2:40 p.m. Thursday, May 5
WWOZ Jazz Tent
It's no surprise Christian Scott is a great musician. His grandfather was Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr. of the Guardians of the Flame Mardi Gras Indians, his uncle is alto saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr., his mother was a classical bassoonist and his other grandfather is Clinton Scott, former WWOZ-FM DJ and owner of NOLA Records. Donald Harrison Sr. first got Christian interested in jazz by playing Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" for him, his brother and his cousin. "He would put that on and we could jump around, sing 'Salt Peanuts,' and act crazy," Christian says. "But in order to hear it, we had to listen to the whole album."
Scott picked up the trumpet when he was 12. "I wanted to play alto like my uncle, but I realized if I did that I wouldn't be able to play in his band," he says. "One day I was in the car with my grandmother, and they played his record Indian Blues on WWOZ, and there's no trumpet on it. I hadn't picked an instrument, and I wanted to hang out with my uncle Donald, and I had to play a complementary instrument, so I chose trumpet."
Scott learned a lot from his uncle and often appeared with him on stage, but he also picked up pointers from many of his other elders. "When you're a little boy in New Orleans, you are around a lot of older musicians who ... are willing to impart their knowledge and experience to you. I can remember going to Danny Barker's house and singing the 'Tiger Rag' with him. I can remember playing 'Bye Bye, Blackbird' in the living room in front of my grandfather, and he'd call up Clyde Kerr Jr. and I would play into the phone, and I'd talk to Mr. Kerr about doodle-tonguing. I was very fortunate."
Although Scott lives in Harlem, he still has New Orleans and Louisiana on his mind. His music is clearly jazz, but it adds elements of rock, R&B and electronic textures in the same way early New Orleans jazz musicians incorporated Creole music, work songs, blues and spirituals. His music also deals with cultural and political issues prevalent in Louisiana and beyond. His songs have titles such as "Jenacide (The Inevitable Rise and Fall of the Bloodless Revolution)," "Angola, LA and the 13th Amendment," and "K.K.P.D."
"I don't think it's a secret how I feel about the dynamics of New Orleans," he says. "My music is about trying to illuminate the ills of that situation culturally and politically, and for me, there is no better job on earth than to try and take what it is that you do and try to apply that and procure change for people."
His most recent record, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, was recorded in 2009 at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J., the site of many great Blue Note, Prestige and Impulse sessions. Scott will return to the studio in September to record a follow-up. "I've been working with McCoy Tyner and Ornette Coleman to come up with a new harmonic type, and then mix that palette with alternative rock music. And then we're going to superimpose that on the rhythms of Mardi Gras Indians. We're going to try to break the mold. When we get to New Orleans, it's the first time we're going to be playing these new compositions."