Interview: Christian Scott on his signature blend of styles ahead of 2014 Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival
Grammy-nominated musician on his wide-ranging musical influences and customising his own instruments to get the perfect sound
This article is from 2014.
Christian Scott is a modern trumpet player with one eye on the past. As Miles Fielder discovers, this young New Orleans star doesn’t even like his own instrument
‘I don’t know what it’s not like to be from here,’ Christian Scott says in response to a query about what it means to be a musician from New Orleans. ‘I will say that being born and raised here, I benefitted from the wisdom of a lot of really great musicians. When I was a small boy, my daddy would show me all the different kinds of music, going back to the turn of the century. So even before I played trumpet I was being acculturated into the city’s musical history.’
The 31-year-old, who has ten albums and a Grammy nomination (for his third long player, Rewind That) under his belt, is known for mixing classic jazz styles with hip hop, funk, African rhythms and alternative rock. The fact that he plays a custom-built trumpet (that resembles Dizzy Gillespie’s angular horn and is called Katrina) suggests Scott is steeped in the history of jazz.
‘I’m influenced by everything I listen to: good or bad,’ Scott says. ‘In terms of trumpeters, everyone from Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Booker Little, Stanley Turrentine, Kenny Dorham, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan: all those guys. But I also always really loved music from Havana and Puerto Rico. I used to really love Eddie Palmieri when I was a kid. And I also really love Thom Yorke and Radiohead. I love all kinds of stuff.’
That certainly comes across in Scott’s music. The title of ‘New New Orleans (King Adjuah Stomp)’ might sound very old school, but the track mixes soulful horn-playing with up-tempo indie rock, while album title track ‘Rewind That’ blends blaring horn blasts with discordant rock riffs. Scott’s signature blend of music styles and genres is what he has dubbed ‘stretch music’.
‘Jazz was the first fusion music. With stretch music, we’re trying to take all of those things that grew out of jazz, rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll, and trying to add the vernacular of our period. It’s a way of finding new musical landscapes based on things that were born out of jazz.’
Aside from pushing and stretching musical boundaries, the other thing that marks this young-ish player out is his customising of instruments. In addition to Katrina, Scott has three other custom-made horns: a siren, a sirenette and a reverse flugelhorn. ‘The horn I use the most is the one that people think looks like Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet. The angle on my horn is less abrasive [23 to Gillespie’s 45 degrees] and that allows me to get inside of the horn and change the timbre and texture of the instrument, so that I can play a high, piercing phrase. And then I can play the next phrase with a whispery, warm sound. I made these horns so that I could change the sounds and textures.’
The reasoning behind Scott’s customised instrumentation is somewhat surprising. ‘The initial idea came to me when I first started to play the trumpet because I actually wanted to play the saxophone. So, during my musical adolescence, I realised I wanted to change the trumpet in enough ways so that I could achieve the sound of a saxophone, with a trumpet. I never liked the sound of the trumpet.’
Christian Scott Quintet / Feya Faku Quintet, Queen’s Hall, Clerk Street, 0131 473 2000, 27 Jul, 8pm, £15–£20.