"I don’t write songs for a living,” Monterey jazz singer Scotty Wright says. “I sing songs for a living. That gives me a lot more freedom as a songwriter.”
While he has been actively writing songs since the very beginning of his career in the 1970s, Wright defines the process rather loosely.
“Whatever comes to mind is what I write,” he explains. “There’s no rhyme or reason to the process. Sometimes it happens at the piano, sometimes out in the world.”
He approaches writing in the same way he plays jazz. Even when on paper, the finished songs do not bind performers. And there are a great number of existing pieces to draw from, so there’s no real pressure to sing something new.
“Jazz is the most democratic of all music,” Wright says. “There’s no conductor, no leader, no written music. There’s just the spontaneous, live conversations between instruments and players. I love the sonic freedom of jazz. It’s an opportunity to take any song any direction at any time.”
Be that as it may, Wright penned five originals for his 1988 debut record Too Much Fun, and he’s written originals for every one of the eight records that followed.
Wright began as a drummer, but became a pianist and singer very early on, and he signed on with the globetrotting Up With People musical troupe – famed for their Super Bowl appearances – in 1970 when he was just 15, touring internationally for two and a half years. He played his first-ever gig in 1973 as a professional solo jazz pianist and singer at the old Capone’s Warehouse on Cannery Row, while he was a student at Monterey Peninsula College.
His throaty, lush baritone and winning personality does the trick, then as well as now. He’s fond of the Miles Davis quotation, “You have to play for a lot of years before you actually sound like you.”
“We all have a voice,” Wright says, “and as a musician you have to find your own voice. Our father Louis Armstrong taught us how to swing, but he also taught us how to inject our own personalities, our own voice, into our songs.”
Though he dabbled in other genres playing requests when first starting out, Wright is firmly established as a jazz musician now.
SCOTTY WRIGHT AND FRIENDS 5:30-8:30 pm Saturday, Aug. 10. Cibo Ristorante Italiano, 301 Alvarado St., Monterey. No cover. 649-8151, cibo.com