Scott Hamilton Quartet at the Pizza Express Jazz Club, London

In the modernist late 70s Hamilton the swing revivalist was an outlier but his masterly classicism has prevailed even now to inspire another young generation

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At long last, after a small break, seasoned Dean Street visitor Scott Hamilton finally came back to Pizza Express on the club’s return from lockdown. Joining him was his longstanding UK rhythm section of John Pearce (p), Dave Green (b) and Steve Brown (d). As one can expect, the evening involved well-loved standards, some more familiar than others. 

The night began with Hamilton casually welcoming his audience whilst he comically adjusted his microphone. After some technical issues, the music began with him saying “we’ll try this reed first”.

Once Hamilton got going, he turned to one of his favourites, I’ll Close my Eyes, where he gave the sheet music to Green on the spot. This showed the bassist’s excellent sight-reading skills. During Pearce’s tantalising solo, Hamilton casually looked through his sheet music ready for his next set, a frequent event throughout his performance. Hamilton decided to abandon his rhythm section halfway through Just In Time, saying “I’ll be right back”. It turned out he was finding some more sheet music in the green room.

Most fans would agree that Hamilton is a peerless ballad player. His rendition of Pure Imagination, originally performed by Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka, surely captured the entire audience’s attention.

As the second set began, all ballads were brushed aside for a brisk-tempo treatment of Just Friends before Victor Young’s Love Letters received a merry bossa-nova treatment, instantly unforgettable. The leader’s saxophone playing was fluid and matched with a relaxed sense of direction, making the repertoire sound deceptively artless.

Let’s hope the saxophonist, long based in Italy, continues to make frequent trips back to London in the future. He seems to have a strong relationship with Pizza Express.

His mastery in revitalising popular old classics is a joy, not only to his beloved fans but also to the many young saxophonists for whom he is an inspiration.

Scott Hamilton Quartet, Pizza Express Jazz Club, Soho, 27 August 2021

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