Scott
  • Interview Date: 9/1/2008
  • Subtitle: Between Sets with Marilyn Scott. - An Eloquent Art Form
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