Scot Woolley will be remembered as one of Cincinnati’s brightest stars and an indispensable member of the region’s arts community from Northern Kentucky to Dayton.
He was a gifted pianist, singer, conductor, arranger, dancer and composer who worked around the world. He was an adjunct faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music and a faculty member at Wright State University, where he was music director and voice instructor.
Mr. Woolley died on Jan. 26 after suffering a medical emergency while driving to his Westwood home. He was 60.
“A terrible void has been left and nobody can fill it,” said his brother, Stacey Woolley, a violinist in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. “Scot really revered the Great American Songbook and the old Broadway. He loved Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. He revered the lyrics of Johnny Mercer and the high bar that was set by the MGM Studio. That’s what he tried to pass along to the generation that followed, that you must look back and understand that you’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.”
During his time at CCM, Mr. Woolley designed a course for technical theatre majors to learn basic score interpretation and was teaching it this semester. He was active in local musical organizations, serving as music director and conductor for multiple productions at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
Mr. Woolley’s career included working for shows on and off Broadway. He was musical director for regional theaters around the country, such as Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as well as for cruise lines. For about a decade, he created and performed on various cruise ships, especially the Royal Caribbean, writing the music for their float for the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York one year.
Mr. Woolley grew up on the West Side, first in Delhi, then moving as a child to Westwood, where he still lived. One of the driving forces behind his love for vocal music was his choral director Mary Schneider at Western Hills High School, “who started putting scores in front of him that were way beyond him,” Stacey Woolley said. “He fell in love with the genre.”
By 16, he was music director at Showboat Majestic, Cincinnati’s floating theater on the Ohio River, which is where his brother believes he began arranging. He took courses in musical theory and counterpoint at Mount St. Joseph University.
He also sang and served as accompanist for five years with the Norman Luboff Choir, which toured annually into the late 1980s.
As a pianist, Mr. Woolley was largely self-taught, except for lessons as a youngster with “two lovely elderly ladies on the West Side,” said his brother. The Woolley brothers collaborated often. At the time of his death, they were preparing to perform a substantial recital in February at Westwood Presbyterian Church, featuring major works from a program they had performed live on WGUC-FM (90.9) in the early 1980s.
Although known primarily for his work in the theater, Mr. Woolley recorded several classical albums with his brother, including the first complete recording of the Korngold Violin Sonata, which received a glowing review in Gramophone magazine.
He became the piano collaborator of choice for many national artists, including opera baritone Daniel Narducci and Broadway stars Lee Roy Reams and Pamela Myers. In a Facebook post, Myers praised his “vast musical knowledge, heartbreakingly gorgeous orchestrations” and “impeccable taste,” adding that he was “brilliant, gifted from God, gifted to us.”
“His philosophy was, ‘I will be where you need me to be, I will make you look good,’” said Stacey Woolley. “He was all about everybody else. That’s how he lived his life.”
Mr. Woolley also was an accomplished piano soloist, who performed a concerto – “Swedish Rhapsody” by Charles Wildman — with the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.
“There really wasn’t any style that he couldn’t play,” said music director James. R. Cassidy. “He annually prepped the KSO Boogie band vocalists and has performed as pianist with all of the KSO subsidiary groups (Newport Ragtime Band, Devou-Doo Daddies, Flood Wall Jazz Quintet) including a studio recording.”
As an arranger, the KSO’s library holds orchestral arrangements that he wrote for the indie music group Over the Rhine, as well as his arrangements of cartoon scores and patriotic tunes. He also penned dozens of charts for the orchestra’s subsidiary bands.
Mr. Woolley wrote arrangements for the Cincinnati Pops, the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, and worked as the dance and vocal arranger for shows on and off Broadway. Those included “State Fair,” “Ain’t Broadway Grand,” and “Swing!”, which he also conducted.
He served as music director on national tours of “Crazy for You” and “Tommy,” and played keyboard for national tours of “Evita” and “The Will Rogers Follies.”
“Scot didn’t blow his own horn, but he did a series of arrangements recently for the Hong Kong Philharmonic,” Stacey Woolley said.
It was in the theater where Mr. Woolley was most influential throughout the entire region. He had been offered a position directing the summer program in music theater at Interlochen Arts Academy this summer.
“There are countless actors who Scot coached and worked with as music director who would not be the performers they are today without his positive, sensitive and knowledgeable prodding, encouragement and assistance,” Cassidy said. “To me to he was a friend and colleague who shared an appreciation and zeal for quality, integrity, consistency in all things even beyond music. It is a void for many.”
Several memorial tributes will take place at dates to be announced.
Mr. Woolley is survived by his bothers Stuart G. Woolley (Melinda), Steven G. Woolley (Marcia) and Stacey G. Woolley (Kathryn), nieces and nephews.
Visitation Saturday February 2nd, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. at the Norman Chapel, Spring Grove Cemetery, 4521 Spring Grove Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45232 where funeral services will be held Saturday at 10 a.m.