SUBLIME-A-TRON / Hazel Scott at 100

Another pair of videos so good they go to 11

“A Foggy Day,” with Charles Mingus on bass and Rudy Nichols on drums (1955) • 3:12
“Taking a Chance on Love,” with Red Callender on bass, from the film I Dood It (1943) • 2:22

With a radiance verging on radioactive, Hazel Scott (1920-1981) almost conquered the Sublime-a-Tron on personality alone. But it was her musical gifts that melted his titanium heart. A Trinidad-born piano prodigy and singer who grew up in Harlem, she amazed audiences with her effortless melding of classical and jazz. For a time, she and her husband, the congressman Adam Clayton Powell, were America’s most famous black couple. Sadly, Hazel never achieved the immortality she deserved. She fell afoul of movie producers in the 1940s because of her insistence that black characters be portrayed with dignity (the nerve!). In 1950 she became the first black woman with her own TV show — only to have it yanked away when she stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which accused her of being a communist sympathizer. Like many black artists of America’s midcentury, she found a more congenial setting for her talents in Paris. Returning to the U.S. in the 1960s, she never regained her footing. She died of cancer at the age of 61.

Everything Hazel Scott did was sublime, so the Sublime-a-Tron has arbitrarily picked two videos, one to show off her mellifluous song stylings, the other her dazzling piano chops. In “A Foggy Day,” her voice comes on little cat feet, a velvety rival to Ella Fitzgerald’s or Billie Holiday’s. “Taking a Chance on Love” captures her serene confidence at the keyboard as she strides across the octaves like a more animated Art Tatum. Happy centennial, Hazel!

More Sublime-a-Tron . . .

Sublime-a-Tron says . . .

11.58

Volcanic charm11.3
Vocal elegance11.6
Owning the keyboard11.7
Owning the camera11.7

MORE HAZEL Eve Goldberg, a California writer and filmmaker, traces the dismaying arc of the musician’s life and career in an informative video essay, “Whatever Happened to Hazel Scott?” • 19:44

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