Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Hazel Scott - NYC Jazz Record

Karen Chilton
Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC

In 1968 Ebony magazine succinctly stated, “Hazel
Dorothy Scott Powell Bedin has, in the span of what
might be considered a short lifetime, been many
things: child prodigy, darling of café society, concert
artist, civil rights pioneer, the wife of a famous and
powerful man, mother, divorcee, expatriate.” Karen
Chilton’s biography is a straightforward account of
an extraordinary life that never wavered in the face
of racism, political witch-hunts or financial
hardships, providing ample reason for resurrecting
her as both a social and musical pioneer.

Born in Trinidad in 1920, Scott emerged as a
piano prodigy, guided by her musically-inclined
mother towards classical repertoire. While still in
her teens she became the toast of New York, putting
a boogie-woogie spin on the ten-fingered puzzles of
Liszt and Chopin. This success led to a handful of
film appearances that ended when she chose her
integrity over employment, displaying a stoicism
that would lead to financial hardships as she
outgrew her captivating looks. In her mid 20s she
married political trailblazer Adam Clayton Powell
Jr., forming one of the most powerful couples in
New York and they lived accordingly, supplying
plenty of ammunition for those looking to take them
down. By the mid ‘50s her marriage had dissolved
and she was facing charges from the House
Un-American Activities Committee. She escaped the
scrutiny by moving to France but eventually
returned to New York to focus on her family before
succumbing to pancreatic cancer in 1981.

Through Scott’s unpublished memoirs and
interviews with her son Adam Clayton Powell III,
Chilton weaves the story of a woman who, due to
her strong beliefs, often found herself with her
artistic pride intact but her career in shambles. Scott
was a complex and stubborn woman whose musical
prowess was shaped equally by the classics and
family friends like Billie Holiday, Lester Young and
Art Tatum. Her glamorous lifestyle and unmatched
musicality make for a moving story that Chilton has
eloquently brought to light. A well-researched
biography on an unnecessarily forgotten star.

Hazel Scott @ New York City Jazz Record

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