Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s 2019 album Ancestral Recall opens with claps, drums and voices, slowly building into a rhythm like an impromptu band forming in the town square. When a trumpet starts to blare overtop, you can almost see the artist hopping up on a crate to make sure the whole crowd hears his voice.
It doesn’t matter if you’re old or young, black or white, jazz tourist or serious aficionado. Christian Scott welcomes everyone.
As one of the most acclaimed trumpeters of his generation, the New Orleans native could have eased into a career playing traditional standards in concert halls worldwide. Instead, Ancestral Recall is only the latest example of stretch music, an innovative approach he invented to bring a stunning variety of musical genres under the banner of jazz. But ask Scott about genre, and it won’t be long before he leaves the music terminology behind. Ultimately, he prefers to talk about people.
“The sound of a song is going to be completely different if you have five people from completely different cultural, musical, linguistic backgrounds, and they're all playing from their perspectives and know that those perspectives are valid,” Scott said in a recent interview with Guitar Center.
Ancestral Recall was a huge undertaking, pulling from African, Caribbean and other diasporic traditions to explore the trumpeter’s own heritage. But he is chasing something much larger than any one album. Scott sees genres as musical languages, and his project is about elevating languages that have been cast aside.
“Sometimes I get emotional thinking about it. Because if we’re being honest about it, some perspectives are marginalized, some people are marginalized,” he said of the motivation behind the record. “The idea was really to illuminate the beauty in all cultures, but to do it in a way that actually came through trying to illuminate what was most beautiful about my particular identity, politics and culture.”
But don’t let his experimental approach fool you—Scott is still a masterful trumpet player born from the demanding tradition of New Orleans jazz. By the age of 13, he was already touring with his elders, including pianist McCoy Tyner, best known for his foundational work with John Coltrane on the 1961 album My Favorite Things.
“The ones that play at the highest levels are really kind of Jedi,” Scott said of Tyner and other legendary players he learned from. “There’s the 10,000-hour rule in art. Well, in that environment that I come from, their expectation is that you're getting to 20,000 hours before you're 25 years old, or you can’t play with them.”
With mentors like these, it’s no wonder that Scott studied the jazz and classical canons so obsessively, first as a young boy in New Orleans and then later at Berklee College of Music. It was only when he grew older that his priorities started to broaden.
“When I was 17 years old, that I could play the Haydn, the Hummel, and the Brandenburg trumpet concertos on a B-flat trumpet, and I could play Clifford Brown’s solo to ‘Donna Lee,’ those things were very important to me,” he said, listing some of the most difficult trumpet passages in music. “As a 36-year-old man now, that realizes that we have inherited a time where there is a lot that needs to be translated from multiple communities and multiple social and cultural and political spaces, [technical mastery] isn’t the paramount concern in the world anymore.”
Far from seeing tradition as a barrier, however, Scott places himself in a long line of jazz musicians who pushed the boundaries of their genre. He sees the urge to experiment as an essential part of his inheritance.
“Anyone that really knows and studies the music is going to be able to look at what Louis Armstrong and what Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and all these artists did, and they're going to say to themselves, wait a minute, the tradition is actually to constantly look for new approaches, and new ways to communicate,” he said.
The search for new approaches has even taken Scott into the realm of technology. Developed for students, the Stretch Music smartphone app presents his 2015 album Stretch Music broken into instrument tracks, which users can isolate, slow down, speed up and adjust in various other ways, plus view the sheet music.
“The main intention was to try and create an educational platform that also acculturated [students] into the vernacular in a way where they were actually playing with the guys that actually speak the language,” he said, coming back to the animating principle of Christian Scott as an artist, musician and innovator—the idea that the many languages of music should be accessible to all, no matter your background.
“If you can be really intentional in your playing and try to play from the most sincere space as possible, and try to play with a welcoming and warm energy, people will literally feel that in your music. They will feel like it’s a space that they are invited to as opposed to something they're not eligible for,” he said, his voice growing as enthusiastic as his trumpet. “Those priorities have sound.”
Learn more about the Stretch Music App at christianscott.tv.