Scott Heustis: Beyond Category

Jazz guitarist Scott Heustis is hosting a monthly residency at Max Steiner’s, which he calls Scott’s Second Saturdays. This Saturday, May 12th, he’s invited Anubis Rhythm Asylum, a project of the much celebrated local keyboard player R. Scott, who is perhaps best known for his work with OO Soul. He’s also led the Carnival Kings, The Helmut Stein Experience, and played with countless others.

Also on the bill is trumpet player Dan Clucas’ Appers. Clucas is a fixture in the LA Jazz scene, with a long list of credits that includes dates with Jeff Kaiser, Steuart Liebig, and Nels Cline.

Closing the night is Scott’s own trio. Scott is an adventurous guitarist of rare talent and subtlety. While he’s performed in a number of different contexts over the years, and embraced the use of pedal effects and even synthesizers in the past, he’s put all that behind him. Now, he pulls a broad palette of sounds from his instrument simply by using his fingers.

He’s perfectly able to play composed music but, in the context of his quartet, improvisation is the order of the day. I asked him about that.

“Group improvisation is my main inspiration,” Scott said. “I’ve been in many bands that played composed, well rehearsed music, and it always seemed sterile to me. It works for classical music but, for other genres, I think the charts should be put away. I can always tell when a band is playing from sheet music. Even with excellent sight readers the music sounds stiff. I prefer the sound of good musicians taking chances. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s really GREAT!!”

I asked Scott if his work falls into any specific genre.

“I have roots in Jazz and rock and experimental music,” he said. “Though I want to get beyond category. It makes me happy when the audience is scratching their heads and come up to me and ask, ‘What the f___ is that music you are playing? What do you call that?’

“I work very hard to rid my playing of cliches, and I expect the other members of my band to do the same. It’s hard on the guitar. The most popular instrument on the planet has been played by so many people and for so long. How do you carve out your own niche? Only by diligently removing any and all ‘licks’ that sound like somebody else. Then, what’s left, if there is anything left at all, will be me. Then the problem becomes: What to do with my own cliches?”

I asked if his approach requires a complete deconstruction of traditional guitar technique.

“No,” Scott said. “I like harmony. I like melody. I like rhythm. To a certain extent I do make some non-guitar like sounds on the instrument, but I only use my hands. ‘Five fingers, six strings and one asshole,’ to quote Keith Richards.

“I don’t use any effects at all. Playing with timbres seems to be a jumping off point for many musicians. Like fellow guitarists Nels Cline and GE Stinson. They’ve got a whole army of stomp boxes. I’ve played with effects in the past, but I feel I can do things sans effects other guitarists can’t, or don’t. In other words I sound more like me, instead of like anybody else that spent $100 on a stomp box at Guitar Center.”

On a number of occasions, I observed a level of musical interaction between Scott and his go-to drummer, Breeze Smith, that verges on telepathy.

“There is a mystery element there that I can’t explain,” Scott admitted. “Sometimes Breeze and I can spontaneously do a 180 in a tune and it sounds incredible! This happens naturally with some musicians that I have worked with. The unspoken communication, ESP, or whatever you want to call it, sometimes happens with certain musicians right away. Soemtimes it takes time, lots of gigs and rehearsals before the connection gets made. Sometimes it never connects at all. Even with excellent, seasoned musicians…. the magic bond doesn’t form. Weird.”

Scott is a Long Beach native. About the music scene, he had this to say.

“It is scattered. We’ve got a big variety of different music in this town. What is the Long Beach ‘sound’? There is no music style that I can put my finger on. As far as improvised music, the scene is greatly improved recently thanks to guys like Sumako, Ken Huntington and Anthony Shadduck. The folks at Fingerprints, too.

“We should have a stronger scene here,” he opined, “since Long Beach is the home of KJAZZ, the biggest, most popular jazz station in the US. It’s definitley better than it used to be.”

I asked him about the line-up for this Saturday’s show.

“First up,” Scott said, “at 9 PM, is Scott Dibble’s (aka R. Scott) Anubis Rhythm Asylum. If you live in Socal, you should already know about Mr. Dibble. He’s a member of OO-Soul, founder of Helmut Stein, The Carneval Kings and, way back when, the amazing West Coast Harem. I sat in with a few of these outfits in the past, and I’m sitting in with him this Saturday too.

“Second up is Dan Clucas’ Appers. Dan is an improvising trumpeter supreme. He’s got Jeff Schwartz playing upright bass, Brian Christopherson on drums and Tim Perkis with electronics.

“Third on deck,” he continued, “batting cleanup, is The Scott Heustis Trio: Yours truly, Scott Heustis, on guitar, Breeze Smith playing drums, and Tony Green on upright bass. We will have special guests, too. Stay tuned for the June and July lineups. It’s going to be killer!!”

Max Steiner’s seems like an unlikely place for an experimental Jazz night, so I asked him about it.

“Max Steiner’s,” said Scott, “has become a very cool venue in Long Beach, thanks to Ken Huntington. A very eclectic petrie dish of a music scene is growing there. An unstoppable fungus.”

Max Steiner’s is located in Long Beach at 2500 E. Anaheim St., on the South East corner of Anaheim and Stanley Avenue. Music starts at 9 PM.

For more information about Scott, visit

To learn more about R. Scott, visit

Check out Dan Clucas’ recordings on

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