Scott Hamilton was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on September 12, 1954. As a child, he first learned to play the clarinet and took piano lessons. He also learned to play harmonica, and worked for a short time in a rock and roll band before returning to his primary love, jazz. As a teenager he listened to his father's extensive collection of classic jazz recordings from the 1930s and 1940s, and used them as a basis to teach himself to play the saxophone. In 1976 at the age of 22, Hamilton left Rhode Island for New York. The This Is Worcester website noted, "This was all several years before Wynton Marsalis and the new jazz renaissance would usher in a rediscovery of mainstream sensibilities."