Looks can be deceiving, but in Christian Scott’s case they can also be visually surprising and sonically intriguing. The aesthetics in question pertain not to the 31-year-old jazz trumpeter’s physique or even sartorial elegance but to his choice of instrument. In addition to a regular trumpet, Scott, who is next up in this year’s Opera Jazz series (January 23 at 10 p.m.), also uses various custommade items, such as a siren – which is something of a hybrid between a flugelhorn and a cornet – and its smaller sibling, the sirenette. Then there’s the weird and wonderful looking reverse flugelhorn, which is based on a completely inverted flugelhorn design with two large shepherd’s crook shapes and a tilted bell. The designs both darken the sound and accentuate the upper register, thereby significantly expanding the range of the instrument.
All of this makes Scott’s upcoming show at the Opera House in Tel Aviv a fascinating prospect. He is coming here with his own quartet of pianist and keyboardist Lawrence Fields, bassist Kris Funn and drummer Corey Fonville.
Scott’s impressive instrumental arsenal seems to suggest that the exploration of as many sonic avenues as possible is right up there on his “must do” professional agenda.
“Absolutely,” he concurs, noting an interesting zeitgeist factor. “For this generation of musicians in this sort of post-globalism, I think it is important to create a musical reality that is alive enough to actually affect people on an emotional level.”
Scott feels that while instant access to seemingly limitless kinds of music in the 21st century is a boon for many music fans and professionals, there is also a downside to the footloose and fancy-free entertainment and arts ethos.
“Some of the stock sounds that are used and reused and reused, especially in jazz culture, aren’t as interesting to people anymore. They have had those sounds for over 100 years, so it is very important to try to push the envelope a little bit now,” he says.
Clearly, one of the ways in which Scott is trying to keep the creative ball rolling is by employing different musical implements to produce sounds and textures that will keep our eyes and hearts tingling. I noted, however, that there may be a danger that people in the audience will be so fascinated by the appearance of, say, the sirenette, that their attention may be drawn away from the sounds he is making with it. Scott says that is not an issue for him.
“That is not one of my chief concerns. I think that if a person plays their instrument expressively, even if the instrument is made of diamonds, if he plays captivatingly enough, people will still be interested in what you are doing,” he says.
Scott had the best of support groups for his initial steps into the musical sphere. He grew up in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, surrounded by players. One grandmother played piano, the other played clarinet, while his mother is a dab hand on classical bassoon, and he has an aunt who plays flute and clarinet. Add to all that the professionally weighty presence of renowned jazz saxophonist Donald Harrison – Scott’s uncle – and you have the best of familial folds for nurturing nascent musical talent.
Harrison certainly did his bit in that regard.
“There are jazz musicians that start with bebop, some start from postbop, and there are others who start with fusion,” notes Scott. “My uncle took me right back to the very beginning of the music. He taught me material that [cornetist] Buddy Bolden played at the start of the 20th century.”
Harrison also helped to arrange some stellar apprenticeship slots for his nephew, and he began chalking up studio session time by the age of 16.
“I’ve been on the road for about 19 years,” says Scott. “Donald is a great musician and a great teacher, and I was very fortunate to have someone like that so close to me. He held my future in very high regard, and I worked hard to procure a future that was appropriate for the level of work that I was putting in.”
While it may seem that Scott got up and running at a remarkably early age, the trumpeter says that was nothing special where he came from and. In fact, he says, he was a bit of a slouch in that regard.
“I picked up the trumpet at a very late age for a New Orleans kid. I started playing trumpet when I was 11.”
While that may not sound like the kid was too wizened, apparently where Scott hails from, that is considered a late start.
But once he had placed the trumpet mouthpiece on his lips, there was no stopping the youngster.
“I am a great believer that hard work beats talent any day,” he states. “I get up, and I play my trumpet. That’s what I usually do first thing and also last thing in the day. I have been doing that for 20 years now.”
Scott has been no slouch in the recording stakes, either. He released his first, self-titled record in 2002, and there have been nine more albums in the interim. Scott’s influences are manifold, but there is a definite Miles Davis element in there, particularly in the weight of Scott’s phrasing.
For Scott, however, music is about more than just proffering entertaining and even thoughtprovoking sounds, and there are often sociopolitical subtexts to what he does.
The piece entitled “K.K.P.D.,” which opens the 2010 release Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, is a patent case in point. The title stands for “Klu Klux Police Department” and refers to what Scott calls the “phenomenally dark and evil” attitude of the local police toward the African-American citizens of New Orleans. “K.K.P.D.” was inspired by a nasty run-in Scott had with a local law enforcer.
“A police officer pulled me over and threatened to kill me and tried to emasculate me, even though I hadn’t done anything against the law,” he recounts.
Even in such trying circumstances, Scott kept his cool and managed to extricate himself from the situation.
“I made him aware that what he was doing was unjust, and we arrived at an understanding,” he says.
Thank heavens for that, and we look forward to Scott and his quartet making it over to these shores in one piece next week.
“I am really looking forward to coming to Israel,” says Scott. “I have been playing with big combos for a while, so it will be nice to play with just three other guys and to have the space for each instrument to express itself. This is going to be a special occasion.”January 23 at 10 p.m. at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692- 7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il