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Jade Visions

The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro

Helene LaFaro-Fernandez

Publication Year: 2009

Jade Visions is the first biography of one of the twentieth century’s most influential jazz musicians, bassist Scott LaFaro. Best known for his landmark recordings with Bill Evans, LaFaro played bass a mere seven years before his life and career were tragically cut short by an automobile accident when he was only 25 years old. Told by his sister, this book uniquely combines family history with insight into LaFaro’s music by well-known jazz experts and musicians Gene Lees, Don Thompson, Jeff Campbell, Phil Palombi, Chuck Ralston, Barrie Kolstein, and Robert Wooley. Those interested in Bill Evans, the history of jazz, and the lives of working musicians of the time will appreciate this exploration of LaFaro’s life and music as well as the feeling they’ve been invited into the family circle as an intimate. “Fernandez’ insightful comments about her brother offer far more than jazz scholars have ever known about this significant and somewhat enigmatic figure in the history of jazz. All in all, a very complete portrait.”—Bill Milkowski, author of Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: Lives of Musicians


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiii

In the movie It’s a Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart gets to see the world as it might have been if he had never been born. This is something everyone probably thinks about now and then. We all like to think we will have made a difference in the world but nobody ever knows for sure if that will turn out to be the case....

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pp. xv

I hope this book will bring a glimpse into the development and the life of Scott LaFaro, and an understanding of the man and his music. In my approach to writing this book, I’ve tried to be a modern-day Jack Webb—perhaps my own snopes.com—looking to separate the facts from the legend. It is not the story of an artist’s...

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pp. xvii-xx

At least a decade ago, Chuck Ralston began a website dedicated to Scotty. Chuck is from Geneva, but I did not know him then. His dad at one time was the president of Geneva’s local musicians’ union and knew both Scotty and our dad. Ralston senior acquainted Chuck with jazz and with Scotty. His work took him...

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pp. xxi-xxix

Scott LaFaro was something of a mystery to me. I never knew him well, and not for long. There was too little time. He played the bass for only seven years, from the summer of his eighteenth year until just after his twenty-fifth birthday, when he was killed in an automobile accident, but in that short period he became...

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pp. 1

When Scotty was only six and I was four, we played almost every day in the car just so he could turn the radio’s knob to the On position and listen as that low sound filled the car. I got it into my head that perhaps the Bogeyman was somehow in there. As soon as Scotty turned the volume way up on the dial, I’d run...

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Chapter 1. La Famiglia

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pp. 3-6

Scotty was born Rocco Scott LaFaro in Irvington, a suburb of Newark, New Jersey. Our heritage is what America is all about—a bit of this, a bit of that. The family stock of our Mom, Helen Lucille Scott, was Scottish, Irish, and English. Her grandparents immigrated as children with their families late in the...

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Chapter 2. Geneva: The Early Years

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pp. 7-16

Arriving back in Geneva did not solve all the problems Dad faced. Geneva now had a population of about 18,000, having grown with the wartime installation of an arms depot and Sampson Naval Base some twelve miles away on the other side of Seneca Lake. Dad had done nothing but play music since he was...

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Chapter 3. Early Influences [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 17-24

Our music education began as it did for many, with the tambourines, drums, and triangles of our early childhood. Regardless of the fact that music was Dad’s life, when Scotty and I were older we learned why Dad hesitated to give us any early musical education himself. He was trying hard to create for us...

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Chapter 4. High School Days [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 25-39

Early in Scotty’s freshman year of high school he started listening to some of the newer jazz music on the radio and spending more time with Dad’s recordings: Art Tatum, George Shearing, Marian McPartland, and Dizzy Gillespie. This music excited...

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Chapter 5. Beginning Bass to Buddy and Baker [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 41-58

In the fall of 1954, when Scotty was preparing to leave for college, Dad bought him his first bass, a light-colored Kaye, at Levi’s, a shop across the street from the Eastman Theater in Rochester, and arranged for him to take a few bass lessons from Nick D’Angelo.1 Nick was in the Air Force and leading the jazz ensemble...

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Chapter 6. Transposition 1957

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pp. 59-76

After the Baker Quintet’s booking at the Ball & Chain in Miami ended in January 1957, they headed for a date in St. Louis. Chet’s father acted as chauffeur, driving their big Cadillac while the guys generally slept or listened to music on the radio. During...

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Chapter 7. Working the West Coast 1958

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pp. 77-91

As I was now living with my girl friends in Hollywood, when Scotty returned to Los Angeles he shared Victor’s digs in Manhattan Beach. The big scene was still at the Lighthouse in Hermosa. Scotty would sit in regularly and met a lot more musicians who were doing the same. Drummer Eddie Rubin, who later worked...

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Chapter 8. Kenton, Goodman, and Monk 1959 [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 93-110

Scotty was readying to leave for the East Coast in the fall of 1958. Maggie had recently taken a job at 20th Century Fox as secretary to the associate producer of the TV show Dobie Gillis. Scotty asked Maggie to consider coming along with him. When she questioned if there was ever going to be anything more for...

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Chapter 9. New York: Getz, Coleman, and Evans 1960

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pp. 111-130

Charlie Haden tells the story that when Scott went over to Thelonious Monk’s place to audition for him, Monk just stared out the window for a long time before asking him to play something. Scotty did and Monk stared out the window again, then asked him to play something else. This was repeated four or five...

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Chapter 10. Realization 1961 [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 131-145

This year Scotty was to be exceptionally busy, flying from coast to coast and places in between several times a month. The Bill Evans Trio did a New Year’s tour of the Midwest. January 17 to 29 he was back with the Ornette Coleman Quartet, which included Don Cherry and Edward Blackwell at the Village Vanguard. They were...

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Chapter 11. Last Days

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pp. 147-150

It was July 3 and Scotty was determined to take care of business for Mom back in our hometown. We talked to him in the morning the day after he’d played at the jazz festival in Newport, Rhode Island and he mentioned he felt happy about the way things had gone. He remarked that George Shearing was on the...

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Chapter 12. Aftermath

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pp. 151-154

The pleading ring of the phone disrupted the heavy earlymorning darkness. To silence the annoyance, I turned to the bedside phone. Half asleep and slow, I finally recognized Gloria’s voice on the other end. But the message was not coming through … what she was saying was coming through all wrong: “Scott has...

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Chapter 13. His Music I

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pp. 155-173

Scott had only begun composing in his final year and left only two completed compositions: “Gloria’s Step” and “Jade Visions.” I have been asked about the titles of both and did mention in an earlier chapter the meaning behind “Gloria’s Step.” He didn’t tell me, and I haven’t uncovered since, his exact reasoning...

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Chapter 14. His Music II

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pp. 175-199

I never met Scott LaFaro. I never had the chance to hear him play live. In fact, he died some twenty months before I was born. The only tangible connection I have with him is through his relatively small, but significant recorded output. From circa 1956–1961 LaFaro was involved with an interesting and contrasting...

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Chapter 15. His Music III

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pp. 201-209

I remember the day that I bought the two Bill Evans albums Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard. It was the summer before I started college at Youngstown State University, and I had just begun to play acoustic bass four months previously. At the time I was an electric bassist still largely into playing and...

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Chapter 16. His Legacy

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pp. 211-224

The pianist Walter Norris once observed, “The question in art is not who is best or better, but to be able to realize and appreciate the unique qualities of all whose playing is magical. Scotty had that quality and the power to go with it all.”...

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Appendix I. Remembering Scott LaFaro

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pp. 225-230

Scott LaFaro and I went to school in Geneva, New York, a small city of about 15,000 in the heart of the Finger Lakes. Although small, the school had a very strong music program. The high school band director, Godfrey Brown, had worked hard, particularly in the elementary levels, to build his program. The lead...

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Appendix II. When Sam Met Scotty: A Remembrance of Scott LaFaro

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pp. 231-233

Scott LaFaro came into the Kolstein “shop family” in the early years of my life. I was about nine years of age when the wonderful George Duvivier brought Scotty to my father’s house/shop in Merrick, New York. George had been involved in a project with Scott connected to Gunther Schuller. Scott had acquired...

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Appendix III. Prescott Restoration: The LaFaro Legacy

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pp. 235-247

On the tragic early morning hours of July 6, 1961, the bass world lost a true jazz innovator and legend. Rocco Scott La Faro was the victim of a senseless automobile accident, depriving the jazz world of unforeseen musical accomplishments, but leaving an unprecedented style of playing, setting the standards...

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Scott LaFaro Discography

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pp. 249-290

This discography places in chronological order public, commercially released recordings on which Scott LaFaro performed. For the most part, information has been compiled from “liner notes” printed on the container (the jacket or sleeve) accompanying long-play (LP) vinyl recordings, as well as from program...


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pp. 291-298


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pp. 299-314


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pp. 315-322

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413571
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412734

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 25 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2009

Series Title: Lives of Musicians

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Subject Headings

  • Double bassists -- United States -- Biography.
  • LaFaro, Scott.
  • Jazz musicians -- United States -- Biography.
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