The swing-era tenor saxophone holds a special place in jazz. Commentators have long linked the tenor’s popularity to its mimicry of the male human voice–in terms of its range, its ability to croon as well as scream–and no brand of tenor sings better than swing. Of course, a number of techniques and idioms have supplanted this smooth, even lugubrious saxophone format over the years; for those still seduced by its charms, the challenge remains to find something new, or at the very least relevant. Enter Scott Hamilton. He has developed into an individualistic and at times genuinely exciting saxophonist–an outcome by no means assured when he first came on the scene. That was 1976; Hamilton, then in his early 20s, earned both praise and derision for his slavish adherence to the tenor tradition of an earlier era. He had bypassed such modern influences as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane to re-create the era of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, right down to his hairstyle. But in the last five years or so, Hamilton has found his own voice within that tradition: he now creates rather than copies, and his latest recording–an Ellington medley played with organ trio, titled Organic Duke (Concord)–displays a fair amount of imaginative thinking. Hamilton will hook horns with a saxophonist whose connections to the swing era run a bit closer to the bone. After playing professionally in the early 50s, Henry “Spike” Robinson–much like Chicago’s swing-tenor great Eddie Johnson–disappeared into the business world for about 30 years before reemerging with an unreconstructed style and no little talent. Born the same year as Sonny Rollins, and even younger than Von Freeman, Robinson never danced to their beat, choosing to court Lester Young and Stan Getz in his laconic, nuanced playing. Robinson and Hamilton arrived at their music in completely different ways–one by looking around him, the other by looking backward–but both occupy essentially the same space today. Saturday, 8 PM, Prairie Center for the Arts, 201 Schaumburg Ct., Schaumburg; 708-894-3600.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/David Lubarsky.