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Mixing It Up Still Appeals to Tom Scott


Tom Scott--the conductor, arranger, saxophonist who was busy earlier this week directing the house orchestra at the Emmy Awards--has a new album, "Blue Streak," on GRP. It's a safe bet he'll pay it plenty of attention when he appears Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre as part of the five-group "Jazz at the Meadows" minifestival.

But Scott, 48, will also give some attention to three other recent releases of his. They're reissues dating back to 1974-75 and Scott's groundbreaking West Coast fusion band the L.A. Express.

Long available in Japan, these three recordings have been re-released in the United States by the Ode/Epic/Legacy label. They are "Tom Cat," "New York Connection" and "Tom Scott," which includes keyboardist Joe Sample, a young guitarist named Larry Carlton, bassist Max Bennett and drummer John Guerin.

They bear witness to the time in the '70s when Scott was at the birth of the fusion movement that today is considered "adult contemporary." Practitioners include Scott and the other members of the Irvine lineup: Hiroshima, Michael Franks, Lee Ritenour and Strunz and Farah.

"When we were involved with [the music on the '70s albums], there were some very unique voices out there," Scott said from his home in Studio City, "from people like the Brecker Brothers all the way out to groups like the Mahavishnu Orchestra. It was a radical spectrum, all great but all different."

And what does he think when he goes back and listens to those efforts of more than 20 years ago?

"I hear a lot of intensity there. It's very enthusiastic and brash, reflecting the in-your-face attitude of the times. I think I've gotten a little more subtle."

Listen to the title track of Scott's 1995 album "Night Creatures" and you'll still hear plenty of that in-your-face attitude, nothing subtle about it. And though the tune is based on modern, hip-hop rhythms that were little known in the '70s, the music's formula is the same one the fusion explorers were using then: combining jazz sensibilities with current pop music rhythms.

"It was a rather simple idea," Scott said. "It was some mixture of R&B and jazz that we all liked to play, and that went over so well with the audience. Really, we had no idea of what we were doing."

Scott, however, sees a deterioration from those simple ideals.

"I think the music sort of peaked since then in a certain area, it's gotten a little Muzaky to me. It's all very slick, and much of it sounds alike."

The Los Angeles native was something of a saxophone prodigy, having worked with the bands of Oliver Nelson, Don Ellis, Howard Roberts and Roger Kellaway by the time he was 19. The stint with saxophonist and studio composer Nelson opened the door to his first recording contract.

"I sat in with Nelson's band when he was playing Marty's on the Hill [in South-Central L.A.] and he took me on. That place really felt like a New York nightclub. I was really thrilled to be part of it, to be in the supervision and tutelage of one of the greatest saxophonist-arrangers of all time."

Bob Thiele, who was Nelson's producer, was impressed with Scott and invited him to record for Thiele's Impulse label. The result was "Honeysuckle Breeze," released in 1969. Since then, Scott has released 24 albums under his own name.

Like Nelson, Scott has pursued a variety of Hollywood projects. He's been conducting for television since the early '70s, was musical director for TV shows starring Pat Sajak, Carol Burnett and Chevy Chase and has frequently conducted orchestras at the Grammy and the Emmy awards.

On Saturday, he'll do what got him started in the first place: play the saxophone.

"My life has always been full of variety," he said. "I've been fortunate to maintain different, parallel careers in the music business."

* What: "Jazz at the Meadows," with Tom Scott, Hiroshima, Lee Ritenour, Michael Franks and Strunz and Farah.

* When: 4 p.m. Saturday


* Where: Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre,, 8800 Irvine Center Drive.

* Whereabouts: Exit the San Diego Freeway (405) at Irvine Center Drive and go south to Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre entrance.

* Wherewithal: $38-$48.

* Where to call: (714) 855-4515.

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