“I don’t like to look back, because the whole point in jazz is doing it now.” -Scott LaFaro
In a life and career (1955-61) cut short by tragedy, Rocco Scott LaFaro stands as one of the most influential upright jazz bassists by way of his groundbreaking tenure with the Bill Evans Trio.
Studying bass clarinet, saxophone, and piano in high school, LaFaro commenced his career as a bassist on the bandstand with the Buddy Morrow Big Band in the mid-1950s.
Among his collaborators included a who’s who of 20th Century jazz giants: Chet Baker, Paul Bley, Eric Dolphy, Tommy Flanagan, Herb Geller, Stan Getz, Jimmy Giuffre, Vince Guaraldi, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, Hank Jones, Thad Jones, Richie Kamuca, Wynton Kelly, Barney Kessel, Steve Kuhn, Harold Land, Mel Lewis, Booker Little, Thelonious Monk, Marty Paich, Frank Rosolino, Bobby Timmons, and Cal Tjader, to cite a few.
However LaFaro made his everlasting mark on jazz with Evans and drummer Paul Motian.
In the Evans ensemble, all three members were considered “equal voices” – as the pianist employed his theory of “simultaneous composition” within the group.
Scott’s rich tone, “dancing” rhythms, and counter-melodic passages brought the instrument to the forefront – yet he never overshadowed his bandmates, especially during his dynamic interplay with Evans.
LaFaro also replaced another giant of the instrument, Charlie Haden, in Ornette Colman’s watershed collective in 1961 and worked with both groups at the time of his passing.
Scott’s recordings with Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby are modern jazz classics. Revered by his peers, and on Miles Davis’ radar to be included in his next band, LaFaro perished in an automobile accident in July 1961.
Since his death numerous archival releases have documented his brief but prolific career. Scott never waxed a side as a bandleader, and he appeared on less than twenty albums in his lifetime!
The LaFaro legacy? He advanced the role of the bass from a regimented time-keeper to a melodic force. In fact, LaFaro plucked from the underside of the string and produced a louder volume than had been thought possible.
A master practitioner of the upper register, jazz journalist Joe Goldberg commented that it was “as though he were playing a large guitar.”