Austin musicians remember jazz drummer
Guitarist Mitch Watkins first met drummer Scott Laningham in the early 1980s, when they were playing together at a concert at a Mexican restaurant on Sixth Street. Laningham was only 21.
“The way we connected musically made me suspect that it was happening more personally and spiritually as well,” Watkins recalls this week. “I certainly introduced this new child to everyone I knew.”
They often played music together over the next 40 years. Watkins, a mainstay of the local jazz community who has toured with artists like Leonard Cohen and Lyle Lovett, enjoyed watching the young prodigy blossom into one of Austin’s best musicians.
In the 2010s, Laningham toured in the groups of Christopher Cross and Alejandro Escovedo. At home he maintained the drum seat famous local jazz outfit Church on Mondays, and he collaborated with Watkins and bassist Chris Maresh in the band Tres Musicos. He also had a wife and eight children, so he worked full time at IBM for the past 20 years.
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On May 8, Laningham collapsed while working in the yard of his home in Leander and died. He was 61 years old. Two weeks later Watkins attended the Laningham Memorial Service, which included films at the drummer’s house enjoying life with his family.
These videos were an eye opener for Watkins. “His life as a loving father and father was something I rarely saw,” Watkins said. “And there were just tons of footage of them on family camping trips, playing in the backyard and working in their backyard.”
Laningham prioritized such experiences even while he was making music and working his day job. “Any of these – family man, full-time IBM employee, or wanted musician – would have pushed a person of normal ability to the limit,” Watkins continued.
“But he managed to keep it all together. He’s lived a fuller life than most, that’s for sure.
On Monday, many of Laningham’s friends and fellow musicians will gather at the Continental Club for a celebration of his life at 6.30pm. Monday’s church will be performing, and many who cherished Laningham will share their memories of him.
Among them, saxophonist Elias Haslanger, who recruited Laningham for the Church group on Monday. The group started a Monday residency at the Continental Gallery (upstairs from the main club) ten years ago and will return in June when the gallery reopens.
“When I decided to start the band, it was the first one I called,” Haslanger said. That says a lot, as the lineup also includes B3 organist James Polk, who toured for years with Ray Charles. But Laningham had left an indelible impression on a teenage Haslanger decades earlier, when his parents took him to a Mitch Watkins band radio performance at KUT’s Studio 1A.
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“He didn’t really seem to fit in with the band, because he was so clean,” Haslanger said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this guy looks really young.’ But then he sat down on drums and just played wonderfully.
Born October 20, 1959 in Dallas, Laningham grew up primarily in the Amarillo area. He came to Austin around 1980 to attend the University of Texas, earning a degree in Radio-Television-Film. He then lived in New York City for a while in the 1980s. When Watkins moved there in 1984, they started playing together in a band which had a memorable concert at the legendary New York Jazz Club Mikell’s. , with Stevie Ray Vaughan seated.
A few years later, Laningham moved to Boston, where he worked for Christian Science Monitor Radio and met his wife, Elizabeth. Over the next two decades, they had eight children. The family eventually relocated to Austin, where Scott began working for IBM doing multimedia projects.
Watkins recalled that Laningham had stopped playing drums for a while during those years. “He decided at some point in his life that he didn’t have time,” Watkins said. “His family came first, which I have always admired him for.”
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Gigs at the Austin jazz institution, the Elephant Room with Watkins and others, as well as Haslanger’s recruiting of Laningham for Church on Monday, brought the drummer back into the Austin music community. Other prominent Austin artists have noticed. Alejandro Escovedo attended numerous church concerts on Mondays and eventually hired Laningham to play drums in his touring band.
Then bassist John Fremgen introduced Laningham to Christopher Cross, who integrated Laningham into his touring band. When Cross and engineer-producer Randy Miller decided to form local jazz supergroup Freedonia several years ago, Laningham was a natural fit for playing the drums.
Laningham’s enthusiasm for the project was essential in bringing together a team of accomplished players. “It really was the impetus to get the group together,” said Cross. Laningham became Freedonia’s emcee in live concerts and also contributed to the band’s repertoire, writing the title track for the band’s 2019 album “Firefly”.
During the pandemic, Laningham remained busy with a variety of projects. He created SLRadio as an online outlet for interviewing several of his fellow local jazz musicians; these interviews can be found on her YouTube channel. He also started recording some of his own tracks, which could be released posthumously.
“People considered Scott to be an incredible drummer and a first-class gifted musician,” Watkins said. “But I was as touched by the kindness and love he showed to everyone as by his sense of music.
“Scott made a huge impression on everyone involved with Freedonia,” Cross said, noting that the group were planning to release a four-song EP containing Laningham’s contributions. “He was very charismatic, so full of life and happy about the music that it was contagious. He drew you in his enthusiasm.
Beyond the music, a real friendship has developed between the two men. Cross invited Laningham and his wife to dinner at his house a few weeks before Laningham’s death. “We had a lovely evening,” Cross said, “with no premonition of what was going to happen.”
Laningham had survived a heart attack three years ago but was generally in good health. EMS technicians attempted to revive him after he collapsed in his yard. His eldest son, Nate, said the family decided not to investigate the cause of death with the medical examiner.
Friends quickly donated over $ 50,000 to a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral and other expenses as the family begins to find a way forward without Laningham. “He was the main breadwinner, so what they’re going to do is really worrying for me,” Haslanger said. He will receive donations for the family at Monday’s Continental Club commemorative event, which will also be televised live on the Monks Jazz Club YouTube page.
A few days before Laningham’s death he posted two original songs on his Bandcamp site. “Holy Ground,” an instrument that features contributions from Watkins and George Strait’s violinist Gene Elders, was inspired by the protests that followed George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last year.
Laningham sings and plays all the instrumentation of the second song, “Carry On”. He wrote a brief explanation of the song on Bandcamp: “In the middle of the extremely difficult year of 2020, I became a grandparent, and it got me thinking about the circle of life – new life coming into the world. at the same time so many were losing loved ones. “Carry On” was a creative result. “
The music is graceful and uplifting. “One life ends, another will be useful,” sings Laningham. “Continue for me.”