Scott Mullett, Jazz Man From Keene, New Hampshire, R.I.P.

Jan 5, 2018

When you look up names beginning M-U-L-L in jazz indexes, Gerry Mulligan (and sometimes Moon Mullins) is about all you get. But for Central and Western New Englanders, and lots of folks who knew him at Berklee in Boston, Scott Mullett was a name worthy of the reference books, a larger than life figure from the White Mountain State, as jovial as all get-out, and a monster saxophonist. Alas, Scott died on Wednesday, January 3, at his home near Keene, NH, and a great feeling of loss has settled over the jazz communities and institutions (Vermont Jazz CenterKeene Jazz OrchestraNorthampton Jazz Workshop) that were his extended family.

Mullett grew up in Keene, but from the age of 12 he began making frequent trips by bus to New York City for lessons. After graduating from Keene High School in 1976, he attended Berklee, and then hit the road with the bands of Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, and Lionel Hampton. Like countless other aspiring players, gigs with name bands were a ritual aspect of the jazz life, but they rarely bring much recognition beyond a small circle of fellow players. Scott eventually returned to New Hampshire, where he taught at Keene State College and Berklee and became a beloved mentor to young musicians and a local hero leading hs own trio and the Keene Jazz Orchestra. 

(There's a paucity of footage on Scott, but @2:15 on this production filmed at a historical house in Keene, he begins with "Bye Bye Blackbird" and wails from there. BTW: the blues harp playing over the opening credits is a cover of Little Walter's "Just Your Fool.")

It always warmed my heart to see Scott's name in the listings for the Tuesday night Northampton Jazz Workshop, as he always delivered a set of hard-swinging hard bop mixed with wonderfully humorous asides and brash rejoinders. Scott was a big man, and it struck me today that a soul as big as his needed a big container. He was also a gifted and committed teacher who occasionally brought students to the Workshop. When I met Scott a decade ago, the first thing he told me was that he'd added a bunch of LP's to his collection that I had sold to a dealer in Boston, and on subsequent meetings he would tell me of yet another discovery he was grooving on from the purchase.

Scott was kind enough to come down to Springfield and play during NEPR's grand opening ceremony in 2014, and he was the genial guest soloist several years ago when I persuaded Bob Wilber, who was visiting Northampton, to come by to sit in with the Workshop. Bob and Scott and Michael Zsoldos did a beautiful job that night harmonizing on Stompy Jones and other Ellington classics.

The Scott Mullett Trio

Sheila Jordan wrote a sweet note on Facebook on Thursday in memory of Scott, whom she knew as a colleague at the Vermont Jazz Center, and said she called Sonny Rollins to let him know how much "musical joy" he'd brought the tenor man from Keene. When I think of how often I heard Scott play "Airegin" and "Doxy," and "Pent-Up House," I feel certain that Sheila's share with Sonny sent Scott a little more heavenward. Sheila added that Scott had a "great attitude about life and what it's all about." VJC Artistic Director Eugene Uman also wrote this lengthy tribute to Scott on Facebook complete with a few photos that you see on this page. Mullett led the Keene Jazz Orchestra for many years, and their annual concerts were always a big hit. Here's a brief glimpse of Scott discussing the special sense of responsibility he felt in presenting a concert before 500 people in "this little pocket of the world." 

Here's Scott conducting and soloing with his pride and joy, the Keene Jazz Orchestra, in January 2015 at Vermont Academy.