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Studio Star Print-ready version

Newsweek
January 13, 1975

"Make it nice, play it clean, Jazzman," sings Carole King on her hit single, "Jazzman." She is answered by some nice and clean but also wild and woolly obbligatos played by Tom Scott on the tenor saxophone. The song could have been written for him.

Scott belongs to new musical breed. He's a "sessions" musician, one of the largely anonymous but superbly talented people who supply the guts for most popular music on recordings, live concerts and television. Scott is an electronic baby (his father, Nathan, is also a famous studio musician) born with headphones in place and incubated among the gadgetry of the modern sound studio. He has his own jaxz group, the L.A. Express, and supports superstars like Jone Mitchell and George Harrison on nationwide tours. BUt his real life is inside the studio.

There, to artists all the way from Barbra Streisand to Sergio Mendes, the 26-year-old Scott is almost a one-man cult. Scott can make his saxophone, or his flute, or any of six other instruments, behave with smooth prescision when he's backing up the Fifth Dimension, or rasp and growl when he's working behind Ray Charles. Early in his career, backing up Fats Domino, he was asked to produce a "KIng Curtis sound." "Hell, I didn't even know who he was," Scott told NEWSWEEK'S Peter S. Greenberg last week. "After I finally came up with what the producer wanter, I ran out to listen to King Curtis albums and find out what I had been playing."

'Special': Nowadays Scott can manufacture anyone's sound. He's played on well over 150 albums, concealing himself like a chameleon in the musical landscapes. "I learned to let the sond dictate rather than force my own style on the music," he says. One of Scott's favorite singers in Joni Mitchell: "She 's special. She writes from the inside - from her own personal experience. Jonie has an engelic voice and I like to complement it with flutes and soprano sax. Carole King comes from the school where you write about an experience whether or not you have live it. She does more funky stuff, so for her I use a tenor or baritone sax.Harrison sounds best with a tenor sax. Both Joni and Carole like to start work late in the afternoon and work on into the night. Harrison's outrageous - he likes to start recording at midnight and just keep going."

Joni Mitchell leads the parade of tributes to Scott. "He's unique as a horn player," she says, "sensitive to different types of music. So many sessions people get locked into their own style, but Tom and I have a beautiful symbiotic working relationship. When we're in the studio it's like musical Ping Pong - a good rally of ideas, a very high-energy rap."

Scott is also in great demand as an arranger. He was called in at the last minute to work his miracles on Babra Streisand's latest album, "Butter Fly." Scott wrote arragements for seven songs in four days. "She did more songs in less time she's ever done," he says. Streisand wanted more of a rythmic feel to his album than her usual smooth strings approach. "He's terrific to work with," she marvels. "Rhythm is normally very difficult to lay down, but with Tom it was definite, clear and unified."

By the time Scott was 18, he had a rich jazz background and had cut his first album, "Honeysuckle Breeze." It sank without a trace, even with Glen Campbell as his backup man. Since then he's made six more albums on his own, getting a Grammy nomination for his performance on his 1971 LP, "Great Scott." By age 20 he was making $35,000 a year just from studio work. today he gets double union scale for his work, equal to a minimum of $200 for every three hours he spends in the studio. He's there a lot, enough to buy a ranch in Sunland, Calif., where he and his wife live, along with seven Arabian horses.

"I'm sucessful because of the attitude I take with me into the studio," says Scott. "I sublimate my own desires, my own taste and my own feelings." He admits that leaves him frustrated. "I need time to think about what's going on inside my head. I want to spend time composing. For once I wnat the stimulation to come from within, not without." Nevertheless, Scott, who was voted "Most Valuable Player" last November by the Los Angeles of Recording Arts and Sciences, will probably never be too far away from the headphones.

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Added to Library on October 5, 2003. ( 2,026)

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