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Christian Scott: Levitt Pavilion, Pasadena

Rachel Cantrell
Contributing Writer
rachelc [at] thejazzpost [dot] com / @thejazzpost

Christian Scott has several different voices.

The first led me from the parking garage to the theater of the Levitt Pavilion – the voice of his trumpet, whispery and clear, from that peculiar trumpet with the bell slightly angled upwards, reminiscent of that of Dizzy Gillespie’s. Proudly bearing some thick gold necklace that he later mentions he bought in Thailand, custom-made trumpet gripped tightly in hand, Scott played everything from a high-speed, angsty Klu Klux Police Department to a sweeter, more emotional Katrina’s Eyes.

The second voice had us doubled over in laughter when he conjured up outrageous stories about the musicians in his quintet – in introducing the drummer, Eric Doob, Scott transitioned from an ordinary story about meeting the musician on campus at the Berklee School of Music to one about holding an adolescent Doob down on the street so that his twin brother, Kiel Scott, could kiss him, making him unable to say that his first kiss was from a girl. (He never informed us whether either of these stories was true.)

And the last voice – probably the most striking one – was the voice demanding change. It was already displayed in his cover of Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, a bit rebellious against the neoclassicism often present in contemporary jazz studies. But it was the time he took to express the meaning behind some of his compositions – especially before he began to play Angola, La & the 13th Amendment – that made him so incredibly different from most of the musicians that I’ve had the opportunity to meet. Scott, I realized, has motives much bigger than himself when it comes to his playing; whether it’s bringing attention to his frustrations with the Bill of Rights’ thirteenth amendment or expressing his ordeal with the New Orleans police officers, there’s a deeper meaning in everything that Scott creates.

I have had my share of valuable experiences meeting jazz musicians after their shows – but I’ve also had my share of bad encounters as well. And in the back of my mind that there’s always the fear of running into one of those disgruntled musicians – after all, I’m just some timid high school kid with a pen and a notepad, armed only with my awkward smile and a few questions. In fact, I had already read up on Christian Scott in the April 2010 Downbeat – he was photographed on the cover posed with that peculiar trumpet, one eyebrow raised; every single one of his pictures in the spread was devoid of a smile. Frankly, I was intimidated – what was I supposed to expect from someone who wrote out a piece called Ku Klux Police Department out of a fit of passion?

When I went to approach Scott after the show, he was already comfortably speaking with two student musicians about his experience with the Berklee School of Music – and before I could even introduce myself, another student from behind me produced a plunger for Scott to autograph. Immediately, something seemed strikingly different from what I’d expected from Scott – unlike those pictures I’d seen in the Downbeat magazine, he was highly energetic, occasionally breaking out into a wide smile, slipping in a joke or two into his conversations with us. It reminded me of a discussion I recently had with a friend headed to the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music; we had both concluded that the best jazz musicians were those who vivacious and friendly both on stage and in person – and that’s exactly the kind of person Scott was.

Even when I asked Scott what advice he had to those young musicians aspiring to be at his level, he modestly stopped to remind me that they should be reaching much higher. There’s no “magic trick,” he told me – to Scott, it’s about enduring and sticking around and being prepared rather than experiencing a lucky break. And as for what jazz offers to the people of our generation? He believes the best musicians are the ones that can play what they personally sound like rather than what they are supposed to sound like. Scott says that “jazz” is an adjective that doesn’t describe the entirety of what jazz truly is: communicating your raw feelings through music.

Rachel Cantrell is a student, musician and avid jazz blogger. More of her writing can be found at her blog, [The Jazz Post] and you can also [follow her on Twitter].

drums: Eric Doob, bass: Kristopher Funn, piano: Milton Fletcher, guitar: Matt Stevens