Hazel Scott

The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC
Karen Chilton
The first biography of an important but overlooked African American pianist, singer, actor, and civil-rights advocate

Description

In this fascinating biography, Karen Chilton traces the brilliant arc of the gifted and audacious pianist Hazel Scott, from international stardom to ultimate obscurity.

A child prodigy, born in Trinidad and raised in Harlem in the 1920s, Scott's musical talent was cultivated by her musician mother, Alma Long Scott as well as several great jazz luminaries of the period, namely, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday and Lester Young. Career success was swift for the young pianist—she auditioned at the prestigious Juilliard School when she was only eight years old, hosted her own radio show, and shared the bill at Roseland Ballroom with the Count Basie Orchestra at fifteen. After several stand-out performances on Broadway, it was the opening of New York's first integrated nightclub, Café Society, that made Hazel Scott a star. Still a teenager, the "Darling of Café Society" wowed audiences with her swing renditions of classical masterpieces by Chopin, Bach, and Rachmaninoff. By the time Hollywood came calling, Scott had achieved such stature that she could successfully challenge the studios' deplorable treatment of black actors. She would later become one of the first black women to host her own television show. During the 1940s and 50s, her sexy and vivacious presence captivated fans worldwide, while her marriage to the controversial black Congressman from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., kept her constantly in the headlines.

In a career spanning over four decades, Hazel Scott became known not only for her accomplishments on stage and screen, but for her outspoken advocacy of civil rights and her refusal to play before segregated audiences. Her relentless crusade on behalf of African Americans, women, and artists made her the target of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the McCarthy Era, eventually forcing her to join the black expatriate community in Paris. By age twenty-five, Hazel Scott was an international star. Before reaching thirty-five, however, she considered herself a failure. Plagued by insecurity and depression, she twice tried to take her own life. Though she was once one of the most sought-after talents in show business, Scott would return to America, after years of living abroad, to a music world that no longer valued what she had to offer. In this first biography of an important but overlooked African American pianist, singer, actor and activist, Hazel Scott's contributions are finally recognized.

"Karen Chilton's highly-anticipated Hazel Scott is both elegant and eloquent."
—Wil Haygood, Author, King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

"Hazel Scott was an important figure in the later part of the Black renaissance onward. Even in an era where there was limited mainstream recognition of Black Stars, Hazel Scott's talent stood out and she is still fondly remembered by a large segment of the community. I am pleased to see her legend honored."
—Melvin Van Peebles, filmmaker and director

"This book is really, really important. It comprises a lot of history—of culture, race, gender, and America. In many ways, Hazel's story is the story of the twentieth century."
—Murray Horwitz, NPR commentator and coauthor of Ain't Misbehavin'

"Karen Chilton has deftly woven three narrative threads—Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Harlem, and Hazel Scott—into a marvelous tapestry of black life, particularly from the Depression to the Civil Rights era. Of course, Hazel Scott's magnificent career is the brightest thread, and Chilton handles it with the same finesse and brilliance as her subject brought to the piano."
—Herb Boyd, author of Baldwin's Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin

"A wonderful book about an extraordinary woman: Hazel Scott was a glamorous, gifted musician and fierce freedom fighter. Thank you Karen Chilton for reintroducing her. May she never be forgotten."
—Farah Griffin, Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University

Karen Chilton is a New York-based writer and actor, and the coauthor of I Wish You Love, the memoir of legendary jazz vocalist Gloria Lynne.

Praise / Awards

  • "Karen Chilton's highly-anticipated Hazel Scott is both elegant and eloquent."
    —Wil Haygood, Author, King of the Cats: The Life and Times of Adam Clayton Powell Jr.

  • "[A] compact and engaging book . . . succinct and lucid. . . . Perhaps the highest compliment one can pay to this fine biography is that during the first 150 pages the reader is wondering why Scott isn’t better known, at least in the jazz world. But by the story's end . . . the same reader knows exactly why, but is still likely to be singing her praises as a true trailblazer in African-American culture."
    JazzTimes

  • "Hazel Scott's life becomes an emotional roller coaster, still performing but largely out of the limelight. The author, while sympathetic to her subject, wisely tries to keep balance and avoid simplistic conclusions to describe an obviously complex and talented person."
    VJM's Jazz, www.VJM.BIZ

  • "A well-researched biography on an unnecessarily forgotten star."
    New York City Jazz Record

  • "This is an authorized and uncritical biography, but a major contribution to African American and gender studies in music..."
    ARSC Journal, Jeannie Pool

Look Inside

Copyright © 2008, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Supplemental Materials

Music Samples


Album Title: The Chronological Classics: Hazel Scott 1939-1945 (Melodie Jazz Classics)
Song Title: Prelude in C Sharp Minor - Rachmaninoff

Description: Known for her swing renditions of classical masterpieces, here, Hazel Scott applies her own unique treatment to the popular Rachmaninoff composition that was once her Juilliard audition piece. She begins by playing it straight; then, in mid-measure, adds bass notes while steadily increasing the tempo, until the piece is transformed into something highly syncopated and swinging.

Personnel: Hazel Scott, Pete Brown, J.C. Heard, Ellis Larkins, Sid Catlett, Yank Lawson, Pee Wee Erwin, Johnny Blowers

Released by Melodie Jazz Classics on August 26, 2003



Album Title: 'Round Midnight (Decca)
Song Title: 'Round Midnight - Monk/Williams/Hanighen

Description: As her style mellowed over the years, Hazel Scott relinquished her use of fast tempos, the percussive left hand and whimsical right. She demonstrates her ability to convey tremendous emotion and beauty through her use of space and lush chordal voicings on this Thelonius Monk classic.

Personnel: Hazel Scott, piano; Jimmy Crawford, drums Recorded in New York, 1956

Digitally remastered and re-released by Universal International in Audio compact disc format. (Import) November 2, 2003



Album Title: Relaxed Piano Moods (Debut)
Song Title: Git Up From There - Scott

Description: Recorded in 1956 on the Debut label, Hazel Scott is joined by its founders—bassist, Charles Mingus and drummer, Max Roach. While Mingus and Roach were on their way to becoming jazz icons, Hazel Scott is the veteran here. Her seasoned skills and confident stride enhance this extraordinary collaborative effort. They cut loose on this original composition where each is able to demonstrate their own particular genius. Relaxed Piano Moods would achieve critical acclaim, marking a definite shift in Hazel Scott's career. The recording is now part of National Public Radio's Basic Jazz Library.

Personnel: Hazel Scott (piano), Charles Mingus (bass); Max Roach (drums)

Recorded in Hackensack, New Jersey, January 21, 1955

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Feature on WQXR 2/26/2011

Listen: Feature on WNYC 2/14/2011 and 2/20/2011

Listen: Interview on NPR | 1/27/2009

Listen: UMP Author Podcast Series: Karen Chilton | MP3 | November 2008

Read: Review Chicago Tribune 3/19/2011

Read:  Interview on NPR | 2/1/2011

Read: Review of Audiobook on AudioFile | 12/01/2009

Read: Smithsonian Magazine | 10/16/2009

Read: Review JazzTimes | 10/11/2009

Read: Review The Kalamazoo News | 2/24/2009

Read: Q&A with Karen Chilton | PDF | 11/13/2008
 
 

Media Kit

  • Author Photo .jpg. Photo by Hoebermann Studio.
  • Photo 1 .jpg. "Little Miss Hazel Scott" at the age of three or four. Courtesy of Adam C. Powell III.
  • Photo 2 .jpg. At the age of nineteen, the “Darling of Café Society." Photo in the author's collection, Bruno of Hollywood.
  • Photo 3 .jpg. Great pianists gathered around the piano at Café Society-Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Hazel Scott, Duke Ellington, and Mel Powell. Courtesy of Adam C. Powell III.
  • Photo 4 .jpg. Promotional ad for the Hazel Scott Show, circa 1950. Photo in the author's collection.
  • Photo 5 .jpg. Congressman Powell and wife pose for a White House Christmas greeting, circa 1946. Courtesy of Adam C. Powell III.
  • Photo 6 .jpg. In Paris, Hazel on the arm of her second husband, Ezio Bedin, with Dizzy Gillespie. Courtesy of Adam C. Powell III.
  • Photo 7 .jpg. At a Paris boutique, with young "Skipper" looking on, Hazel decides on a gown to wear for her performance at Le Drap D'Or. Courtesy of Photofest.
  • Photo 8 .jpg. Appearing less glamorous and quite serious, Hazel defends herself before the House Un-American Activities Committee, September 1950. Courtesy of Photofest. 
  • Author Biography .doc
  • Hi-Res Cover .jpg
  • Press Release .doc

Product Details

  • 312 pages.
  • 18 page photo section.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2017
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12283-7


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