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By: Jake Krolick
Age Has No Bearing On The Validity Of Art
There is a warm wind blowing in the jazz world from a young, powerful voice known as Christian Scott. He embodies all we have grown to love from past jazz heavyweights while pushing boundaries with today's beboppers. When Scott plays his trumpet he blows down jazz barriers but also cultural, economic and emotional obstacles. Scott is one of the most progressive jazz musicians of our time, playing with a unique tone and candor. He is an artist for all the right reasons, who loves his chosen craft as well as embracing indie rock, neo-soul and hip-hop. He's collaborated with Brother J of X-Clan, Prince and Mos Def, and says if he could play with anyone it would be Radiohead.
| Christian Scott|
His family includes a plethora of talented artists. His uncle is acclaimed jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., and his mom was a classical musician when she was in high school and college. Scott's father is a visual artist working in photography, sculpting and drawing, and his grandfather, Donald Harrison Sr., was a legendary New Orleans folk singer and Big Chief of four different Mardi Gras Indian tribes. Christian Scott has been a legacy marching with the Mardi Grass Indians since he was just three-years-old. To say that his family and New Orleans are close to Scott's heart is a gross understatement. He may reside in NYC now but the New Orleans native lets out his ruminations on the destruction wreaked by Hurricane Katrina every time he picks up his trumpet.
Both musically and mentally, Scott seems more well lived than his 24 short years might imply. Does it bother him that his age is talked about in conjunction with his gifted playing? "It's one of those things where you don't want to say it does because then people will stay away from asking you that question," says Scott. "The fact is that sometimes it helps when people are conceptualizing what I'm doing musically in the context of my age. So, it's a yes and a no answer. I don't feel like you have to be a certain age for there to be a certain type of validity to your art."
Scott started playing trumpet for a few reasons. He remembers seeing how adored his uncle was when he was at the age where he longed to be popular and really good at something. Now after playing over 10 years, the reasons that keep him playing have changed. Scott has formed a deep appreciation for finding the very thing he was meant to do. He has noticed that younger folks are impressed with his style and it seems to have grown into a means to turn younger musicians onto jazz. "I realize that lots of the decisions that I make musically actually affect people that don't have a voice right now. So, I kind of see myself as one of those guys that's trying to usher in this new era without having preconceived notions about certain music being valid and other music not being valid," says Scott.
Emoting Makes The Listener Feel
At 14, he was learning everyday while on the road playing with his uncle's band. "One of the first things that my uncle taught me is how to have musical tact," recalls Scott warmly. "All too often young musicians are plagued with the reality of having the skills to play, whereas I was more or less conditioned from the beginning not to worry about whether people thought I could play. It was all about me emoting and being able to come across on an emotional level that made the listener feel what we played."
Making people feel music is right up Scott's alley. Arguably his best quality is his beautiful and hauntingly distinctive tone produced by his circular breathing of warm air through his horn. It took Scott two years of pointers from Clark Terry along with intense concentration and practice to come up with his pitch. To get the particular sound he wanted he turned his back on his music teachers and books and became somewhat of an introvert. After two years of practicing and playing his breakthrough finally came from something that was familiar but abstract. "It took a very long time, but I guess the biggest break for me was when I decided to not try and focus on changing the sound, but to try to emulate something. The thing that I tried to emulate was my mother's singing voice," explains Scott.
| Donald Harrison Jr. & Christian Scott|
During those years of practice, Scott's trumpet company was busy making his own CS Signature Model Trumpet that bears a likeness to Dizzy Gillespie's iconic instrument. "My bell actually cues much earlier than his did, like 22 degrees. His horn had a bell that went up like 35 degrees. Mine's a Generation X hybrid trumpet with blades and all this special matte finishing and engraving all over it that says Christian Scott and Katrina," explains Scott. One trumpet player from New Orleans said that when he played Scott's horn it was like playing the most high tech trumpet on the planet. Scott's "Katrina" trumpet has reverse lead pipes, a unique valve system and stems. The tuning is revolutionary because it has a slide tuning system, and the angle of the bell at the last turn is not as sharp as a normal trumpet. This takes a bit of the backpressure off, helping Scott create his unique sound.
Christian Scott is currently in negotiations with his trumpet company and Sam Ash Music to make 10,000 abbreviated models based on his tilted bell horn for students around the country. Scott is a huge proponent of musical education in the classroom. Everyday during his last tour he and his band gave some type of lecture or master class at schools near their stops. "When I was a kid people invested their time in making sure that I was okay, so I'd be remiss if I didn't do that for others," says Scott.
As a classically trained jazz musician and student of Boston's famous Berklee School of Music, Scott has some interesting views on musical education. He finds music academia to be a strange beast. "With jazz education you're taught that you need to listen to Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and some Charlie Parker," says Scott. "I'm not saying that you shouldn't listen to those musicians. They're great. The problem is that most of the musicians coming out of these schools try to sound a lot like those players. That's making it hard for them to actually make a living as a musician. I think jazz education and musical education is great and I'm all for it. I just think the main idea should not be to sound like guys that have already done what they needed to do. There's another strength, not taught, that makes musicians become individuals."
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