Jazz is a genre of music originating in New Orleans, in the late 19 century is heavily based on improvisation. During Jazz performances, players who play solos that they usually make up on the spot. Jazz music is a continuously expanding and evolving music with prodigious variations. There is the Swing Era, Bebop, Cool Jazz, Free Jazz and of course there is Trad Jazz also known as traditional or New Orleans Jazz. Hazel Scott was a renowned virtuosic Jazz pianist with a unique talent.
Hazel Dorothy Scott was born on June 11, 1920, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. She was the only child born to a West-African scholar father and a classically-trained pianist and music teacher for a mother. Having a pianist as a mother, Scott was introduced to the piano at the tender age of 3. Over the years she grew talented in the ability to play the piano by ear.
At the age of 8, Hazel auditioned at the Juilliard School. One of the requirements to be admitted is that you had to be 16 years. However, Hazel and her mother did not let this deter them. Hazel was granted access to perform despite her age, giving such a mind-blowing performance that she was granted not only acceptance, but also a scholarship.
By age 20, Hazel’s career skyrocketed. She released her debut album “Swinging the Classics”. Although she loved music, she never forgot who she was and so she fought for her rights and the rights of Blacks.
“Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro, and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?,” she asked. Hazel was one of the first Black entertainers who stood up for her folks. She refused to play in front of crowds of segregated audiences. She even went as far as to have it written in her contracts because she believed in equality for all.
In 1950, Hazel and a few others in the entertainment business were accused of being communist sympathizers. It was common for entertainers to be blacklisted in from future gigs due to being subversives. Hazel testified in court denying all claims of being a communist, but she did not let blacklisting slip her mind. She spoke her truth and a week later concert bookings declined and her talk show was cancelled. Hazel was erased from all Jazz catalogues, seemingly she never existed, and this is the sad truth of how Blacks were treated in America.
Not only was she talented on the piano, but she had a rare never before seen talent. Hazel was renowned for her ability to play two pianos simultaneously. She would sit a stool in the center of two pianos and streamed them both with exceptional class. Inspired by her greatness, Alicia Keys decided to pay tribute to Scott at the 2019 Grammy’s awards, mimicking her style of the double piano trick.
Hazel Scott was an icon. She was not only a musically talented woman, but also an actress and entertainer. She used her spotlight to shine light on the racial injustices faced in the United States despite her backlash. Hazel was a pioneer in many aspects and she will always be a musical icon.