Tammy Hall to Salute Jazz Organist Shirley Scott

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By Lee Hildebrand

 

Shirley Scott reigned as Queen of the Jazz Organ from the time she joined tenor saxophonist Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis’s combo in 1956 until her retirement in 1995.

 

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Although inspired in part by fellow Philadelphian Jimmy Smith, her style was mellower, though no less swinging, then his take-no-prisoners approach to the Hammond B-3 organ.

 

She died of heart failure in 2002 at age 67.

 

She recorded dozens of albums during her career, including some during the 1960s with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, her husband at the time. The first album to appear under her own name, in 1958 on the Prestige label, was titled “Great Scott!”

 

San Francisco keyboardist Tammy Hall will play two concerts comprising all eight selections form that classic disc at 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 17, in the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab, located at 201 Franklin St. in San Francisco.

 

She will be joined by bassist Ollen Erich Hunt, drummer Kent Byron and saxophonist Kristen Strom. Tickets for each show are $20.

 

“There’s a sparsity in her playing, and that’s what I appreciate so much about it,” Hall says of Scott. “The standard is that you go wild with the right hand. Even though she did that from time to time, that was not her signature playing. She was more chordal and percussively oriented, just like Trudy Pitts. They were more about the texture and chord construction and how that moved in a song. It wasn’t just about, ‘Look what I can do.’”

 

Born and raised in Dallas, Hall taught herself piano at age 4 and began talking classical lessons at 8. A year later, she learned to play organ by watching the two keyboardists at the Baptist church she attended.

 

“It was more sedate than what people think of as a typical Black Protestant church,” she recalls. “It was not a rock ‘n’ roll church. They played gospel, but we were not allowed to clap hands.”

 

Hall first came to the Bay Area in 1979 to attend Mills College on a scholarship. In recent years she has become the piano accompanist of choice by many of the area’s vocalists and has recorded with Rhonda Benin, Barbara Dane, Frankye Kelly, Veronica Klaus, Lady Mem’fis, Kim Nalley, Denise Perrier and Pamela Rose.

 

During the last week of February, Hall and Oakland vocalist Amikaela Gsaston took part in a State Department-sponsored cultural-exchange program in Turkminestan that included a revue of American musical theater songs titled “Broadway Abroad.” While in Ashgabat, the capital city of the former Soviet Republic, Hall conducted the Turkminestan Symphony Orchestra.

 

Unlike Scott, who played piano before focusing on organ, Hall has remained primarily a pianist. She does, however, play organ whenever the occasion calls for it.

 

“I don’t spend that much time at the organ,” she admits. “It takes me out of my comfort zone, but I’m going to do my best and pay a good tribute to her.”

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