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An American in Paris: organist Rhoda Scott's remarkable career in Jazz

Rhoda Scott
Alexandre Lacombe
/
Alexandre Lacombe
Rhoda Scott

Ask Rhoda Scott, and she'll say her career as an illustrious jazz organist happened by accident. But if you know her story, it's hard not to spot the hand of destiny.

She was born into a musical household – her father was an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church minister in New Jersey. Naturally, an organ needed to be played for its congregation, and Rhoda was already seated in that role by age 10. Her talent was so obvious that she was recruited to play in local R&B bands in her teens and, by the time she was a young adult, was touring the Northeast corridor with her own trio. Count Basie was so impressed that he booked her at his club in Harlem.

Rhoda Scott at the Playbill, Newark, c. 1966
/ Image courtesy of the artist
/
Image courtesy of the artist
Rhoda Scott at the Playbill, Newark, c. 1966

Yet Scott's soul-jazz fairy tale really blossomed in Paris, where she moved on a whim in 1968. It turned out to be the greatest decision of her life: not only did she fall in love, but she also became one of the most beloved jazz figures in her adopted country.

Earlier this month, Scott was awarded a Légion d'honneur – France's highest order of merit. And at 84, Scott shows no signs of stopping. "I'm blessed," she says about her continuing success. "I wish I had a secret but, the answer is I'm really blessed."

Musicians:

Rhoda Scott, organ; Sophie Alour, tenor and soprano saxophone; Geraldine Laurent alto saxophone; Julie Saury, drums.

Set List:

  • Moanin' (Bobby Timmons)
  • We Free Queens (Lisa Cat-Berro)
  • Charlotte's Waltz (Rhoda Scott)
  • I Wish You Love (Charles Trenet)
  • I Wanna Move (Sophie Alour)
  • What'd I Say (Ray Charles)
  • Credits:

    Writer and Producer: Sarah Geledi; Host: Christian McBride; Concert engineer: Rob Macomber; Producer: Alex Ariff; Episode Mix: Ron Scalzo; Project Manager: Suraya Mohamed; Vice President of Visuals and Strategy at NPR Music: Keith Jenkins; Executive Producers: Anya Grundmann and Gabrielle Armand.

    Special thanks to Sébastien Vidal and his team at TSF Jazz in Paris: Jean-Charles Doukhan and Juliette Balland.

    Copyright 2022 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

    Sarah Geledi left her job in advertising in Montreal to pursue a career in music in New York City. She fulfilled that mission, producing content for the JAM Festival at WBGO, segments for The Checkout, and programs for WWOZ and PRI's Afropop Worldwide. She also served as a producer for NYC Winter Jazzfest before landing the "job of her dreams," producing radio for Jazz Night in America.