Thirty-year-old jazz trumpeter Christian Scott (a.k.a. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah) has garnered both praise from critics and jazz aficionados alike, combining social awareness with progressive compositions that push the boundaries. During a recent conversation backstage at the Beantown Jazz Festival in Boston, EBONY.com not only spoke to Scott about his forthcoming project and the new direction he’s undertaking, but also how his newlywed wife and muse, singer-songwriter Isadora Mendez, inspires him.
EBONY: Tell us about what we can expect to hear on your new album.
Christian Scott: I want to do a record that is more blues-oriented, sort of go back home and play some elements of guttural, visceral music, but do it in a way where we’re stretching the music. It’ll be a stretch music record, but the focal point will be the blues. Everything from Robert Johnson, the Allman Brothers and Jimi Hendrix to stuff you would have heard out of New Orleans at the turn of the century. But done in our vernacular and in our way.
I’m also thinking more or less of making an instrumental hip-hop record but on the acoustic side. Our piano player Lawrence Fields has a particular skill set where he can basically take any type of musical vernacular and put it into a context where it fits perfectly into a hip-hop palette. For close to 20 years now, programs like Logic Pro have stock, produced sounds. I love those sounds and I think they’re incredible, but I thought it would be interesting to put an acoustic take on those types of sound palettes. We recorded with Rudy Van Gelder, and I think potentially we’ll be going back there to record the hip-hop joint. To have him record a record like that is incredible.
Those are the two general ideas for records I want to do for myself by January/February 2014. There are no release dates set. I have about 27 tunes that I have catalogued, so I just have to figure out which ones I want to break up for which project.
EBONY: You gave a taste of some new music with “West of the West” during a recent late-night set at the Blue Note in New York City. What was the inspiration?
CS: The song was really born out of me. I grew up listening to Jimi Hendrix. Most musicians always say “what you guys are doing has an Are You Experienced vibe but with the trumpet at the focal point.” I’ve been giving that a lot of thought, and I wanted to try and come up with sounds that mirrored some of the stuff that they were doing. But in a context that also said that we could develop and expand on some of the musical ideas that Hendrix contributed.
On “West of the West,” I was thinking about Seattle, where he’s from. Visited his statue there and gave it a rubdown for good luck. [Laughs] When we moved to Los Angeles, we played a performance there and I asked the crowd what we should call the tune. Because it’s about being in Seattle, being in the West Coast and checking that scene out. And someone in the crowd yelled out “West of the West.” I asked them, they told me, and so the title stuck.
EBONY: What’s it been like for you as a composer to hear your music grow and evolve?
CS: It’s funny because as a composer, you want to hear your songs live on. I think a lot of times people will create a song and it becomes stagnant or something that they’re no longer interested in playing and they leave it alone. And a lot of times what you hear in the first recording of a composition is just the newest version of it. A composer says, “I want to make a record” and knocks a record out.
But sometimes you can revisit a song five or six years later, or there’s a song you may do in your set just because people want to hear it, like “Isadora.” Everywhere we go, people request it. I feel like even if I didn’t like the song anymore, so many people are in love with the song I cannot not play it because of how other people feel about it as well.
For instance, the songs I’ve written for my brother. There are three versions of songs called “Kiel,” whereas the relationship and the dynamic with my brother has changed over the years. So I like to update the composition that builds with them. There’s a new “Isadora” coming. That actually means multiple things, because she’s also going to start singing with the band more.
EBONY: As an artist and composer, you have never shied away from vulnerability and expression of personal opinion in your music. How do you continue to go against the grain in today’s jazz scene?
CS: A long time ago, I decided if I was going to have that be an element of my music, I was going to be seen as persona non grata in a lot of contexts. Much of it has made me ineligible for a lot of resources, festivals, television shows and other things. Even if I have a good day, I still am aware of other people that are going through really hard, tumultuous things. I don’t want to be the person who has a platform and neglects the things I see in my life and experiences.
If other people choose to do that, I don’t know what their deal is, and I can’t tell you what they want their legacy to be. I would prefer to finish everything I do in my life, and have my children, wife and family be able to look at me and say “he’s a person who has flaws and issues like every other person does. And he worked on himself like every other person could. But if he saw something that he knew in his heart was wrong, and if he felt by expressing it he could do it some justice and try and find a means of eradicating the problem, he would do everything in his power to do so.”
It doesn’t matter if I ever win another award or get to play another major jazz festival in America. I would rather not garner any of those things and speak honestly about the things that I see my people endure in this country and all over the world. It’s 2013, and a lot of this stuff needs to end. One of the projects I’m thinking of is what we’re developing a suite of music for. I’m thinking the title of that next record is going to be called The Emancipation Procrastination. So I’m not done yet.
EBONY: What lies ahead for Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah?
CS: We’re going out on the road in Europe for two months, so that’s going to be the time period where I workshop the music and figure out exactly which songs will go on which records. But the main thing I’m working on is the score for my brother Kiel’s first feature film, Epilogue. On one level, it’s emotionally exhausting because it is so intense. The film is just something I think that any person that wants to live in America needs to see. It’s very important to me, and I want to make sure the soundscape is at least half as good as what he’s written. I think it’s going to change a lot for film in general. But it will change a lot in terms of people’s perspectives on what Black film directors can be authorities on.