Last Friday, Blue Note Records dropped Our Point of View featuring its All-Stars, namely trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, keyboardist Robert Glasper, bassist Derrick Hodge, guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Kendrick Scott, and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland with special guests Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. The song list includes originals by each of the band members, as well as two renderings of Shorter compositions: an expansive version of “Witch Hunt” from Shorter’s 1965 Blue Note classic Speak No Evil, and a stunning performance of “Masquelero” on which the sextet is augmented by the aforementioned Shorter and Hancock. I caught up with Kendrick Scott to discuss the release.
Sebastien Helary: You released your last album as a leader, We Are the Drum, two years ago. What have you been up to in the last two years culminating with the present release of the Blue Note All-Stars’ Our Point of View?
Kendrick Scott: It’s been a whirlwind of touring with Oracle and and other bandleaders like Charles Lloyd, Gerald Clayton, Kurt Elling, Luciana Souza, Avishai Cohen and Dr. Lonnie Smith. Teaching has become a real passion of mine and now I’m on faculty at Manhattan School of Music and teach workshops internationally. There’s a Philip Bailey record that I contributed on that will come out soon I hope. A highlight of ’16 was playing at the White House for President Obama during the International Jazz Day festivities with Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Dianne Reeves, Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter and a host of other iconic musicians. And most recently I received a Chamber Music of America Grant to write new music for Oracle. So that is keeping me busy, preparing for a new album on Blue Note.
SH: Next to a Grammy, being a Blue Note recording artist seems like the pinnacle for any jazz musician akin to three Michelin stars for a chef or winning one of the majors for a golfer. How did it feel to sign on the dotted line with one of the most historic jazz labels in existence? How did it happen? Was this a life-long dream of yours?
KS: A lot of dreams that I had as a kid in high school were being lived by my big brothers from Houston, TX. When I saw Jason Moran get signed to the storied label that Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter and Horace Silver had graced, I knew it was possible. However, I wouldn’t have imagined it actually happening for me though. Blue Note has always represented the vanguard of creative talent. I am so honored to have had a relationship with Bruce Lundvall over the years as I first met him when I received a Lundvall/ Blue Note scholarship to attend Skidmore Jazz Camp when I was 18. His encouragement was so invaluable and continued til his death. Before his passing though, as Bruce gave the reins of Blue Note over to Don Was, there was some interest in what I was doing with Oracle. Don had heard me with Terence and Robert and other artists. And when I was extended the invitation to join the family from Don through my manager Vincent, it was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had in my life. Blue Note continues to be a well of inspiration for me musically and otherwise.
SH: The Blue Note All-Stars began collaborating in 2014 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Blue Note Records. At the time I called you the “All-Madden team of contemporary jazz musicians”. Can you tell us more about the inception of the band? How did the group come about? Whose idea was it? Was making an album the goal from the get-go?
KS: If I remember correctly, our manager Vincent Bennett who also manages Glasper and Hodge, had the idea to put some of us together and we played our first show in Martha’s Vineyard. It was an amazing show and we had to keep that energy going. We didn’t really talk about making an album at first, it was just being in that moment with my brothers. After forming the official Our Point of View with the 6 members, making the album was just the next logical step. I’m so happy we have a snapshot of us from that moment in time.
SH: I interviewed Hank Jones several years ago at the Montreal Jazz Festival. He was playing a duo that evening with Brad Mehldau yet when asked about Mehldau he truthfully answered he’d never listened to him. In your opinion, are the Blue Note all-stars a legit band or is it just a marketing ploy to sell records? Will you be forgotten like Concord’s NEXT Collective?
KS: Ha, well Hank Jones played enough piano for everyone! Anyway, as I was saying before, playing with this band is just me playing with my brothers that I would have otherwise played with. If you look at the history of all of us together, we’ve each played in each others bands numerous times and in a lot of different iterations. This band was born out of a community of artists who happen to be on the the most storied jazz label. Me and Robert went to highschool together, me and Lionel college, me, Lionel and Derrick came through the Terence Blanchard Band school, and I’ve played with Marcus and Ambrose throughout the years in their bands and others. All of our musical aesthetics are akin to each other and the friendships there are deeper as well. We have some shows coming up on the Blue Note at Sea Jazz Cruise in January 2018. On your last question, if we thought about being forgotten all the time we wouldn’t do anything authentic.
SH: You are all not only leaders of your own bands but also Blue Note recording artists. Can you tell us more about the dynamics of operating in a group without a de facto leader? Did everyone have their equal say in producing the album or did some individuals emerge as leaders? Do you all get along?
KS: We all get along extremely well. All of our processes are definitely different but we each brought something to the table that the other didn’t have. Open-mindedness, to me, was the beauty of being apart of this process. To see my peers at the top of their game and mining their curiosity for more. Glasper’s personality can fill a stadium so he did just naturally speak up sometimes but overall we all know how to speak to each other verbally and musically so it was easy to relinquish control.
SH: You performed with Robert Glasper at the Montreal Jazz Festival a couple years ago. I remember him saying you two attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts together. Glasper also played on your 2006 debut album “The Source” alongside Derrick Hodge and Lionel Loueke, meaning your band had four of the six current Blue Note All-Stars. At what point in time did you know you and Robert were gonna make it big in the jazz realm? When you recorded with Glasper, Hodge and Loueke in 2006, did you envision you would all make it this far? What’s it like to be back in the studio together?
KS” I had no idea we would all be on Blue Note or “Make It” per se. But I knew each of us had an authentic sound and weren’t afraid to be ourselves. Recording with these guys is like finishing your homework when you were a kid and asking your parents can you go outside and play with raised eyebrows and they say yes. That grin that you had – that’s what it feels like. That feeling of being able to have fun with your peers and be apart of the continuing growth.
SH: As a nod to Pannonica, if you had three wishes, what would they be?
1. I wish that people would see God in themselves and others
2. That wealth was only gained in how many people’s lives you’ve uplifted
3. Limitless Joy
Sébastien Hélary co-founded Nextbop in 2009 with the objective of introducing modern jazz music to a younger generation of fans. Aside from music, his other main obsession is food, particularly ramen and other Japanese delicacies.