Bebopping Along

When Ed Gerlach led one of Houston's most popular dance bands in the mid-1970s, he often employed a teenage guitarist named Scott Hardy who had more passion for Jim Hall than for Jeff Beck. Bob Morgan, the pianist who headed the High School of the Performing and Visual Arts' jazz program from 1976 to 1999, often played in Gerlach's band at the time. "[Hardy] was very mature as a player, way beyond his years," Morgan recalls. "So far as I know, he wasn't a typical young guitar player who was first a rock and roll player and somewhere down the line discovered jazz. I don't remember Scott Hardy having anything in his hands but a hollow-body guitar. The first time I ever encountered him, he was a hard-core jazz player."

These days Hardy plays more acoustic bass than guitar, but he and his wife, pianist Leslie Pintchik, perform some piano-guitar duets. Their outfit, dubbed the Leslie Pintchik Trio, has received plaudits from the press and the likes of legendary bassist Red Mitchell. Their music is on par with that of many players in the New York jazz scene. The group often plays clubs in the Big Apple's growing restaurant-nightclub circuit, which attracts myriad heavy hitters.

Since prime-time gigs at top venues like the Village Vanguard and the Blue Note are usually reserved for musicians with label deals, Hardy and Pintchik are shopping around a five-song CD called Need I Say Less?, a solid bebop trio recording. While the competition in New York is fierce, Hardy doesn't seem worried. His laid-back demeanor suggests that he enjoys his place in the New York scene and that he'd rather just be happy than dive deep into the record-industry mud pit.

"I think the most important thing to [Hardy] is the music," says drummer Mike Lefebvre, who played with Hardy in Roseanna Vitro and Strings and Things, one of the guitarist's first full-time gigs. "I don't think he's worried about [record contracts] and wants to deal with that crap. I think his fire for music is just what he can do with it."

Hardy's background pointed him toward jazz. For a brief time, the guitarist was -- like every other electric instrumentalist on the planet -- infatuated with Jimi Hendrix, but his first love was jazz. He grew up listening to his dad's jazz records, sessions by Dave Brubeck or Maynard Ferguson, and when he was nine, Hardy asked his father for a guitar. He wanted to play jazz. Young Hardy was talented enough to land at HSPVA, and while at the magnet school, he started making a name for himself on the local jazz scene. By the time he was 15, he was playing in the pit orchestra at Houston Music Theater, which often supported touring celebrity shows. Sometimes Hardy would look up and see Jack Benny or Shirley MacLaine on stage. "That's how I got my professional introduction," Hardy recalls. "I got to meet a lot of Houston's top players doing those things."

One of the players Hardy met was Arnett Cobb. The young guitarist and the legendary tenor saxophonist hit it off instantly. At the time, Hardy was branching out, playing electric bass and even experimenting with the trombone. Hardy played electric bass on and off for Cobb's unit until 1977.

When Hardy graduated from HSPVA in the spring of 1976, he was considered the young, straight-ahead guitarist in Houston. By May of that same year, Hardy and vocalist Vitro landed a long-term engagement at the Green Room. Billed as Roseanna Vitro and Strings and Things, the popular group was the only jazz outfit with a regular five-night-a-week gig as house band. The band also broadcast a weekly jazz series live from the Green Room on KUHF/88.7 FM.

"Scott was the oldest 20-year-old I ever met," recalls Lefebvre. "He was playing like he was in his forties or fifties. He'd walk around with a kind of goofy grin on his face. He was always hearing music. It seemed like he was in the ozone half the time. But we wasn't really; he was focused on the music."

When the Green Room job ended in 1977, Hardy and Vitro set their sights on New York City, and left for the Big Apple that September. "I always remembered [Houston] as kind of a struggle," Hardy says. "There were some really great players, but it was always a struggle. When Roseanna and I got that job at the Green Room, that felt like a very lucky thing. After that job ended, I just felt like there was nowhere else I could go with it. I'd worked quite a bit in Houston. But [I] wanted to get a chance to play with a wider variety of players."

Adds Lefebvre: "It was very surprising to me he stayed as long as he did. I expected him to leave town after he got out of high school."

Like many jazz musicians, Hardy found New York's vibrant scene to be both thrilling and challenging. Hardy started attracting attention during after-hours jam sessions and smaller gigs. While working his way up the New York ladder, Hardy also took up acoustic bass and built up his résumé working with the likes of Jack McDuff, Tal Farlow and Chris Conner. Through word of mouth, he landed gigs, often as a bass player. He also appeared on some of Vitro's albums.

In 1980 Hardy met pianist Leslie Pintchik and started playing seriously with her in 1985. Whereas Hardy was something of a child prodigy, Pintchik was a late bloomer. She didn't start focusing on piano until college, and then viewed it only as a hobby. While she was working on her doctorate and teaching English literature at Columbia University, Pintchik felt the pull of the nightclub scene. She eventually dropped everything to become a jazz musician. "She realized music was really what she wanted to do," Hardy says.

In the mid-1980s, Hardy started devoting more time to the acoustic bass, a gutsy move for any guitarist. It's difficult enough to be a respected player on one instrument; it's enormously difficult to drop your established instrument and take up another. While both guitar and bass have strings, the theoretical and technical aspects of the instruments are completely different. However, some of the melodic sensibilities that come with guitar playing appear in Hardy's bass work. Lefebvre wasn't surprised that Hardy picked up the acoustic bass. "He's always been a composer," Lefebvre says. "He's always had music going on in his head. Bass is just another aspect of it."

In 1986 Hardy and Pintchik got married and have continued their relationship, on and off the stage, to this day. There have been many unions between famous jazz musicians -- Stanley Turrentine and Shirley Scott, Randy Brecker and Eliane Elias, Jimmy and Marian McPartland -- but many don't survive the pressures of home and bandstand. Hardy says his marriage hasn't faced the problems seemingly inherent in such a relationship.

"You would think there would be friction," he says. "But musically, Leslie and I agree on so much that it is kind of mind-boggling, actually. We also have a tremendous respect for each other's musicianship. That's very important, because if one person felt higher on the totem pole or something, that could create a lot of problems. I am not even sure I could tell you exactly why we seem to have an easier time, except that part of it is the music: We are not playing music together because we are married, and we are not married because we play music together. They both sort of have their own lives."

As one might suspect, their music has a lot of empathy and interplay. They support each other and each other's ideas, and their work is clearly in sync. "It seems like the drummers always kind of enjoy being in the middle of our group," says Hardy, "and being able to hook up with something that's already so tight and together."<

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Paul J. MacArthur