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Kendrick Scott - Rooted in Relevancy

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Staying true to your roots goes a long way in the music business, especially when your roots are embedded in the gospel traditions of the black church. For years, gospel music has been the launching pad for black artists of all genres to not only hone their skills, but to fully express their individuality and soul. Jazz drummer Kendrick Scott, is certainly rooted in the soulful, spiritual, and melodic foundations of gospel music, which has definitely served him well.
Hailing from Houston’s prestigious High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), he not only put in the practice hours, but he was constantly around people of like mind, who were pushing him to higher levels. Competition was fierce, with the best and brightest musicians in Houston vying for a spot in HSVPA. But with caring instructors like Bob Morgan showing tough love, Scott knew he was in the right place and in the right hands. “He would cater his teaching to the individual”, says Scott about the guidance of Bob Morgan.
All of Scott’s hard work and determination would pay off when he received the Clifford Brown/ Stan Getz Fellowship. “It was certainly a rite of passage”, says Scott, because so many before him at HSPVA had received the same fellowship. With the fellowship under his belt, it was time to move to the next level.
Working with talented artists like Kenny Garrett, Terence Blanchard, and Joe Lovano, to name a few, Scott could easily question his jump to the next level. “I wrote a prayer on my drumsticks that say: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of peace’ and through that prayer it kind of releases me through all of those tensions…. If I really thought about my heroes as I was playing (Roy Haynes), I would never play any drums, because I would feel so inadequate.” To fight off those rumblings in his mind, Scott likes to get in the practice room, where he can find that centering inner peace.
The preceding quote shows you that Kendrick Scott is not only rooted in the gospel traditions of the black church, but he is also rooted within himself. Thus, it was only appropriate to name his latest offering Conviction. Scott constantly asks himself probing questions like: What am I doing today to bring peace into the world? Who have I served today? These ideals can easily be mistaken for a pious or religious type of conviction, but Scott wants to stress that his album Conviction is just a reminder to live with conviction. Actually, the ideals expressed in Conviction are more universal than religious. The overall composite message in Conviction contains a moral basis on how we live our lives. Scott relates, “Even an atheist could relate to these themes. I’m just being my true self.”
Being your true self is also a big part of being rooted. Even if others try to pigeonhole you into a certain category, your conviction and knowledge of self will always outlast any labels placed upon you. Such was the case with the label “smooth jazz artist” being placed upon Scott in the 90’s. Although the origins of smooth jazz has its roots in the 70’s with legendary artists like Bob James, Ronnie Laws, Spyro Gyra, and David Sanborn, Scott believes these artists were just following the natural evolution of music. In addition to those legends, Scott lists Koinonia, pioneers of Christian Jazz Funk of the 80’s, as a major influence in his playing style. Scott went on to explain that in the 90’s; smooth jazz was manufactured for advertisers by radio programmers and consultants. Smooth jazz was merely a radio format or demographic phenomenon, trying to capitalize on a trend for business purposes. Since smooth jazz was never really an artistic, soulful, cultural, or spiritual organic movement, it was inevitable that it would be short lived. Since Scott was already deeply rooted as a serious musician, his relevancy was never in question.
With the pressures of balancing true artistic expression with making a living, being rooted in your convictions can be a challenge. When Thelonius Monk Jr. was asked about what messed up jazz, he expressed that too many musicians started playing like the giants of jazz. The imitators of Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Dizzy, and Parker permeated the field of jazz, smothering people’s ears with a cacophony of non-distinctive jazz. Even Scott admits to falling victim to the seductive lure of playing for radio play and catering to the critics, but he recognized that following the greats of jazz meant developing your own voice. Scott says, “The voice of the instrument reflects who you are, just like your speaking voice let’s people know who you are.” He goes on to relate when he listens to the pioneers of jazz, you hear their pains, trials, and frustrations in their playing. With that being said, he recognizes that it is impossible to truly imitate Miles, Monk and Parker because of their rigorous life and circumstances. Kendrick recognizes the sacrifices of those men, so he can make a living playing jazz. Scott does see individuality making a comeback, and cites Robert Glasper, Soweto Kinch, and his nephew Kenneth as proof, that there are still artists with integrity and dignity in their voice.
Constantly rooted, yet artistically growing is a great way to describe Scott. What’s next for this distinctive, soulful, and melodic drummer from Houston? Is there another level for Scott to attain to? “I want to write for strings.” says Scott. All great artists in all genres of music are continually seeking new directions. Hendrix, Wonder, Miles, and Charles all were able to drastically change the course of music by branching out and trying new things. Even though Scott is in his early 30’s, in jazz years, he is in the early prime of his career. He has the right agenda and focus to affect change for the betterment of jazz. “I just want to bring people to a higher state of being.” Scott certainly has the musical, mental, and moral fortitude to not only have such lofty goals, but actually to follow through with the delivery.

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