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Artist biography Scott Amendola
While rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area scene, Scott Amendola has woven a dense and far reaching web of bandstand relationships that tie him to influential figures in jazz, blues, groove, rock and new music. An organizer by nature, he has become a creative nexus for a community of musicians stretching from Los Angeles and Seattle to Chicago and New York.
While he first gained widespread notice a decade ago for his work in eight-string guitar ace Charlie Hunter’s trio, in recent years Scott Amendola has stepped forward as the leader of several compelling bands that showcase his supremely supple trap work. He continues to work as a sideman, accompanying artists such as the tart-toned vocalist Madeleine Peyroux, guitarist and singer/songwriter Kelly Joe Phelps and the Nels Cline Singers (a volatile instrumental trio without a vocalist), but it’s as a bandleader that Amendola’s dynamic, ever-evolving style is best showcased.
A perfect example is a recent recording session for his next release (2005) as a bandleader featuring Los Angeles guitar hero Nels Cline and the visionary Chicago fret-master Jeff Parker, violinist Jenny Scheinman and stand-up bassist John Shifflett. The music is full of extreme dynamic shifts and a crunching rock edge, with Amendola adding textural electronic elements into his trap work via an effects pedal board. “I’m getting more into sonic things with the pedals, exploring noise, distortion and sonic textures by manipulating acoustic sounds. I sample myself live, and then whatever happens happens. It’s totally improvised, though I’m developing a vocabulary with it.”
Around the Bay Area, Scott Amendola explores the many facets of his expansive rhythmic sensibility in an intriguing series of small combos. As a jazz player, for instance, he’s performed extensively with the cooperative group ‘plays Monk’, a trio featuring clarinetist Ben Goldberg and bassist Devin Hoff that focuses on the brilliant, knotty composition of modern jazz giant Thelonious Monk. “We’ve created certain moods for tunes, more than developing set arrangements,” Amendola says. “What really makes the trio its own thing and opens up possibilities is the lack of a chordal instrument. We’ve all played and listened to a lot of Thelonious Monk. One could really study Monk’s music for a lifetime.”
There’s also the new potent groove trio with the blazing Hammond B3 newcomer Wil Blades and the brilliant guitarist Will Bernard, whose relationship with Amendola dates back to their days in the fondly recalled T.J. Kirk. In a more straight-ahead vein, Amendola has been performing in a trio version of his band with guitarist Dave Mac Nab, an original member of the Scott Amendola Band, and Shifflett on acoustic bass. While the group’s sound continues to evolve, it keys on Mac Nab’s lean, clean sound, which mostly eschews effects and distortion. “That trio is definitely more inside,” Amendola says. “There are sonic textures, and Dave does use some pedals, but it’s really about songs and melodies and chords more than soundscapes.”
Born and raised in the New Jersey suburb of Tenafly, just a stone’s throw from New York City, Scott Amendola was the kind of kid who showed an inclination for rhythm almost from the moment he could walk. His grandfather Tony Gottuso, a highly respected guitarist who split his time between studio sessions, was a member of the original Tonight Show Band under Steve Allen, and would do gigs with jazz luminaries such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Nat “King” Cole, offered plenty of support when Amendola began to get interested in jazz. “ We used to play together a lot when I was a teenager. It had a huge impact on me to play with someone who was around when a lot of the standards that musicians like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Keith Jarrett play.”
“I used to bang on things as a kid,” Amendola says. “I’d just sit around banging on pots and pans and coffee cans. When I was nine, we had to pick an instrument in school, and I started studying drums at school.”
His passion for music only deepened during his four years at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, where it wasn’t unusual for him to practice for 12 hours a day. Drawing inspiration from fellow students such as Jorge Rossi, Jim Black, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and Mark Turner, and studying with the likes of Joe Hunt and Tommy Campbell, Amendola decided he had to find his own voice rather than modeling himself after established drummers. After graduating in 1992, Scott Amendola decided to move to San Francisco, where he quickly hooked up with Charlie Hunter. They went on to play together with John Schott and Will Bernard in the three-guitar-and-drums.