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Scott LaFaro Remembered


The Victor Feldman Trio perform "Serpent's Tooth" from the 1958 album "The Arrival of Victor Feldman" featuring Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Scott LaFaro (sring bass), and Stan Levey (drums).


Rocco Scott LaFaro was born April 3, 1936 in Irvington, New Jersey, LaFaro grew up in a musical family (his father played in many big bands). His family moved to parent's hometown of Geneva, New York when Scott was five years old. He started on piano while in elementary school, began on the bass clarinet in junior high school, changing to tenor saxophone when he entered high school. He only took up the double bass at 18, in the summer before he entered college, when he learned a string instrument was required for music education majors. About three months into his studies at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, LaFaro decided to concentrate on bass. He often played in groups at the College Spa and Joe's Restaurant on State Street in downtown Ithaca.

He entered college to study music but left during the early weeks of his sophomore year, when he joined Buddy Morrow and his big band. He left that organization in Los Angeles after a cross country tour and decided to try his luck in the Los Angeles music scene. There, he quickly found work and became known as one of the best of the young bassists. In 1959, after many gigs with such luminaries as Chet Baker, Victor Feldman, Stan Kenton, Cal Tjader, and Benny Goodman, LaFaro joined Bill Evans, who had recently left the Miles Davis Sextet. It was with Evans and drummer Paul Motian that LaFaro developed and expanded the counter-melodic style that would come to characterize his playing. He would also replace Charlie Haden as Ornette Coleman's bassist in January, 1961.

LaFaro died in an automobile accident in the summer of 1961 in Flint, New York on U.S. 20 between Geneva and Canandaigua, two days after accompanying Stan Getz at the Newport Jazz Festival. His death came just ten days after recording two live albums with the Bill Evans Trio, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, albums considered among the finest live jazz recordings.

The death of Scott LaFaro took an enormous emotional toll on Bill Evans, who was, according to drummer Paul Motian, "numb with grief," "in a state of shock," and "like a ghost" after LaFaro's death. Evans, according to Motian, would play "I Loves You Porgy," a song with which he and LaFaro became synonymous, almost obsessively, but always as a solo piece. Evans also went on hiatus after LaFaro's death for a period of several months. Many believe that Evans never fully recovered from the loss, as well as that it contributed to his pattern of heroin usage, an addiction that would later kill him.

Although his performing career lasted only six years, LaFaro's innovative approach to the bass redefined jazz playing bringing an "emancipation" introducing "so many diverse possibilities as would have been thought impossible for the bass only a short time before", and inspired a generation of bassists who followed him.



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