Q&A: Christian Scott On Completing His Name, Speaking Through Song Titles, And Turning The Next Generation On To Jazz
Harlem by way of New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott has emerged as a great force in jazz, as well as its most frank provocateur of truth since Rashaan Roland Kirk. His wildly incendiary testimonials of political frustrations ("Jenacide (The Inevitable Rise and Fall of the Blood Revolution)"), personal encounters with corrupt government institutions ("K.K.P.D. aka Ku Klux Police Department") and intense social commentary ("When Marissa Stood Her Ground") are equally as striking as his statements is his "stretch music" ideal of fusion, melded a perplexing combination of influences and turning it into an intoxicating presentation of reverb heavy rhythms and arresting melodies.
Scott's eighth albumthe double-CD set Christian aTunde Adjuah, commemorating his new namedisplays "stretch music" at its most realized. It's full of ferocious statements of dissatisfaction and admiration for his family and New Orleans heritage. Although only 29, he's ready to partake in a daunting challenge: bringing jazz back to black youth and dissolving age-old (and, until now, unchallenged) rules of what jazz is and who jazz is for.
What led to your decision to move to Harlem?
Shit, that was a financial decision. I've lived in a lot of neighborhoods in New York. When I first got to New York, I lived in Fort Greene. That was fun. Then a year later, I moved in with my twin brother; we had a place together on 9th Street and 3rd Avenue. So we were right downtown by St. Marks, in the middle of everything. We were there for three years. After that we moved to Jersey City. That was really fun. Then I moved here. I was really about trying to save money, trying to set up for a family. Once I got over here, I fell in love. There's another movement happening in Harlem. Some people are talking about it, some say it's a fluke, but you're going to blink and in 10 years there's going be so much content that came out of here, it's crazy. It's another renaissance out here. Plus it reminds me a lot of New Orleansthe area is inundated with all different types of blacks and on a general level they get along, and they're trying to build something.
When did you decide to go on this search to change, or as you say, "complete" your name?
I've been having these thoughts and thinking about changing my name since I was about five or six. I was the kid that'd say, "Why am I 'Scott'?" I didn't know the real history. I think had I known about it that early on, I would've asked my mom to do something about it when I was a little boy. If I say Kuriko Fujima, you see a Japanese person. If I say Bill Washington, you see a white guy, you don't see me. Let's just be real. I wanted to make sure that what people called me was something that I felt was in line with what my identity and politics said I was. I also didn't want to give my children that legacy. I will always be Scott; I will never not be Scott. I can change my name a million times but I'll always be Scott because I've navigated the world for damn near 30 years with the name. It's who I am and it's a part of my history, but that's not how my son has to navigate the world. At the end of the day, the people should make choices based on where they are in that place and an informed sense of the dynamic. For me, I didn't wanna be exclusively known as a name that was assigned to my ancestors so their captors could know that they owned them at one point. Fuck that.
Has your music or approach to music changed since the name completion?
The music is the same; it hasn't shifted because I changed my name. The only thing that's shifted since I changed my name is my perception of how people see me and how they want to play me. The tune "Pyrrhic Victory," that's about that. You'd be surprised; I have just as many issues with blacks as I do with whites about me completing my name. There's been some really scary shit coming out of black people's mouth about me changing my name. I've had death threats because of this shit. This shit is wild! I think people could try to imagine what it's like to de-westernize your name in America; you can't know it 'til you do it.
One thing that you did do differently on this album is that you isolated the musicians during the recording process. What made you decide to do that?
I know it sounds strange, but I refer to a record that you can't edit as a crutch, but it's more important for me to be even than anything. When I was growing up, I wanted to play jazz from the guys were the children of the architects of the music. The one underlined theme is no matter what camp they were or what culture of musicians it was, you were constantly working, making sure you got better every day, searching through your music and using the music as a means to find freedom. You can't do that when you allow yourself to get comfortable or complacent in a musical environment. It's not like there's sharks on the bandstand; what the fuck are you comfortable for? You may as well take some real risks. For me, it's important for musicians of this generation to know that they are expected to be great, and in order to be able to do that we have to go through all of the lessons. We can't just pick and choose just because it makes us comfortable. That's part of the reason the record is so long and there's so many different tastes on it. You can't listen to anything musically and say, 'This is what they do,' 'cause we can do everything. That's part of the idea behind "stretch music" too; if you look at jazz when it was created 100 years ago, it was the world's first all-around fusion music: West African harmony and rhythm, and you mix it with the Diaspora and all of these other influences. What we're doing with "stretch music" is essentially the same idea; it's just a separate century update.