If patience is a virtue, when you add intuition and long-term vision to the equation, one can set themselves up for a near perfect life. That’s what Bernard Scavellahas exquisitely accomplished. Following 40+ years as a successful pharmacist and Cook County Hospital administrator – a period in which he also passionately pursued music on the side – Bernard Scavella is a fulltime musician now and enjoying his sophomore quartet CD, A TASTE OF SCAVELLA(released on his own Granville Records label) becoming a Top 40 jazz charter.
Raised in East Elmhurst, New York at a time when jazz greats such as Lucky Thompson, Cecil Taylor, Louis Armstrong, Cannonball Adderley and Jimmy Heath lived there – Scavellawas bitten by the jazz bug. After starting on clarinet, he added alto sax at age 13, switched to tenor at his mother’s insistence (she was a Sam “The Man” Taylor fan) then later attended New York’s High School of Music & Art. He sat next to George Coleman once on a big band gig at 17. However, young Bernardalso saw firsthand how many of jazz’s finest musicians struggled financially. Of his own volition, without parental intervention, he sought another primary occupation.
“I was surrounded by great musicians that were starving….grown men telling me that if I wanted to be a real jazz musician I had to live off potato chips and pop (soda),” Scavellarecalls. “I said, ‘That’s not gonna work for me!’ I had always been fascinated by the men behind the counter at the pharmacy, wondering what they were doing back there. I wanted to know how medicine was made into tablets, capsules, suppositories, ointments and suspensions. I was intrigued by the science, chemistry and mathematics of it all. I figured if I earned a license, I could always make a decent wage while still pursuing my main passion.”
Scavella put in five years at Long Island University/Brooklyn College of Pharmacy (now the Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Health Sciences) plus a 1-year internship at Mount Sinai Hospital. To help put himself through school, Scavellaalso played jazz gigs on the weekends with a band he co-founded and dubbed The Jazz Samaritans with pianist George Cables, drummer Billy Cobham and bassist Clint Houston. They gigged at local dives to historical jazz haunts like The Village Vanguard and Top of the Gate. Clark Terry sat in with them at the latter.
Scavella also received an education of another sort at 18 when a local musician recommended him to up-and-coming saxophone giant Joe Henderson for lessons. “I went to see him at Minton’s Playhouse and became mesmerized by his deep, rich tone and technique” Scavella shares. “He lived in a loft in Brooklyn. I started going to him for lessons – arpeggios, jazz technique and scales. He always preached, ‘Junior, learn how to play without the accompaniment of a piano. That way you learn chord progressions, melody and how to swing with just bass and drums.’ He also said, ‘Don’t rely on the rhythm section to give you what you need. You’re the leader – take them where you’re going. Learn how to lead by dynamics, technique, ability and knowledge.’ I studied with him for 2 years – learned so much I couldn’t absorb it all at that time. Then he released his first album, PAGE ONE (Blue Note – 1963), after playing with Kenny Dorham. Being around Joe, I met musicians like (saxophonist) Clarence C. Sharpe, Edgar Bateman (drummer), (bassist) Eddie Khan and (drummer) Rufus ‘Speedy’ Jones, but Joe was my biggest influence.”
Seeking the higher pay the city of Chicago offered, Scavella relocated, working in retail pharmacy and hospital administration. He also owned two pharmacies at one time. Still, as packed as his schedule was, Scavella never stopped blowing his horn on the side. He played with a blues band for six months, using some vacation time when they took a short tour. Another group played opposite organ great Richard “Groove” Holmes on a tour. He’s had the pleasure of backing jazz vocal greats Johnny Hartman and Freddie Cole. Every Friday night for 15 years, he has a standing engagement at The Lakeshore Café as a member of drummer John Jarrett’s band J.J. & The Jazz Masters. Scavella’s other longest group engagement was as the principal arranger and saxophonist for the Groove Masters jazz band from 1978 to 1995.
Scavella finally released his first CD, fittingly titled ‘BOUT TIME in 2008. And in 2010, he retired from pharmacy and hospital administration altogether. “Things were changing,” Scavellaexplains. “My daughter and son had graduated college, and I had the financial latitude and luxury to pursue my first love.” He recently minted his Granville Records label and BerSca Publishing Company for the release of his outstanding second CD, A TASTE OFSCAVELLA, revealing a full-bodied tone on tenor and soprano sax clearly inspired by mentor Joe Henderson. Enjoying peak health, Scavella anticipates a long and prosperous second chapter.
“I plan to tour Europe and Japan, and score a movie,” the sax man states. “And I’m already working on my third project. I always have melodies in my head and I’m always writing. This is going to be a really good time for me.”
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BERNARD SCAVELLA PERFORMANCES