Marilyn Scott’s newest album is called Standard Blue, (Release Date: March 10th, 2017) but there’s nothing standard about the way this extraordinarily original, cross-genre vocalist reshapes a song in her own image. JazzReview.com has said of Scott, “Her voice has the smoothness of the highest grade velvet with just enough corduroy in the weave to turn a phrase with the deepest emotion.” And they praised her “magical genre-defying transcendence.”
On Standard Blue, her 14th release in all, Scott—accompanied by Gary Novak on drums, Michael Landau on guitar, Russell Ferrante on keyboards, Jimmy Haslip on bass, Bob Mintzer on bass clarinet and Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet—takes on a collection of under-appreciated, off-the-beaten-path compositions by the diverse likes of Duke Ellington (“I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good”), Kurt Weill (“Speak Low”), Fats Waller (“The Joint Is Jumpin’”) and Billy Strayhorn (“Day Dream”) and reinvents them from the bottom up. One Scott original, “I Wouldn’t Change it,” rounds out the set, a reminder that, throughout her career Scott has penned original material that is the equal of the tunes she interprets so elegantly. Longtime collaborator and album co-producer Haslip adds “The new album is a collection of soulful, soothing and passionate performances and working with Marilyn on her new release was an incredibly joyful experience. It was thrilling to work with all the wonderful musicians on this recording.”
“As musicians we need avenues to create and play our compositions.” Scott says. But whether performing her own music or reimagining songs composed by others, “The best part of being an artist is having relationships with other writers and musicians,” Scott says. “Your style and personality come forward and you formulate an approach to music that tells someone, ‘They’re playing and singing my feelings, my life.’ That is the reward, touching a soul.”
About Marilyn Scott:
Why do some artists thrive for decades in the ever-changing music world and others fade away so quickly? The reasons are myriad but there’s one factor shared by all of the true survivors: originality. The key to longevity is having something to say, and being able to say it in a manner unlike any other performer.
Marilyn Scott is such an artist. The veteran vocalist has been releasing critically acclaimed, cross-genre recordings for more than four decades, both as a leader and collaborator, and has dazzled audiences all over the world with her powerful live performances. She’s worked with some of the most gifted musicians in the world, including such highly regarded jazz ensembles as Spyro Gyra and the Yellowjackets, and some of the hottest names in the blues and R&B world, from Bobby Womack to Tower of Power to Etta James to Al Jarreau.
Throughout all of her work, there’s been one constant. “Never sound like anyone else,” she says. “You have influences but really, it’s your job to be who you are.”
For Scott, there was never any question about who she was and how she was going to express her individuality. Her interest in music began at age 11, listening to her mother’s Nat King Cole records, followed by the classic albums of Ella Fitzgerald. Coming up in the San Francisco Bay Area at the height of the rock and R&B explosion she had access to some of the most game-changing artists of all time.
“We all went to the Fillmore and Winterland as much as possible and the surrounding club scene was full of life with music from all genres,” she says. “Local radio blended artists and styles so we all listened and that became our influence. Herbie Hancock and many jazz artists were experimenting with all forms of music so the freedom of spirit in song was the new road. We fused styles and pushed to see what we could create. When I saw [blues singer] Big Mama Thornton, I knew I would never feel the same,” Scott says. “Something real sat inside me, something called the blues.”
She began singing with local bands, and writing her own songs, while still quite young, supporting such giants as Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown, Big Joe Turner, Etta James and Betty Carter, and singing background vocals for the likes of Tower of Power, John Mayall and many others. “Working as a backup singer was a way I made money to support myself,” she says. “It did that and put me in front of many artists I never would have known or heard. I learned so much about techniques in recording and worked with so many producers and engineers that helped outline who I was and where I might be headed. I am humbled by those experiences,” she adds. “I feel so blessed in musical relationships that take shape on stage and in recording. I appreciate those roots and spread them out to connect the pieces to what will be new.”
Scott began releasing albums as a leader in the 1970s and in 1977 a single, her interpretation of Brian Wilson’s timeless “God Only Knows,” found its way onto the Billboard Hot 100 chart. She has since amassed a sizable discography, most recently 2017’s Standard Blue, her fourteenth release under her own name and the first since 2008’s Every Time We Say Goodbye. The album, featuring nine interpretations and one original composition, was co-produced by Scott, working with musician Jimmy Haslip and sound master Eric Zobler, with arrangements by Russell Ferrante.
Of the approach she took to the cover material on the album, Scott says, “These songs needed a distant, sad, open feel. All I had to do was talk about it a little and everybody got it. We’ve all seen life—the happiest and the saddest of times—so it all made sense. The lyrics reached everybody and they each brought their own history to it. We cut four songs the first day and another six on the second. I choose material by what the song is saying and the way the song moves me,” she adds, “how it lives next to my music and does it say something that fits into that message?”
Songwriting has also been vital to Scott, an essential component of her artistry. “I’ve been a songwriter since the beginning,” she says, adding that collaboration is important to her. “I realize new ideas every day. I invite inspiration every day. Some ideas never see the pen and most arrive in some form. But the best part of being an artist is having relationships with other writers and musicians. Your style and personality come forward and you formulate an approach to music that tells someone, ‘They’re playing and singing my feelings, my life.” That is the reward, touching a soul.”
About Standard Blue, Scott adds, “The selection of the musicians and a direction of mood made me take a very progressive approach on this recording. It’s simple, with blues overtones and open jazz arrangements. I love these songs and I found a way to put them comfortably together. How to grow and embrace all these styles I love and present them in jazz music is the future,” she says. “As musicians we need avenues to create and play our compositions, new avenues to explore old and new music alike.”