American figure skater
Scott Hamilton has experienced the highs and lows of life—from a debilitating childhood disease, to the glory of an Olympic gold medal, to the devastating diagnosis of cancer. Through it all, he has remained a beloved fixture on the figure-skating circuit, an ambassador for his sport, and an inspiration to people facing health crises.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Scott Scovell Hamilton was adopted at age six weeks by Ernie and Dorothy Hamilton of Bowling Green, Ohio. The little boy completed the family that included one older daughter and another adopted son, but over time the Hamiltons, both college instructors, began to notice that their toddler was not thriving. A series of tests showed that the child was not absorbing food nutrients, stunting his growth. He was prescribed different diets and treatments, none of which improved his condition. When Scott was eight, doctors handed the Hamiltons the frightening news that the boy had cystic fibrosis; that, like other diagnoses over the years, was incorrect.
Finding His Place in the Rink
Hamilton was finally correctly diagnosed with Schwachmann's Syndrome, a rare condition that paralyzes the intestinal tract and restricts breathing. There was no medical treatment for Schwachmann's apart from a regimen of protein-rich foods and regular exercise. The latter issue was decided when the boy followed his sister, Susan, to an ice rink one day and found his calling. "This frail little kid with the tube running across his cheek turned and said, 'You know, I think I'd like to try skating,'" Ernest Hamilton related to Sports Illustrated reporter Bob Ottum.
Skating seemed to be the catalyst for Hamilton's recovery. Despite his small size, the boy grew in strength and endurance. He played some hockey, but his passion was figure skating. By age thirteen, Hamilton had become a competitive skater, leaving home to train with Olympian Pierre Brunet in Illinois. High-level training and competition, however, was an expensive endeavor; in 1976 Hamilton left the ice, citing the financial burden to his parents. But a year later, Dorothy Hamilton died of cancer; seemingly propelled by her memory, Scott Hamilton returned to figure skating with a drive to succeed. An anonymous couple had staked the young competitor to a sponsorship, and Hamilton trained with Carlo Fassi and Don Laws.
Hamilton's first wide exposure came at the National Figure Skating Championships, where he rose from ninth place in 1977 to third a year later. Hamilton then dominated the Norton Skate Championships (known today as Skate America), wining four years running. Five consecutive Eastern Figure Skating Championships also added to his credentials. After making the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, Hamilton found himself bestowed an unusual honor: "The team had a meeting about who to pick" to bear the U.S. flag in the opening ceremonies, Hamilton told Ottum. "And someone made this emotional pitch for me, pointing out that I had overcome terrible obstacles, sickness and all, and that my mom had died at a crucial point in my career, and that I was the smallest male Olympian there." He was named the flag-bearer that year.
Leaping to Gold
The winter games in Lake Placid saw Hamilton finishing a respectable fifth in the men's individual division. Apparently the skater was just beginning to hit his stride, for following the Olympics Hamilton took fifteen consecutive titles. Though never the biggest man on the ice, Hamilton distinguished himself as one of the boldest, eschewing sequins and spins for utilitarian attire and athletic triple-jumps. "My size is perfect for skating," he said in a New York Times interview with Frank Litsky. "I have a lower center of balance. I don't have as much body to adjust when I make a mistake, and not as much body to get tired."
|1958||Born August 28, in Toledo, Ohio|
|1958||Adopted by Ernest and Dorothy Hamilton|
|1966||Diagnosed with Schwachmann's Syndrome|
|1966||Begins figure skating|
|1971||Leaves home to train with Olympic medalist Pierre Brunet|
|1976||Temporarily stops competitive skating|
|1980||Represents U.S. at Olympic winter games, Lake Placid, NY|
|1984||Represents U.S. at Olympic winter games, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia|
|1985||Begins career as professional figure skater and commentator|
|1996||Co-founder, Discover Cards Stars on Ice|
|1997||Diagnosed with testicular cancer|
|1998||Returns to professional skating|
|2002||Marries Tracie Robinson|
By 1984, Hamilton was considered the man to beat at the Olympic winter games in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia: he had not lost a competition since September 1980, and his credits included four U.S. and world titles. He performed to expectation in the now-abandoned school-figures competition, but Hamilton's uncharacteristic shaky performance in the short program landed the skater in second place, behind Canada's Brian Orser, going into the freestyle long program. Quoted by Time reporter B. J. Phillips as saying he "wasn't into the ice" that day, Hamilton doubled two of his planned triple jumps. Despite the disappointing free skate, however, Hamilton had collected enough points in the school-figures and short programs to secure the gold medal and his place in sports history. As the Time article noted, Hamilton come to Sarajevo with a cold and an ear infection. "Though he refused to blame his curtailed performance on the illness, close observers noticed its effect." But, Phillips added, "nothing was wrong with his theatrical instincts." Hamilton provided an encore to the medals ceremony by skating a victory lap with the American flag held high.
Following Sarajevo Hamilton turned competitive professional, winning such contests as the Nutrasweet/NBC World Professional Figures Skating Championship. He also toured with the Ice Capades and formed the Scott Hamilton Amateur Tour before co-founding the Discover Stars on Ice touring company in 1986. For several years it seemed that no TV figure-skating show was complete without a turn by the gold medalist: A Very Special Christmas, An Olympic Calgary Christmas, Scott Hamilton's Celebration on Ice, A Salute to Dorothy Hamill , Vail Skating Special, A Disney Christmas on Ice, and Nancy Kerrigan & Friends are just a sample of his appearances. And when he wasn't skating, Hamilton was in the announcer's booth, providing expert analysis during televised competition.
Overcoming Another Obstacle
But Hamilton's life would change in 1997. Coming off a performance with his Discover Stars on Ice company, the athlete experienced severe shooting pain in his lower back and abdomen, which he attributed to an ulcer. Doctors discovered a malignant tumor—but even in the face of this diagnosis, Hamilton went on to perform that night. Later it was determined that Hamilton had contracted testicular cancer, a disease that strikes thousands of American men each year. "In the tightly knit world of skaters," wrote a contributor to People, "the news was devastating."
His peers rallied in support of Hamilton through the skater's chemotherapy treatment. "He's always been our big brother, someone to turn to," skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi explained in the People piece. The chemotherapy reduced the tumor to manageable size; in June 1997 surgery removed it along with Hamilton's right testicle. Then, characteristically, he returned to the ice with his typical showmanship plus a new direction in life. Hamilton became an advocate for cancer awareness, particularly among men. "It's all about awareness," he said in a January 2001 online chat transcribed by ABCNews.com. "The more it is discussed, the more you feel like [testicular] cancer is prevalent. The earlier you detect a problem, the better off you are. In any form of cancer—not just this kind."
After pronouncing himself "not 100 [percent] yet, but I will be" in 2001, Hamilton devoted 2002 to personal and professional causes. He had already founded the Scott Hamilton Cancer Alliance for Research, Education and Survivorship (CARES) at the Cleveland [Ohio] Clinic Taussig Cancer Center, where he was treated. In 2002, the skater then launched the web site chemocare.com to help cancer patients understand chemotherapy treatment and its side effects. In December 2002, Hamilton married Tracie Robinson in Malibu, California.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1977||Finished ninth, National Figure Skating Championship|
|1978||Finished third, National Figure Skating Championship|
|1979||First of four Norton Skate Championships (Skate America), 1979-82|
|1980||Carried American flag, winter Olympics opening ceremony, Lake Placid, New York|
|1980||Finished fifth, winter Olympic games|
|1980||Wins first of fifteen consecutive championships, 1980-84|
|1984||Gold medalist, winter Olympic games, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia|
|1984||March of Dimes Achievement Award|
|1986||Professional Skater of the Year, American Skating World|
|1988||Jacques Favart Award, International Skating Union|
|1990||Inducted into U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame and World Figure Skating Hall of Fame|
|1993||Spirit of Giving Award, U.S. Ice Skating Association|
In a 1983 Sports Illustrated article, Bob Ottum summed up Hamilton's appeal. "Where other male and female skaters specialize," he wrote, "Hamilton is the sport's only all-around performer, equally good at athleticism and artistry. Even better, he doesn't look the part.… He looks as if you could hold him up to a strong light and see right through him. But that, too, is pure deception. Somewhere inside him are several miles of tightly drawn sinew and a startling sense of dedication."
Newsmakers 1998. Detroit: Gale, 1999.
Litsky, Frank. New York Times (March 7, 1983).
Nolt, Laura Simmons. "Olympic Skaters: Taking Turns for the Better." Saturday Evening Post (March, 1984).
Ottum, Bob. "Great Scott! What A Doubleheader." Sports Illustrated (March 21, 1983).
Phillips, B. J. "A Little Touch of Heaven." Time (February 27, 1984).
Sports Illustrated (March 16, 1981).
Sports Illustrated (February 6, 1984).
Tresniowski, Alex. "Full of Fight." People (April 7, 1997).
"Scott Hamilton" ABCNews.com. http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/hamiltonchat_990128.html (January 21, 2001).
Sketch by Susan Salter
Tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton emerged as a major jazz talent in the late 1970s by bucking the trend. Whereas many jazz artists had gravitated toward free jazz in the 1960s and jazz fusion in the 1970s, Hamilton looked back toward swing and bop from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Grounded in the classic American songbook, his style embraced the lyricism of Ben Webster and the passion of John Coltrane. "What I love about his consistent tenor sax playing," noted John Barrett Jr. in Jazz Review, "is his ability to present these old standards the way the songs were originally intended—a refreshing change as everything is new again." Despite his dedication to old styles, however, Hamilton has excelled by leaving his own mark on yesterday's standards. Mark Miller in the Toronto Globe and Mail noted that "Hamilton has shaped his formative influences into a forthright style of his own."
Hamilton was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1954. As a child, he first learned to play the clarinet and took piano lessons. He also learned to play harmonica, and worked for a short time in a rock and roll band before returning to his primary love, jazz. As a teenager he listened to his father's extensive collection of classic jazz recordings from the 1930s and 1940s, and used them as a basis to teach himself to play the saxophone. In 1976 at the age of 22, Hamilton left Rhode Island for New York. The This Is Worcester website noted, "This was all several years before Wynton Marsalis and the new jazz renaissance would usher in a rediscovery of mainstream sensibilities."
In the mid-1970s Hamilton began his long residency with Concord Records, a label devoted to early styles of jazz. In 1977 he released his first album on the label, Is a Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill, on which he included versions of Coleman Hawkins's "Stuffy" and Hart-Rodgers's "The Blue Room." Early reviewers noted Hamilton's debt to jazz greats from the past. "He blows beautifully," wrote David Lancashire in the Globe and Mail, "using the kind of big, breathy, sandy tone that went out of style with Chuck Berry, Coleman Hawkins and Hershel Evans." Others brought attention to his ability to transform his influences into a unique approach. "It's not quite so novel now," wrote Miller, "and although Hamilton … has developed a more personal style, he can no longer just be praised for his devotion to the older styles, he must be judged by them."
In 1982 Hamilton joined a number of his label mates in the Concord All-Stars, a group sponsored by John Norris, the publisher of Coda magazine. The group completed a brief tour of Canada and Europe, performing shows in Toronto and Bern. The showcase for Concord's talent also included individual spotlights, featuring Hamilton on such classics as "Stella By Starlight." By 1984, in addition to his work with his contemporaries, he led his own band, playing venues like Bourbon Street in Toronto. As the 1980s progressed, he also found himself working with a number of established players, whose styles reached back to jazz's golden age. In 1985 he was invited to perform with George Weins's Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars; in 1986 he recorded with trumpeter Ruby Braff on A Sailboat in the Moonlight; and in 1987 he performed a number of live dates with tenor saxophonist Flip Phillips.
In 1990 Hamilton simultaneously appeared on three Concord albums, revealing his strengths as a leader, a sideman, and a purveyor of multiple styles of jazz. On the first, Radio City, he led a quartet on a set list that included less-frequently played classics along with originals. On At Last, Hamilton co-led a quintet with pianist Gene Harris that featured guitarist Herb Ellis and bassist Ray Brown. And finally, on Sabia, he backed singer Susannah McCorkle on a set of Brazilian songs. Referring to the set of albums, Lloyd Sachs wrote in Jazz Notes, "The more I listen to this prolific young veteran … the more I'm convinced there are only a few jazz musicians who are as consistently enjoyable." On Red Door in 1998, he joined with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli to offer a tribute to an early idol, saxophonist Zoot Sims. The duo decided to record without either a bassist or drummer, giving the set an intimate feel. The album also reflected a 1973 project between Sims and Pizzarelli. Scot Yanow at All Music Guide noted, "This excellent, slightly offbeat outing is highly recommended to fans of swinging mainstream jazz."
Hamilton spends a great deal of time on the road and has frequently toured abroad. European audiences have seemed even more appreciative of his classic style, leading to invitations from a number of festivals. "You just don't find these types of venues in the States," Hamilton told Barrett. "There are so many places to play here [Europe]." After living in New York for 25 years, Hamilton relocated to England. He has also appeared on a number of tribute albums, starting with 'S Wonderful, a tribute to Ira Gershwin in 1979, and including the memorable Organic Duke in 1994.
In 2005 Hamilton recorded Back Home in New York, marking his 28th year on Concord. "Listening to Back in New York," wrote Jon W. Poses in the Columbia Daily Tribune, "is like spreading butter and strawberry jam on hot toast: You know what it is; you know you will like it; you're used to it; and it fits a comfort zone." Hamilton also appeared on Jay Geils Plays Jazz, working with pianist Al Wilson to back the ex-rock singer, and toured with the Scott Hamilton Quartet. With re-issues of his early recordings, multiple new releases, and an upcoming Japanese tour in the fall and winter, Hamilton has become one of the leading practitioners of mainstream jazz. "As the world's outstanding exponent of mainstream tenor saxophone," wrote Jack Massarik in the Evening Standard, "this relaxed New Englander would argue that if you're tops at what you do, you'd be stupid to tinker with it."
For the Record …
Born on September 12, 1954, in Providence, RI.
Recorded first album, Is a Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill, Concord Records, 1977; appeared on Rosemary Clooney's Here's to My Lady, 1978; toured with Concord All-Stars, 1982; performed with Newport Jazz Festival All-Stars, mid-1980s; appeared on Radio City, At Last, and Sabia, 1990; recorded with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli on Red Door: Remember Zoot Sims, 1998; toured with Scott Hamilton Quartet and released Back in New York, 2005.
Addresses: Record company—Concord Records, P.O. Box 15096, Beverly Hills, CA 90209, phone: (310) 385-4455, website: http://www.concordrecords.com.
Is a Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No Ill, Concord Jazz, 1977.
Scott Hamilton 2, Concord Jazz, 1978.
Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache, Concord Jazz, 1978.
Back to Back, Concord Jazz, 1978.
Tenorshoes, Concord Jazz, 1979.
Scott's Buddy, Concord Jazz, 1980.
Apples and Oranges, Concord Jazz, 1981.
Close Up, Concord Jazz, 1982.
The Scott Hamilton Quintet in Concert, Concord Jazz, 1983.
The Second Set, Concord Jazz, 1983.
At First, Concord Jazz, 1985.
Major League, Concord Jazz, 1986.
The Right Time, Concord Jazz, 1986.
Scott Hamilton Plays Ballads, Concord Jazz, 1989.
Radio City, Concord Jazz, 1990.
Groovin' High, Concord Jazz, 1991.
Race Point, Concord Jazz, 1991.
Scott Hamilton With Strings, Concord Jazz, 1992.
East of the Sun, Concord Jazz, 1993.
Organic Duke, Concord Jazz, 1994.
Live at the Beacon Jazz Festival, Concord Jazz, 1994.
My Romance, Concord Jazz, 1995.
After Hours, Concord Jazz, 1997.
Christmas Love Songs, Concord Jazz, 1997.
Last Night Christmas Eve, Concord Jazz, 1997.
Red Door: Remember Zoot Sims, Concord Jazz, 1998.
Blues, Bop, and Ballads, Concord Jazz, 1999.
Jazz Signatures, Concord Jazz, 2001.
Scott Hamilton Quartet Live in London, Concord Jazz, 2003.
Heavy Juice, Concord Jazz, 2004.
Back in New York, Concord Jazz, 2005.
Evening Standard (London, England), January 5, 2005. p. 27.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), November 10, 1978, p.15; April 15, 1981, p. 20; September 26, 1991, p. C2.
Jazz Notes, November 22, 1990, p. 76
"Hamilton's Latest Jazz Dish Is Musical Butter on Toast," Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.showmenews.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Scott Hamilton," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Scott Hamilton Jazz A Liege," Jazz Review, http://www.jazzreview.com/ (May 10, 2005).
"Super Smooth Sax in the City," This Is Worcester, http://www.thisisworcester.co.uk/ (May 10, 2005).
Hamilton, Scott, jazz tenor saxophonist; b. Providence, R.I., Sept. 12, 1954. He is a traditionalist who recalls Ben Webster, Flip Phillips, and others, but plays with such authenticity that one forgets the comparisons. He was influenced by his father’s record collection. He played harmonica, then took up the tenor sax at 16 and formed a quartet at 18 with which he still plays: Chuck Riggs (drums), Chris Flory (guitar) and Phil Flanigan (bass); sometimes John Bunch played piano. He became famous in New England circles in the 1970s, then moved to N.Y in 1976. That year he met a frequent collaborator, cornetist Warren Vache, in a club. He was also recommended to Benny Goodman by Bunch, and worked with Goodman until 1978; he worked again briefly with Goodman in 1982. His tenure with Goodman led to a contract with Concord Records and a stint with the Concord All-Stars (1978–82), and widespread publicity that touted him as leader of a swing revival. From 1982-88 he worked with Ruby Braff, while also leading his own quintet. In the 1990s he has had a much lower profile.
Good Wind Who Is Blowing Us No III (1977); Back to Back (1978); With S.’s Band in N.Y. (1978); S.H. (1978); S.H. 2 (1978); Grand Appearance (1978); Skyscrapers (1979); Tenorshoes (1979); S.’s Buddy (1980); Apples & Oranges (1981); Close Up (1982); Second Set (1983); S.H. Quintet in Concert (1983); A First (1985); Major League (1986); Right Time (1986); S.H. Plays Ballads (1989); Radio City (1990); At Last (1991); With Strings (1992); Groovin’High (1992); East of the Sun (1993); Organic Duke (1994); Live at the Beacon Jazz Festival (1995), My Romance (1995); After Hours (1997); Christmas Love Song (1997); Red Door: Remember Zoot Sims (1998); Blues Bop & Ballads (1999); Late Night Christmas Eve (2000).
—Music Master Jazz and Blues Catalogue/Lewis Porter