The ivories in the East Gloucester home of Stephen Scotti have been silenced with the death of a man who is being remembered by family and friends as a quintessential musician who wrote both comic and dramatic melodies about everything from his adopted town to more global matters.
At 17 years old, the pianist began paying his way through college at Boston University, in part, through his performances in the famed Scollay Square of Boston, an area often remembered as the home of vaudeville and burlesque theaters. He successfully earned his music degree. When he graduated from what is now called Cambridge Rindge & Latin high school, he was vice president of his class.
Scotti has performed in concerts and shows around Cape Ann, across the country and abroad in diverse venues, from clubs to churches and even a performance on Ireland’s Gay Byrne Show.
Those who knew Scotti spoke this week of the musical void resulting from his death.
Ron Gilson, a friend, experienced what so many others did when Scotti came by on a work call.
”He would come over to tune our piano, and he would give us a concert for two hours and in between he’d tighten a couple of strings — and I didn’t care if he tuned anything,” said Gilson. “We’d have a houseful of people here listening by the time he finished.”
Scotti once explained during an interview that he taught, wrote and performed in the Bardic tradition, a style prevalent in Europe and old England, where bards composed and sang of the places from which they came.
Those compositions include several pieces about Dogtown, the wild interior of Cape Ann. His piece “The Wraith of Dogtown: The Last Tango in Dogtown” is about the so-called witch of Dogtown.
The song “The Dogtown Common Road,” is a musical melodrama about a true Cape Ann story to which he wrote the music to a poem written in the 1920s by Lee Cox, an early 20th century poet. He also set to music “Rock, Juniper and Wind,” a poem about Dogtown by 20th century American artist Marsden Hartley. He produced theatrical productions including “Viva Cummings,” a celebration of the poetry of e.e. cummings.
Born in Somerville, he moved to Cape Ann in 1968.
His wife, Christine Scotti, noted that he also received permission to put the poetry of Yeats to music, out of which he made a record.
A consummate singer, songwriter and entertainer, Scotti infused humor and history into his performances.
Gordon Baird, a local singer and actor, said Scotti created his own category of music.
”He wrote music and lyrics with sharp, socially relevant, sometimes biting, sometimes outrageous, sexy, ribald, politically barbed and above all, funny songs,” said Baird. “He was a real softie in a hard world, a great piano tuner, player, and as a stellar seller and teacher of all things piano.”
He noted that Scotti supported the music programs of several local churches, including the Annisquam Church and the U/U Independent Christian Church.
”He loved Gloucester and its people like he loved his pianos and their keys. He was a way bigger star in Florida where he would appear at festivals before tens of thousand of appreciative listeners. They loved his wickedly funny crafted lyrics and his wonderful style of playing,” said Baird.
His wife noted that one of those events included the swan keeper for the Queen of England who was in the audience. That occurred in 2008 when he was part of the black-tie Swan Soiree in Orlando, a benefit for The Regal Swan Foundation. Scotti was on the bill with scheduled acts featuring world-renowned entertainers.
Gilson described Scotti as a musician extraordinaire.
”He will be sorely missed,” said Gilson. “With his passing, Gloucester has lost another crown jewel in its art and entertainment community. Scotti was an extremely gifted musician of our Cape Ann musical world. He was a learned, common man philosopher.”
Among his many shows was one titled “Songs and Stories of Cape Ann and Cape America” in which he performed with Gloria Stanton and Chester Roberts, at the First Universalist Church of Essex.
Stanton first met Scotti 41 years ago when someone recommended him as a piano tuner.
“When he was done, he sat down and started playing these incredible pieces of music. I came out of the kitchen, and what he was playing brought tears to my eyes,” said Stanton who lives in Rockport.
When he learned she was a singer, he wanted to share some of his other music with her. Decades later, when her children were grown, Stanton began singing professionally and after another piano tuning, the two started working together on cabaret shows. She applauded his creative talents as well as his uncanny ability as an accompanist.
”He had this musical mathematical brain and he could just always find the chord — it was genius like,” she said. “He was immensely talented.”
His wife will miss the vicissitudes of life with a musician.
”I loved him dearly, but he was a pistol,” Christine Scotti said.
She described their coming together as karmic. In fact, it could have been the subject of a Scotti song with all its quirky intricacies.
“It started in the early 60s. I was visiting my Irish grandmother in Cambridge and I had a dream after which I said ‘I think I’m going to marry an ex priest’ and she said ‘no way,’ “ she recalled.
Their first meeting came when she was six years old and she walked by the St. Patrick (Croagh Patrick) church in Cambridge where he was playing the organ, and she was drawn inside to hear who was playing that music.
Then when she was 14, she and her aunt went to dinner at the former Blinstrom’s, where she met him again. Then she met him years later when she was in her 20s, and again after he was divorced when she was around 40.
”I remember that I was over at his house and he showed me his priest cassock and I nearly fell over,” she recalled, thinking about her childhood dream. After high school, Scotti did ponder entering the priesthood, but turned to and studied music instead.
She discovered quotes from his diary, one which stated: “When your ship comes in, all your relatives will meet you on the deck.”
A graveside service is being held today at 10 a.m. in Seaside Cemetery. Family and friends are invited to attend. After the graveside service, Christine Scotti said there will be a gathering open to all at The Gloucester House where people can share stories, listen to his music and have coffee.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.