Playing it Forward
Growing up in Buffalo’s Hamlin Park neighborhood, George Scott ’80 fondly recalls spending summer days on the Canisius College campus.
“There was a program at Canisius for the neighborhood kids,” he recalls. “We swam in the pool, played basketball and ate lunch. I never imagined I would attend college at Canisius!”
Just a few miles away at the Colored Musicians Club (CMC), Buffalo’s jazz pioneers mentored the young saxophone student.
“My sax teacher said, ‘young man, you need to come down to the club and sit in with some of these bands. It will make you a stronger musician,’” says Scott. “That is a club tradition. The older members want to keep the craft going so they nurture and coach younger musicians.”
Scott treasured those moments of camaraderie at the club, when older members would share stories of performing with jazz greats and more importantly impart their musical expertise.
Now, Scott helps keep that tradition alive as president of the CMC, which originally began in 1918 as a social club for members of Buffalo 533, the African American musician’s union. Any Buffalo musician wanting to play a downtown gig had to join Local 43 of the American Federation of Musicians but it excluded African American members.
“When you remember the struggle those musicians had to go through just to be considered equal during a time of racial tension, you would think they would have been bitter,” says Scott. “On the contrary, they thrived through it all and still had a positive outlook on life.”
As a location for big performances and after-hour jam sessions, the Colored Musicians Club was often the first stop for many black musicians visiting Buffalo. The club played host to such big names as Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, to name a few. Sunday night jam sessions continue at the club to this day. Scott books performers from all over the country and his band - George Scott’s Big Band - performs every Monday night.
The only remaining African American Club in the United States, the CMC also houses a multimedia museum of the history of jazz in Buffalo and attracts visitors from all over the world.
Scott, a psychology graduate, intended to be a counselor but ended up as a mortgage originator for years before assuming his leadership role at the Colored Musicians Club.
“Cansius definitely prepared me for what I do today,” says Scott. “The organizational skills I learned benefit me whether I am publicizing the club, booking bands or obtaining funding for festivals.”
Scott was integral in garnering the club’s designations on the New York State and National Registers of Historic Places in 2018.
“I know how hard the founding fathers of this great organization worked to create this place and give local musicians an opportunity to pass on their legacies,” he says. “It’s not only black history, it’s Buffalo history. I am honored to keep that tradition alive.”