New York Jazz From Carmel
Favorite son Ryan Scott returns from the big city with sharpened chops and a bunch of his own songs.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
When Ryan Scott left Carmel to take on New York City in 2001, he was a bebop-loving guitarist looking to break into the competitive Gotham jazz scene.
He returns to town this week for the Thanksgiving holiday and performs at the Jazz and Blues Company on Friday with a whole new bag of tricks that he’s picked up in the Big Apple. Scott is still playing jazz, but in the past few years, he’s devoted a good deal of his creative energy to songwriting, honing a keen melodic sensibility. On Friday, he’ll be performing in a duo with Christina Courtin, a Juilliard-trained violinist who’s also establishing herself in New York as a promising singer/songwriter.
They’ll both be singing original material, backed by Scott’s deft fret work and Courtin’s violin. “We both have our own bands in New York, so it’s not like we work together all the time,” Scott says from his New York apartment. “I’ll be playing acoustic guitar for this gig, so it’s stripped down, really intimate, and I’ll probably play a little jazz.”
Scott first caught the jazz bug in the seventh grade when he met ace local guitarist Bruce Forman, a longtime luminary on the Northern California jazz scene. Forman encouraged the teenager to attend his JazzMasters Workshop, and before long Scott was immersing himself in the jazz tradition. He started his own band Blue Nova, performed around the region, and was chosen as a member of the Monterey Jazz Festival’s High School All-Star Band.
“Bruce taught me everything I know,” Scott says. “It was funny, the first six months in New York, everything he ever said about playing was totally true.”
In many ways, the connections he made with fellow aspiring musicians in Jazz Festival programs, such as cellist Rushad Eggleston and trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson, have followed him to New York, as have the lessons he learned in Forman’s clinics.
“The first time I met him he was in middle school, and he was a killer blues guitar player, a sixth-grade burner,” Forman recalls. “He was in the jazz band, and all he was interested in was blues. The next time I ran into him it was a year later, and he was into jazz. He’s very talented, and he has a great work ethic. He learned all the styles. With a student like that it’s just a joy. I was there to constantly challenge him to look at things in different ways. We jammed last Christmas when he was back visiting, and it’s great to see how he’s developed. Ryan is incredibly versatile and into lots of different stuff. He’s his own man, and he knows what he wants. He was always directed, so I could unload any information on him and he would take it and turn it into something better.”
Scott had originally intended to study music in college when he moved to New York in the fall of 2001, but a lack of funds scuttled the plan. Instead, Scott decided to hang out and soak up as much experience playing as he could. By attending jam sessions he began to make connections and started landing work. He played with leading young New York improvisers such as tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Joel Frahm, and recently has been accompanying Sonya Kitchell, the preternaturally mature-sounding 17-year-old singer/songwriter whose debut album Words Come Back to Me (Hear Music) has attracted a good deal of attention.
But Scott’s most important connection has been with jazzy blues singer Pyeng Threadgill (daughter of the great saxophonist/composer Henry Theadgill), with whom he has performed widely. It was at a gig with her at Manhattan’s Anyway Café that Scott attracted the attention of Crystal Top Music. The ambitious new label encouraged him to continue developing his songwriting ideas, which led to his album Five O’Clock News.
“I was playing jazz, playing with all these guys I idolized, which was cool, but I still was not making any money,” Scott says. “In the back of my mind I thought it would be cool to write music that wasn’t jazz and combine everything that I’m into.”
Like any New York musician, Scott juggles a plethora of assignments, from writing and playing on commercial jingles (Dixiecup was a recent client) to accompanying other singers. He continues to work on his guitar craft (“Bill Frisell, John Scofield and Jimi Hendrix still play a big part in my musical life,” Scott says), but for now Stevie Wonder and Elliott Smith are serving as the touchstone for his muse.