Son of New Orleans
Young trumpeter Christian Scott is the new face of Crescent City jazz
“I set out to find my own style to convey how I feel in my heart. I’m not thinking about how many bebop licks I can play.”
Guitarist Matt Stevens opens with a sustained dissonant chord before being joined by drummer Jamire Williams and piano player Aaron Parks’ mood-setting playing. Christian Scott comes in soon after with long, plaintive tones on his trumpet.
Thus, the stage is set for “Died in Love,” the opening song on 25-year-old jazz trumpeter Christian Scott’s new CD (with accompanying DVD), Live at Newport. It’s a song prompted by the death of his childhood friend, Dennaral Shavers, a “second-line” snare drummer from Scott’s hometown of New Orleans.
Scott, speaking by phone recently from New York City (where he moved four years ago after graduating from Boston’s Berklee College of Music), described how Shavers was shot and killed in New Orleans “in front of his brand-new wife.” Because he tours so frequently—300 days out of the year—Scott did not find out about Shavers’ death until three months later, when he was performing in London.
“I told the band to take a break, and I started playing a chord progression on the piano,” said Scott of how he responded to the news. “It made me cry.”
That chord progression became Scott’s emotion-tugging composition “Died in Love.”
Known for his signature breathy tone on the trumpet, his moody compositions and his sometimes outspoken socio-political views, Scott spoke passionately about his music and about growing up in the Crescent City.
One thing Scott made clear was that he is very much about creating music that comes from his heart and hopefully touches others in the same way.
“It’s not so much about the C major to the D minor, the theory of it,” explained Scott. “I’m saying let’s break away from that. I try to create music, and I’m trying to procure answers and truth. As a band, [with our music] we try to help people with their daily lives. We don’t think about trying to be ‘the greatest musicians in the world.’ The band members’ pedigrees make it so they don’t have to show off.
“One of the main things for me is that I realize that I’m not here by myself,” Scott added, displaying a social awareness beyond his years. “And I don’t want my children to experience some of things I did when I was growing up.”
When asked about particular difficult experiences that might inform his music today, Scott is quick to move the focus from the personal to his whole community.
“One of the hardest things [about New Orleans]—then and now—is that people are very poor,” said Scott, whose 2007 album Anthem focuses significantly on Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed Scott’s childhood home in the devastated Ninth Ward. “They don’t have resources, so they resort to other means,” he said, referring to looting that occurred during the 2005 disaster.
“Others might not understand [why people were looting], even if they are intelligent people,” Scott said. “What if they had trench foot? Someone might break into a locker to get them a pair of socks.”
The passionate dissonance of Scott’s music is a product of the difficult times he mentions. He adds, though, that “the only reason something is dissonant is because you’re not used to it.”
“I used to be a boxer,” he began, by way of explanation. “Being hit is undesirable to most people, but it has some good qualities, and brings out some good things in yourself that you wouldn’t know otherwise.”
As for his music, Scott said, the more people hear the dissonance in my music, the more they like it. “Nine times out of 10, people say they hear something else going on after the second or third listen. They’ll say, ‘You illuminated something for me.’ “