For Christian Scott, jazz is more than just music. Growing up amidst much racial tension in a predominantly black New Orleans neighborhood, the 34-year-old Grammy nominated trumpet player, composer and widely touted jazz innovator, saw stifling labels rendered null when the right rhythms were in the air.
“The only time that I could see these groups [both white and black people] intermingling and open to each other, was when jazz music was playing. So, I decided I was going to dedicate my life to creating a sound that was genre blind… that could bring people together,” Scott says.
He’s shown such ambitiousness throughout his career: At the age of fourteen Scott enrolled at the New Orleans Center of Creative Arts and began studying jazz under some of The Big Easy’s finest musicians, which then led to a scholarship at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. After graduating, Scott released his debut LP Rewind That in 2006, which was nominated for a Best Contemporary Jazz Album Grammy Award and then joined the likes of Quincy Jones, Elvis Costello and Barbara Streisand, in winning two Edison Awards (2010 and 2012.) Scott then changed his name to Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah as a nod to his family’s African lineage, before releasing an eponymous LP that was emblematic of all he’d accomplished up to that point.
Impressive as those early feats were, it’s Scott’s current endeavors that see him maturing into one of the pillars of the modern jazz movement, namely his new trio of albums, The Centennial Trilogy. The trilogy’s first two installments, March’s diverse and beautiful Ruler Rebel and June’s riveting—and generally incredible— Diaspora, will be followed by The Emancipation Procrastination later this year. Scott and his band draw on a worldly array of influences throughout the trilogy in a practice the composer and bandleader calls “Stretch Music.” A term which not only shares a title with his 2015 LP, but also defines the unique way that Scott and company seek to expand the vernacular of modern jazz music.
“I’ll emulate something that moves me from traditional Korean music and mix that with Senegalese rhythms, a harmonic mode from India, and a bit of Delta Blues. And if I can synthesize all those ideas, and put them in a context where they are not only married, but you can’t even differentiate the cultures from each other, then that leaves you to wonder one thing: What am I saying about the people?” Scott says.
That eclecticism is evident in his work, like how on “No Love,” when Scott re-works a Little Dragon track with his trumpet over a beat and his love of hip-hop also boldly stands out in the mix, especially on Diaspora’s closing track, “The Walk,” where Scott and flutist Elena Pinderhughes trade blows over Lawrence Fields’s masterful piano and a trap beat. Scott’s use of Southern trap beats in some songs gives the music distinct crossover potential and that passion for hip-hop seems all the more fitting when Scott recalls his rap lyric-esque upbringing.
“What am I saying about the people?”
“In my neighborhood, I would see black families deprived of food and security and I would see white families deprived of food and security,” he says. “I would see black families undereducated so they could have a labor class, and I’d see white families that would be undereducated so they could have a labor class. But because of so many topical differences, both sides saw each other as being enemies.”
Hence the “come one, come all” motif of Stretch Music, which is even truer on Emancipation Procrastination, which will feature long, intense improvisation inspired by hot-button issues like conservative demagogues and rampant rape culture. Those solos will come at the hands of not just Scott, but of his entire ensemble: Pinderhughes on flute and vocals, Fields on piano, percussionists Joe Dyson and Corey Fonville, Dominic Minix on guitar, saxophonist Braxton Cook and bassist Kristopher Funn.
“I’m a six foot black man from New Orleans, so it’s difficult for me to explore some of those muses. But Elena or Charles might be able to better convey that feeling,” Scott says, in reference to the wide array of issues his collective tackles. “This record is designed so that whoever has the most pointed views on each subject, that’ll be who’s improvising most at that moment.”
And these days, Scott revels in that diversity—something that’s far removed from the division he grew up with. Something that’s especially true when he and his ensemble perform live.
“Our shows have children and their parents, Asians and Hispanics and black people and white people—they’re all there. A big part of that is the way my music is designed, taking things that used to be cultural tenets of those disparate groups, and using that to make a place where they’re all welcome,” he says. “So when I look out to an audience and see all that, I smile from ear to ear.”
Watch the Christian Scott Quintet’s full Paste Studio Session and interview below.