Scott Stretches Boundaries
Posted 9/5/2012

Trumpeter Christian Scott is well aware of the history of jazz, but he looks ahead, rather than back.

In recent years, some listeners have felt that jazz has been stuck in the groove of a post-bop record that has played for far too long. During his Aug. 25 late-night set at New York’s Blue Note, Scott drew from his own humanity—as a musician and a black man—to illustrate his vision of pushing the art form forward.

Much of the set included music from his new double album, Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Jazz), which merges personal introspection with political commentary. The song “Danziger” was inspired by the Sept. 4, 2005, police shooting in New Orleans that injured four people and killed two residents attempting to escape Hurricane Katrina by walking over the Danziger Bridge into the Algiers neighborhood. At the Blue Note, Lawrence Fields’ melodic piano, coupled with drummer Jamire Williams’ slight rhythmic snares, framed much of the contemplative opening. Scott entered quietly on trumpet as if to explain the incident musically.

The inclusion of 21-year-old saxophonist Braxton Cook, who joined the group during its weekend engagement, was an inspired choice. Cook’s texture and tone channeled the spirit of John Coltrane’s “Alabama.” From his unwavering high notes to his forceful shouts of anger projected toward the audience, Scott transported us back to that incident seven years ago.

Scott’s natural charm and candor were on display as he introduced the members of his band, which includes guitarist Matthew Stevens, bassist Kris Funn and drummer Jamire Williams. But the trumpeter is also capable of channeling intense emotion, as on songs like “Jihad Joe,” driven by Stevens’ rock-tinged guitar and Williams’ rhythmic kick drum flare, and on “Ku Klux Police Department (K.K.P.D.)”—from 2010’s Yesterday You Said Tomorrow—a song inspired by his own experience of an unwarranted traffic stop.

On “New New Orleans,” perhaps the most uptempo song in the set, an array of musical influences can be heard—from hip-hop and bounce music to the straightahead jazz of Scott’s clarion trumpet and Cook’s alto saxophone. Scott and his talented group continue to challenge notions of what jazz should sound like today.

DownBeat caught up with Scott before his performance at the Blue Note to discuss the inspirations behind Christian aTunde Adjuah, his most personal album to date, and his opinions on the future of jazz.

What inspired you to make the album Christian aTunde Adjuah?

There was a lot going on in my life when I started to write the music for the record. I had gotten engaged, finished most of the elements that were going into my “stretch music” and tried to make a cohesive sound from which to build. A lot of things were inspiring me. The most linear one is probably me getting to the point where I was fed up with exclusively navigating the world as “Scott.” With the last record, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord Jazz), if I were in grad school and that was my thesis on stretch music, [then] Christian aTunde Adjuah is the first real stretch music document.

There were so many theoretical things that I was going through and trying to figure out musically. Not thinking psychologically put me in a place where I was questioning everything, and one of the things that affected me most was what I was being called. It’s something that I started to think about when I was a kid. When I was 6 or 7 years old, that was the first time I started to have those thoughts. I wanted to make a document that put the things that affected me—and much about my life—into context.

Your latest effort includes songs such as “Danziger” and “When Marissa Stands Her Ground,” which were influenced by current events. What was it like to compose music inspired by these particularly painful subjects?

When you’re composing music about things that are as socially charged as those subjects are, you have to leave yourself room in the composition for other people’s perspectives. That’s always the hardest thing for most musicians—[choosing] to speak out about these [issues] musically. For the vast majority of musicians in my generation, it’s easier for them to avoid things like that. You put yourself in a position where you’re antagonizing the business side of this music by actually speaking about what’s happening in your life or around you. One of the things that I’ve tried to do with my music is make sure that people can hear a multitude of perspectives being broadcast when we’re performing a song like “When Marissa Stands Her Ground” or “Fatima Aisha Rokero 400,” because I don’t hold the idea that my perspective on any given dynamic is the best or the only one. I try to create a musical environment that also allows the other guys in the band to contribute. If they disagree with something, they’re welcome to do that musically. Over the course of my career, I’ve also made it a point to illuminate the fact that [issues] exist in our society, and I do view a lot of them as ills, but I don’t tell you how you should feel or think about those dynamics.

Were you hesitant to release such a personal album, especially at this stage in your career?

I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in front of people. I’ve had a very interesting experience in music. I had the opportunity to be around a lot of great masters like McCoy Tyner. I’ve talked to those guys about what they did and how they contributed when they were younger. One thing that plagues this generation of artists is that the vast majority of the music they create has absolutely nothing to do with their experience. If there was a record that came out from a rapper who spent 20 years of his life in Folsom [State] Prison or Angola, that is a perspective that’s needed badly in our society—as opposed to hearing songs on the radio about Bentleys. [Or] if there was someone who wrote a song about the fact that no one in their family can get work and what that equates to in real terms with society. If there was a song about people being under-educated or about stopping frisks in New York, people would find that the standard way of moving in these forums now in jazz and hip-hop [is]: “I’m going to make music about what is easily digestible so that I can win the game in business.” If people actually took those chances and spoke out about the things that really affect their lives, they would be shocked at the reception that they would get from people, just for being sincere.

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Christian Scott (Photo: Kiel Adrian Scott)

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