EDUCATION: Knoel Scott began his musical studies at the age of ten with piano lessons. Discovering the saxophone a couple of years later proved to be a dramatic turning-point: it finally liberated his speech from a stutter he had endured for twelve years. Knoel attended Queens College and State University of New York College at Old Westbury, graduating in 1979. One mentor was Dr. Ken ‘Makanda’ McIntyre, a jazz education pioneer steeped in composition and performance of the African-American tradition. Knoel also studied with percussionist Warren Smith: arranging, in addition to percussion. Other formative events included being taken under the wing by Harlem dancer/historian Ray Mckethan, by the great Scoby Stroman and by Babs Gonzales – who initiated Knoel to bebop: the motive force of modern jazz. While absorbing all this, Knoel found time to learn tap-dancing.
JAZZ CAREER: Knoel’s career as a jazz musician was launched by Warren Smith in his Composers Workshop Ensemble. Then came a crucial encounter, with an icon of cutting-edge jazz: Sun Ra. Trombonist/composer Craig Harris alerted Sun Ra to Knoel, who soon was touring and recording with the Sun Ra Arkestra.
In 1982, Knoel began a residency which made his name in Harlem. This led to another historic meeting: early one morning, bebop drummer Khalil took the young Knoel Scott to a house on 77th Street: the house of Miles Davis. in an impromptu consultation, Miles encouraged straight tone and setting aside the mannerisms of Charlie Parker.
Meanwhile Knoel – the ‘King Tut’ of Harlem – was becoming a fixture at its many clubs: Showman’s Cafe, Smalls’ Paradise, Red Rooster, Lickety Split and La Famille – during an era when jazz was played until sunrise. He succeeded the great Al King as the dominant saxophonist in Harlem, working principaly with the Seleno Clarke Sextet as well as keyboardists Freddie drew, Nat Williams, Jack McDuff, Don Pullen and John Hicks.
Alto sax compatriots Larry Smith, Steve Coleman, Louis Keel and grandmaster Lou Donaldson were amongst who frequently participated in sessions the Knoel led. Knoel was a chosen substitute for the great Max Lucas: tenor and baritone saxophonist who played for Louis Armstong, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Nat King Cole. And in 1987 Knoel created the Harlem Renaissance Jazz Festival.
Others he worked with over the next ten years included Olu Dara, Bobby Forrester, Larry ’88 keys’ Keyes, Andy Razaf, Jimmy ‘Preacher’ Robbins; keyboardists Charles Earland, Victor Davis, Jimmy Watson and Donald Smith; trumpeters Tommy Turrentine, Jerry Gonzales, Bucky Thorpe; drummers Panama Wallace, Greg Bandy and Buddy Mack; singers Rochelle Thompson, Jann Parker and Leon Thomas.
In 1988 Sun Ra invited Knoel back to the Arkestra, to fill a reed-section chair temporarily vacant during an absence of Marshall Allen. Knoel retained that chair to this present day – usually playing alto sax but occasionally tenor or his native baritone. Sun Ra also encouraged Knoel to dance and sing, and his Ra-inspired versatility and agility continues to enthrall audiences.
TOURS: Between tours with Sun Ra, from 1989 to 1992 Knoel also toured with the rock group NRBQ. In 1989 he was featured in jazz trumpeter Olu Daras Okra’s Orchestra performance at the Joseph Papp theatre, and during 1990 in Philadelphia performances by Zydeco legend Boozoo Chavez.
AS LEADER: In addition to alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, Knoel’s extensive performance and recording career has featured him on flute, bass clarinet and contra-alto clarinet. In 1998 he led an ensemble including Arkestra trumpeter Cecil Brooks and Philadelphians Dr. Guy Ramsey on electric piano, Fahir Kendall on bass and Sun Ra alumnus Eddie Jones on drums, leading to a recording under the title BeBop and Beyond.
During 2002-6 Knoel was located in Alaska where he formed the Knoel Scott Trio, performing his own compositions with renowned keyboardist Barney McClure, and recording Knoel Scott Live In Alaska (BMP C001801).
In 2010 Knoel concentrated on composing and arranging, frequently in collaboration with Marshall Allen. He put together a number of groups in France, making appearances in the 2011 and 2012 Nancy NJP Festivals. In 2013 Knoel guest-conducted the Tuvan Orchestra in Siberia, where he also directed a quintet of Arkestra members (Dave Davis on trombone, Dave Hotep on guitar, Elson Nasimento on surdo drum, and Danny Ray Thompson on flute and baritone saxophone).
PRESENT ACTIVITIES: Knoel currently works both sides of the Atlantic, frequent Sun Ra Arkestra tours alternating with intensive work on his own Knoel Scott Quartet (“KSQ”) to which he has attracted the enthusiastic participation of top-rate young musicians including the British piano prodigy Charlie Stacey. The KSQ has become known as a ‘must see’ amongst the live audiences of London