Scott LaFaro
Scott LaFaro.jpg
Background information
Birth nameRocco Scott LaFaro
Born(1936-04-03)April 3, 1936
Newark, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedJuly 6, 1961(1961-07-06) (aged 25)
Seneca, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, bebop, cool jazz, modal jazz, free jazz
Instrument(s)Double bass
Years active1955–1961
LabelsRiverside, Atlantic

Rocco Scott LaFaro (April 3, 1936 – July 6, 1961)[1] was an American jazz double bassist known for his work with the Bill Evans Trio. LaFaro broke new ground on the instrument, developing a countermelodic style of accompaniment rather than playing traditional walking basslines, as well as virtuosity that was practically unmatched by any of his contemporaries. Despite his short career, he remains one of the most influential jazz bassists, and was ranked number 16 on Bass Player magazine's top 100 bass players of all time.[2]

Early life

Born in Newark, New Jersey, United States,[1] the son of a big band musician, LaFaro was five when his family moved to Geneva, New York. He started playing piano in elementary school, bass clarinet in middle school, and tenor saxophone when he entered high school.[3] He took up double bass at 18 before entering college because learning a string instrument was required of music education majors. After three months at Ithaca College, he concentrated on bass.[1] He played in groups at the College Spa and Joe's Restaurant[4] on State Street in downtown Ithaca.


Beginning in 1955, he was a member of the Buddy Morrow big band.[5] He left that organization to work in Los Angeles. LaFaro spent most of his days practicing his instrument. He practiced from sheet music for the higher-pitched clarinet to improve his facility the upper register for bass. Fellow bassist Red Mitchell taught him how to pluck strings with both the index and middle fingers independently. For much of 1958, LaFaro was with pianist/vibraphonist Victor Feldman's band.

In 1959, after working with trumpeter Chet Baker, bandleader Stan Kenton, vibraphonist Cal Tjader,[6] and clarinetist Benny Goodman, LaFaro returned east and joined Bill Evans, who had recently left the Miles Davis Sextet.[1] With Evans and drummer Paul Motian he developed the counter-melodic style that would come to characterize his playing. Evans, LaFaro, and Motian were committed to the idea of three equal voices in the trio, working together for a singular musical idea and often without any musician explicitly keeping time.[citation needed]

By late 1960, LaFaro was in demand as a bassist. He replaced Charlie Haden as Ornette Coleman's bassist in January 1961.[1] For a time, Haden and LaFaro shared an apartment. He also played in Stan Getz's band between jobs with the Bill Evans trio. Around this time he received a greeting card from Miles Davis suggesting that Davis wanted to hire him.[7]

In June 1961, the Bill Evans trio began two weeks of performances at the Village Vanguard in New York City. The trio attracted attention for its style. The last day was recorded for two albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.[8]


LaFaro died in an automobile accident on July 6, 1961, in Seneca, New York,[5] on U.S. Route 20 between Geneva and Canandaigua,[9] four days after accompanying Stan Getz at the Newport Jazz Festival. According to Paul Motian, the death of LaFaro left Bill Evans "numb with grief", "in a state of shock", and "like a ghost".[10] Obsessively he played "I Loves You Porgy", a song that had become synonymous with him and LaFaro. Evans stopped performing for several months.


LaFaro started his professional career playing a German-made Mittenwald double bass but it was stolen in the Spring of 1958.

Shortly after, he acquired a bass made in 1825 in Concord, New Hampshire by Abraham Prescott. The top of the instrument is a three-piece plate of slab-cut fir; the back is a two-piece plate of moderately flamed maple with an ebony inlay at the center joint; the sides are made of matching maple. It has rolled corners on the bottom and very sloped shoulders on the top, making it easier to get in and out of thumb position. LaFaro continued to play this bass until his death. The bass was badly damaged in the automobile accident that killed him, but was eventually restored and is sporadically used in performance to honor LaFaro.[11]

Bill Evans said of LaFaro's Prescott bass: "It had a marvelous sustaining and resonating quality. He would be playing in the hotel room and hit a quadruple stop that was a harmonious sound, and then set the bass on its side and it seemed the sound just rang and rang for so long."[12]

Posthumously released items

In 1988, Insights label of RVC Corporation in Japan released Memories for Scotty. The album included five tracks recorded in New York City during 1961 with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca.[13]

In 2009, Resonance Records reissued five tracks from Memories for Scotty on Pieces of Jade, together with twenty-two minutes of LaFaro and Bill Evans practising "My Foolish Heart" during a rehearsal in 1960. Also in 2009, the University of North Texas Press published Jade Visions, a biography of LaFaro by his sister Helene LaFaro-Fernandez, with an extensive discography.


On March 5, 2014, the Geneva (New York) City Council approved making April 3 Scott LaFaro Day.[14] On April 4, 2014 a ceremony to rename a downtown street Scott LaFaro Drive took place.[15][16]

According to Joachim Berendt, LaFaro's innovative approach to the bass caused "emancipation", introducing "so many diverse possibilities as would have been thought impossible for the bass only a short time before".[17]

Bassist Charlie Haden recalled:

When I was in L.A., Scotty LaFaro and I roomed together. He would practice for hours: he had all these Sonny Rollins solos he had written out in bass clef! I remained close friends with Scotty in New York, and would go over there to see and admire them, and Scotty and Paul would come over to the Five Spot, too. When Scotty was killed at age 25 (I was 24), I was devastated — I couldn't play for months. I never knew how Scotty felt about my playing until Paul told me later that the first time Paul heard me it was because Scotty had dragged him out in a snowstorm, "You've got to hear this great bass player with Ornette!"[18]


As co-leader

As sideman

With Ornette Coleman

With Bill Evans

With Victor Feldman

With Don Friedman

With Stan Getz and Cal Tjader

With Hampton Hawes

With Booker Little

With Pat Moran McCoy

With Marty Paich

With Gunther Schuller

With Tony Scott


  1. ^ a b c d e Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 250. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ "The 100 Greatest Bass Players of All Time -". 27 March 2019. Archived from the original on 2019-03-27. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  3. ^ "Jazz Improv Magazine". Archived from the original on 24 December 2005. Retrieved July 29, 2021.
  4. ^ "Ralston". Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2009-10-28.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  5. ^ a b Yanow, Scott. "Scott LaFaro". AllMusic. Retrieved August 21, 2018.
  6. ^ "Ralston". Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2009-10-28.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  7. ^ "Scott LaFaro Chronology 1961". 9 December 2005. Retrieved 9 September 2016.
  8. ^ Bailey, C. Michael. "Best Live Jazz Recordings (1953-65)". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  9. ^ "Scott LaFaro: Chronology 1961". Archived from the original on 2009-10-28. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  10. ^ Gopnick, Adam. "It was just one afternoon in a jazz club forty years ago". Bill Evans Webpages. Retrieved 2013-08-23.
  11. ^ [1][dead link]
  12. ^ Pettinger, Peter (2002). Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings. Yale University Press. p. 113.
  13. ^ "Don Friedman Discography". Retrieved February 11, 2022.
  14. ^ David L. Shaw, "It's official: April 3 will be Scott LaFaro Day in Geneva", The Finger Lakes Times, Friday, March 7, 2014
  15. ^ David L. Shaw, "Innovation and Inspiration: Geneva celebrates the life and legacy of renowned jazz musician Scott LaFaro", The Finger Lakes Times, Sunday, April 6, 2014
  16. ^ Jim Meaney, "Honoring Scott LaFaro in Geneva, NY: Scott LaFaro Day, street re-naming, and a special Geneva Night Out on April 4th",, Tuesday, April 1, 2014
  17. ^ Berendt, Joachim E (1976). The Jazz Book. Paladin. p. 282.
  18. ^ Ethan Iverson (March 2008). "Interview with Charlie Haden". Do The Math. Retrieved 18 November 2016.

Further reading