Scott Adair has sax appeal for the diners at 223 South Elm

by Brian Clarey

Take a Thursday night and resolve to blow a few bucks for dinner at 223 South Elm. Sit at the bar and have a glass of wine. Maybe a Martini. And while you drink it in, be sure to take note of the guys at the front of the house sitting with their instruments under the large acrylic painting.

You won’t be the only one who came for the food and stayed for the music. People at the bar next to you will occasionally look up from their quiet conversations. The bar at 223 South Elm is not the place for shouting matches about the designated hitter rule. The patrons will look up and over to the musicians and have a moment of appreciation. There’ll maybe be some guys at a tall cocktail table nodding in time to the music, music that can’t quite properly be called ‘dinner music.’ And no doubt there’ll be a few jazz fans scattered by the windows on Elm in ones and twos and threes, sipping on drinks or picking at appetizers as they feed their collective jones for musicianship performed at a very high level.

There’ll be two of them making music on Thursday nights at this restaurant named for its address. The guy on the hollow-body Guild will be Greg Hyslop, a man whose fingers know their way around the frets like a NYC cabbie knows Midtown Manhattan. But our story is about the horn player, the man who will be perched on the edge of his chair on Thursday nights in downtown Greensboro, a tenor sax cradled in his arms, or maybe a baritone, depending on his mood.

His name is Scott Adair, and he and his musical partner Hyslop traveled a long, circuitous road before finding themselves seated next to each other playing music in this high-end Greensboro eatery.

‘“Greg and I are both originally from Greensboro,’” the horn player says, ‘“and we were roommates together at Berklee.’”

He’s talking about Boston’s Berklee College of Music, a most prestigious school whose graduates include Quincy Jones, Melissa Etheridge and Donald Fagen (the guy from Steely Dan). John Mayer and Gavin DeGraw dropped out.

Adair himself graduated summa cum laude ‘— the year isn’t important ‘— and delved right in to his profession.

He did time with the Hip Pocket Horns and the US Airways Jazz Orchestra, and his career has taken him along the Eastern Seaboard from Key West to Hyannisport, as well as far-flung locales like Austria, Brazil and the West Indies.

‘“Have horn, will travel,’” he says.

In ’76 he founded the band In Time, which included Greensboro based guitarist Billy Richardson.

‘“We worked mainly in the [Washington] DC area,’” Richardson says. ‘“We did a lot of club work. When we were in In Time he was raising money to go to Berklee.’”

Richardson chose a more practical education ‘— pharmacology and optometry, and he currently owns an optometrist shop in Burlington, though he still plays with Adair whenever he gets the call.

‘“I like his range,’” Richardson says. ‘“I like Scott’s ability to go between jazz and funk and just kind of bring his own thing to whatever he does. He is a very creative musician.’”

And he’s still in pretty high demand.

Even now Scott Adair is preparing for a long car ride to the Super Bowl in Detroit where he’ll play with the Four Tops ‘— that’s right, the Four Tops ‘— at a gig in the Fox Theatre.

‘“The Fox,’” he says, ‘“is where a lot of the old Motown guys used to play, kind of to Detroit what the Apollo is to New York.’”

That makes the guy practically a legend in Greensboro, where he lives and earns his living most of the year.

‘“I do a lot of corporate parties, wedding receptions, private events,’” he says. He also sits in with just about anybody who asks, provided they can keep up.

But the gig at 223 South Elm is a steady one ‘— he books all the talent and plays several nights a week. Besides the standing Thursday gig with Hyslop, he plays Monday nights with a rotating crew of guests. Tuesdays are reserved for younger musicians to sit in with more seasoned veterans.

‘“’”It’s wonderful,’” Adair says, ‘“that this restaurant has been so supportive to have live jazz three nights a week.’”

And it’s a perfect match, Adair’s blend of avant jazz, soulful New Orleans dirges and boiled-down big band sounds. The food and the music complement each other: elegant, tasteful, and delivered with practiced expertise.

And if you do decide to catch a Thursday night set at the bar on Elm Street, make sure to flip Scott Adair a wink when he catches your eye to let him know you like what you hear. And try the oysters. They’re outta sight.

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