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  • Writer's pictureJAM


I was in my late 20's when I first saw The Scamps on a hot summer Saturday night in 1980 at the Sni-Blu Lounge at the intersection of Sni-a-Bar Road and Blue Ridge. The Sni-Blu was in the back of a strip mall. Right away I got a hip 30's swinging Kansas City jazz vibe from a mostly older white crowd. The Sni-Blu was always noisy and raucous with people shouting, singing, and moving with the band.

I thought there were 30 couples on the dance floor at first because of the mirror but only about 10 were swingin! Over time I came to realize The Scamps were more than a group of great musicians. The way they connected with the audience to make everyone feel special—was magical. Vocalist, Earl Robinson would nod his head and smile while performing when anyone came in the door. Saxophonist, Arthur Jackson, bassist, Lucky Wesley, trumpeter & drummer, Rusty Tucker, pianist, Coots Dye, and Earl were always in harmony about the music and with making every gig feel special.

After a few months I asked the band if I could take some pictures and they agreed. I shot a roll of black and whites. Some of the audience thought I was professional since I was using a big flash and asked me to take pictures seated at their table. Later I printed out some 8 X 10s and gave them to the band and the audience. The owners of the Sni-Blu, the Bill Vaughn family, enjoyed the photos and asked me to take a picture of them with the Scamps.

I helped book the Scamps for the Thirty Joan Miro Prints art show at the Batz Gallery in Westport. "First one thing then another," as Earl later put it. He would always generously credit me with connecting him to high paying gigs with the Mission Hills jazz crowd since that first society gig was my idea.

One night at the Sni-Blu the band stopped playing, yelling, and pointing at the door. Everyone said it was Jay McShann. Apparently, Jay ran back out the door as part of the gag. His wife and a few others talked him back through the door and took his long white winter coat. Coots, the Scamps pianist had made the surprise invite. Coots slowly got up walked toward the bar and shook Jay's hand. McShann milked his way to the piano with a packed crowd going crazy. Everyone maneuvered for a comfortable spot.

I sat on the floor near Jay's piano so those standing behind me could see. McShann started in with Hootie's Blues and the crowd went wild, only to soon get quieter than I 'd ever heard that lounge. Then McShann called for Where or When which he played with concert virtuosity.

This was the song my parents said they first danced to when they met in 1944 in Florence, Italy during World War II. The 5th Army kept a jazz band available ready to play after a town was taken by the allies in order to win the hearts of the people. When I told my parents that I had been out to see the Scamps they smiled and laughed with memories about going out to see them at the Flamingo Club in the late 40's.

Just like jazz, wait for it, the theme comes back around.

Curtis Smith

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