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Shirley Scott

Known as the "Queen of the Organ," pianist and Hammond B-3 master Shirley Scott helped define the sound of small-group soul-jazz. Mixing swinging bebop with gospel and blues traditions, Scott initially came to prominence in the '50s alongside saxophonist Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, with whom she recorded a string of seminal albums for Prestige, spawning the 1958 hit "In the Kitchen" and proved a lasting template for the organ trio and sax sound. She released a bevy of her own albums, including 1958's Shirley's Sounds, 1964's Soul Shoutin', and 1967's Girl Talk, several of which featured her then-husband tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. Also with Turrentine, she collaborated on a string of Blue Note albums like 1963's Never Let Me Go and 1968's Common Touch that again proved highly influential in the development of the soul-jazz sound. She also recorded for Atlantic, joining forces with King Curtis, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman for 1969's Shirley Scott & the Soul Saxes. Following her split from Turrentine, Scott recorded a handful of her own albums for Cadet and Strata East that paired her with other jazz stars such as Harold Vick, George Coleman, and Ron Carter, and found her putting her organically funky spin on pop and R&B hits. Despite health issues slowing her down, she rode a wave of resurgent interest in organ jazz into the '90s, and even revisited the acoustic piano on record, producing a pair of fine trio albums including 1991's Blues Everywhere before her death in 2002. Born in 1934, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Scott grew up surrounded by music as her father ran a local jazz club. She started on piano at age eight and switched to trumpet while a teenager, playing in the all-city school band. After high school, she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees in music at Pennsylvania's Cheyney University. An admirer of seminal Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy Smith, she took up the instrument, developing her own melodic, yet deeply bluesy, gospel-influenced style. It was after joining tenor sax great Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis' group that she gained wider attention, playing on a series of breakthrough albums for the Prestige label, including 1958's The Cookbook, Vol. 1, which spawned the hit "In the Kitchen." It was also in 1958 that Scott made her leader debut for Prestige, releasing Great Scott!, which featured her Davis bandmates bassist George Duvivier and drummer Arthur Edgehill. A second album, Shirley's Sounds, cut at that same session, arrived soon after. Along with her continued work with Davis, Scott released more of her own small group albums, including 1959's Soul Searching, 1960's Soul Sister, and 1960's Like Cozy. Interestingly, most of these early recordings found Scott working with a bassist; a choice largely instigated by her label as an attempt at setting her apart from other organists. Several of her own albums featured tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, whom she married in 1960. Together, the pair embarked on fruitful creative partnership, releasing a string of albums on Blue Note, including 1961's Hip Soul, 1963's The Soul Is Willing, and 1968's Soul Song. The Scott/Turrentine union lasted until the early '70s, and their musical collaborations had a lasting influence on the sound of soul-jazz. She also recorded albums with Joe Newman, Kenny Burrell, Clark Terry, Oliver Nelson, and others. She rounded out the decade with a series of albums on Atlantic, including 1969's Shirley Scott & the Soul Saxes with King Curtis, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman, and 1970's Something, which found her putting her organ spin on songs by the Beatles and the Jackson 5. Following her divorce from Turrentine, Scott again struck out on her own, leading various small group line-ups. She signed a deal with the Cadet label and released three albums, 1971's Mystical Lady, 1972's Lean on Me, and 1973's Superstition, which again found her applying her funky jazz sound to pop and R&B hits. The albums featured a cadre of jazz stars including saxophonists George Patterson, Pee Wee Ellis, and George Coleman, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Bobby Durham, among others. For 1974's One for Me, she moved to Strata East, joining forces with saxophonist Harold Vick and drummer Billy Higgins. While Scott's recording slowed in the '80s, a resurgence in interest in organ-based soul jazz found her again entering the spotlight. In 1989, she released Oasis for the Muse label, which found her leading a group with saxophonist Charles Davis and Houston Person, trumpeter Virgil Jones, bassist Harper Jones, and drummer Mickey Roker. The same rhythm section joined her for 1991's Great Scott! with saxophonist Buck Hill. She returned to her alma mater, Cheyney University, in the '90s, where she taught piano and jazz history. She even embraced her love of the acoustic piano, playing the instrument on the 1991 trio album Blues Everywhere and the 1991 live album Skylark. Her final album, 1996's A Walkin' Thing, featured a quartet with trumpeter Terrell Stafford, saxophonist Timothy Warfield, bassist Arthur Harper, and drummer Aaron Walker. At the end of the '90s, Scott's heart was damaged by the diet drug fen-phen, leading to her declining health. In 2000 she was awarded eight-million dollars in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the drug. She was just 67 when she died on March 10, 2002, of heart failure at Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia.
© Matt Collar /TiVo


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