“The trombone is a fascinating instrument,” Scotty Hill declared in a 1999 interview when he was inducted into New Orleans Magazine’s Jazz All-Stars. The love of the instrument never dimmed during his life-long career playing jazz music. Scotty Cathcart Hill, a New Orleans native, died on April 24, 2018 at the age of 70.
Hill, who began his musical journey playing with the Fortier High School band and went on to earn a degree in music at Loyola University, was best known as the leader of the French Market Jazz Band. An impressively long list of noted musicians passed through Hill’s group, which primarily played on the streets of the French Quarter.
“A lot of people don’t realize that Scotty was an individual that made it possible for everybody to play on the streets,” says trumpeter Gregg Stafford, who began performing with Hill around 1975. “His band was the first band out on the streets of New Orleans,” Stafford continues, as he remembers what a struggle it was for Hill to stand up against complaints from shop owners and harassment by the police to keep his group playing outdoors in the French Quarter. “Many a time we had to go to court, we were issued summons, arrested and went to jail.”
Hill’s French Market Jazz Band’s spot was on the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets and, according to Stafford, most of the musicians who worked regular gigs on Bourbon Street in the early 1980s would join the group on their days off. “We were making more money in two hours on the street than they’d make in six hours in a club. We were the only band on the street.”
Hill was “in the house” in the early 1970s at the opening of Bourbon Street’s Crazy Shirley’s bar with some now-legendary figures of New Orleans jazz including trumpeter Teddy Riley, pianist Ellis Marsalis, drummer Bob and bassist George French and clarinetist/saxophonist Otis Bazoon. He also made appearances at Preservation Hall and on occasion played at the Palm Court with guitarist/banjoist Danny Barker. An adaptable musician and an accomplished reader, he recorded with artists like pianist David Torkanowsky and saxophonist David Lastie.
A keeper of the tailgate trombone style, Hill rightfully idolized the great New Orleans trombonist Waldren “Frog” Joseph, who he emulated but never tried to copy. “He had his own style and was strictly a New Orleans trombone player,” Stafford offers. Hill also did his share of singing on numbers like “Eh La Bas” and his own version of “Don’t Mess with My Toot Toot.”
Though Hill played the streets and lived in the French Quarter as manager of his mother’s apartments, he kept a low profile and retired from performing following Katrina.
Hill once remembered when his love-at-first-sight infatuation with the trombone began. “One night I saw the Dorsey Brothers on television and the next day I told my mother and father I wanted to play the trombone.” It was a marriage that lasted a lifetime.