Two years ago, Jeff Scott experienced a musical epiphany in the Big Easy.
The Royal Oak singer-songwriter strolled through Jackson Square and retraced his steps from a previous New Orleans visit two decades earlier.
That trip down memory lane transported Scott back to performing with The Big Picture, a Detroit-based pop sextet. At the time, Scott and his bandmates opened for The Neville Brothers at the iconic New Orleans Jazz Fest.
“I was sensing at the time that I could never recapture the way that I felt when I was younger and in that position with that band. It started to rain exactly as it had the first time we showed up there, and I was standing in exactly the same place,” Scott said.
“I thought for the purposes of this album I was retreading and going back to where I had originally been musically and most successful professionally. That was a good way to start it. I’m attempting to reclaim something, maybe I’m not going to hit it, but the pursuit of it is deeply fulfilling and emotional.”
It also will give listeners a preview of his Jan. 17 headlining show at the Farmington Civic Theater to kick off the “LIVE!” 2020 winter concert series with special guest Bobby Pennock.
Along with longtime bandmates Tony Jaworowski (piano, keys), Duane Allen Harlick (electric guitar, background vocals), Dave Hendrickson (electric and upright bass) and Dan McCann (drums, percussion), Scott will perform an eclectic mix of pop, folk, soul and jazz favorites from “Nola to New York” as well as his previous releases.
“I hope that they will be moved musically. That’s always my intent. I’ve always wanted to make beautiful music with a big ‘B.’ It can be up-tempo, it can be down-tempo, it can be a ballad, it can be a lot of different things,” Scott said. “That’s always the end goal for me. A lot of people come to the shows because they appreciate the lyrics, which I spend a lot of time on.”
Formerly known as “Friday Night Live” at the Farmington Civic Theater, the newly renamed “LIVE!” 2020 concert series also will feature Bones Maki and the Blue Water Boys with Rochelle Clark (Feb. 21), Olivia Millerschin with Adam Liebman (March 20) and the Nashtown Songwriters Round (April 23).
From ‘Nola to New York’
As a multi-genre poet, Scott writes sophisticated, timeless lyrics to quickly transport listeners to a specific point in time. On “Nola to New York,” his unique, soulful voice transfers feelings of nostalgia, romance and growth to fans.
For his latest album, Scott shifted from a folk rock sound centered on the steel guitar and returned to his classical guitar and pop-soul-jazz roots. “Nola to New York” serves as a celebration of the music Scott heard while his parents held cocktail parties in the living room, his sisters spun 45s in their bedrooms and cars rolled by with windows open and radios blaring.
At first listen, “Nola” features a sensuous pairing of piano and soprano sax to start Scott’s introspective 10-track journey – “And I think I feel you/But it’s just the mist dancing with the lights/I know I’m dreaming, maybe make-believing/That Nola you’re with me tonight.”
“For me, it was about the city and trying to reclaim it, and I did it in a classic three-part structure,” Scott said. “He’s on Jackson Square first, then he’s on Bourbon Street, and then he’s back in the Quarter again, and he’s going through some kind of emotional journey trying to reclaim what he can’t reclaim.”
Another part of the “Nola to New York” journey includes the change of seasons in “Is Winter Here Again?” The track weaves a slow, thoughtful piano with an echoing flugelhorn solo to sonically capture the loss of love – “The picture on the wall/Frozen for all time/Captured in the fall/When I still called you mine.”
“At that point, my family was dealing with loss. My father had passed away a few years ago, and my mother had passed away after a very long illness. I haven’t really had a chance to deal emotionally with just the loss, so that’s why the chorus is the way it is,” said Scott, who started playing guitar and writing songs at age eight.
“What I was thinking of actually was just the fact that my parents were gone, other people in my life had gone. Nothing is permanent – seasons aren’t, people aren’t and love isn’t. I’m proud of that song because I grabbed it when it passed me by and wrote what I thought was a very simple and elegant song. It was very true to how I heard it in my head.”
Scott’s exquisite journey concludes in the Big Apple with “New York,” a romantic tribute to one of his favorite cities. Melodic piano, slow cymbal taps and hypnotic sax solos symbolize Scott’s adoration – “I can still feel/How you made me feel/Like all my young dreams/Suddenly seemed so real.”
“I think the first time I went there I was 19, and at that moment, I fell in love with it. I’ve never fallen out of love with it, and it still thrills me, and it’s still the place where I would’ve ended up had certain things not happened,” Scott said. “I just wanted to write a love song to it, and I had an idea in mind to sound a certain way and picked up stuff from ‘60s arrangements from other groups just in terms of instrumentation.”
From Advertising to Music
Scott’s musical journey has encountered a series of twists and turns, including a momentary brush of mainstream stardom as the frontman of The Big Picture in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. At the time, the band won the national Marlboro Music Talent Roundup, opened for Hall & Oates, Richard Marx, Eddie Money and Smokey Robinson and released an album produced by Andre Fisher.
He also juggled a successful career as an advertising executive while pursuing music and became weary going back and forth. For 17 years, Scott traded the stage for an ad agency office and placed music on the back burner.
After working for large ad agencies, Scott started his own branding, advertising and marketing communications consultancy before joining a startup in 2010. At the time, his colleague encouraged him to rethink his music career.
“The one thing he said to me was ‘I don’t think you should ever give up your music ever again,’” Scott said. “Even though I’m helping him run the agency at this point, we’re all mutually supportive of each other’s outside interests.”
That same year, Scott returned to music with the release of “Begin Again,” a definitive collection of songs about life, love, hope and redemption. By 2012, he released a powerful Americana pop album called “The Long Way Home” and headlined sold-out shows at listening rooms in metro Detroit.
“‘The Long Way Home’ was the culmination of me coming back into music and learning how to write, play and sing again. I was going through an extraordinarily difficult time in my life,” Scott said. “My whole life was changing – stuff I had set in motion and things that I had not set in motion. And from an emotional and psychological perspective, I was working my way through a lot of those issues.”
After releasing “The Long Way Home,” Scott shifted his sound to the pop sensibilities made famous by The Big Picture in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He purchased a classical nylon string guitar and expanded his sound to include more pop, soul and jazz elements. Hence, his latest release, “Nola to New York,” was born.
“It completely, utterly, top-to-bottom changed my playing, and it changed the things that I was hearing. It opened me back up to the kinds of sophisticated pop that I really loved,” said Scott, who’s inspired by James Taylor, Paul Simon and the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. “It started to make it very easy for me to write those kinds of tunes again. People have always called me a crooner, a real singer. I just wanted to reclaim that spot for myself.”
From 2020 to New Music
With 2020’s arrival, Scott has started writing his first new material since releasing “Nola to New York.” One of his new tracks will feature a folk-oriented sound reminiscent of the southern California singer-songwriter era of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s depicted in 2018 documentary, “Echo in the Canyon.”
“One of the overriding themes in the documentary was a sense of writing about place or writing from a place. I had this epiphany while I was watching it and specific to California because I had spent a lot of time out time out there in my previous life,” Scott said. “I realized I had really shut out a lot of my feelings about that whole period of my life. After reflecting on that the days afterward, for some reason the floodgates sort of opened.”
These new songs are coming to Scott as lyrics and will be released online in place of new CD. He also will celebrate a live music milestone during his upcoming show at the Farmington Civic Theater .
“I have come to the realization that this will be the 50th year I’ve actually been playing music in front of people. I hope people come with the expectation that they’re really going to hear a band,” Scott said. “There will be a lot of energy when it’s appropriate for the tune, and I hope they’re not blown back in their seats.”
Friday, Jan. 17 | Doors 7:30 p.m. | Show 8 p.m.
Farmington Civic Theater, 33332 Grand River Ave. in Farmington