Recently, Edison prize-winner and Grammy-nominated jazz trumpeter Christian Scott visited his alma mater for a clinic, a concert, and an interview with Berklee’s new site Berkleejazz.org, an outgrowth of the Berklee High School Jazz Festival.
Christian accomplished an impressive feat of academics at Berklee, completing two degrees in just two years, largely due to his intensive high school education at New Orleans Center of Creative Arts (NOCCA). In Berklee’s interview, many of the questions revolved around music education, which led Scott to share about the cultural approach to teaching at NOCCA.
“It wasn’t the type of situation where it’s like you only learned when you were in class. You know, after the school day was over, if there was something I really wanted to know, my teacher Clyde Kerr [Jr.]….would call my mom and be, like, “Listen, I’m going to take Christian home later. We’re going to stay a couple hours, and I’ll bring him back to my home to work on some stuff on piano.” So it was one of those things where it was like a real culture there.”
Although Christian Scott was accepted into many prestigious music schools, including Juilliard’s jazz program, Scott decided to attend Berklee because of his thirst for meeting people of different countries, cultures and styles of music.
“I was kind of into being in a classroom where I could turn around and there could be a kid that I met from Fuji Rock, or from Seoul, Korea that might be into hip-hop and have, like, a part in his hair [and] hashes in his eyes. Or I could meet a cat from East Saint Louis that had a gold tooth who… liked to play bebop. I was into that idea, you know. [I could] meet somebody from the midwest that’s into, like, alternative music and, you know, wants to study turntablism and is pissed because there’s no program yet, which they have now. So, I was really interested in being around different types of people because I had an incredibly great experience growing up in New Orleans, but New Orleans when I was a kid was, like, 87 percent black. So it was like all damn-near one type of person. So I was, like, excited about getting to go somewhere and meeting people from different cultures and different places. And when I got here it just blew my mind.”
“The thing about Berklee is, like, you could sit right in front of the media center and meet 20 people from 20 different cultures in the world, and they all want to play music with you. That’s an incredibly beautiful thing, man…. I’ve been to all different types of schools where they don’t have that type of camaraderie.”
On the topic of education, Christian Scott offered his own advice during the interview to young musicians on important habits while practicing, a luxury he can rarely indulge in as a professional musician, saying “… you have to use the bandstand as your means of practicing.” Scott shared an anecdote of an exchange with a reporter after he had “practiced” during a concert.
“I was talking with a guy from the New York Times, and he was, like, ‘I noticed that you played something that sounded a little off and the horn cracked. And you tried to do it again.’ And he said, ‘But I could hear that you weren’t trying to play the phrase clean – you were trying to get the horn to crack.’ And I told him, ‘Well, I was trying to understand why the horn did it.’… And he had never heard anything like that”
Christian admitted that his teachers warned that finding time to practice would be a challenge.
“I don’t get a chance to practice much anymore because of my schedule. It’s funny, because my teachers would always tell us that when [we] were young. And they’d say, ‘If you get good, you’re not going to be able to practice when you’re older because you’ll be busy. Hopefully, you’ll be busy.’”
And Christian has been busy. A true road warrior, Christian and his band toured for “ten months straight” after the success of his album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, only to return back to the studio to record his double album due later this year. When asked about how he continues to find inspiration for creating fresh, original music, Christian pointed to his life philosophy about the uniqueness of every individual.
“I think the most unique thing that you’ve ever experienced is being you ’cause I’m sure you don’t remember being anybody else… One of the reasons this is important to me is because I’m an identical twin. So I think that makes my entire vantage point a little bit different…
“I grew up in New Orleans – I’ve seen a lot of rough stuff. I’ve seen people get shot and killed right there and seen the life come out of a human being. And when you see stuff like that, you realize that you could blink and miss it and a life could be over. So, at the end of the day you may as well covet the opportunity that you have to get to know yourself. And if you’re thinking about that when you’re making music, then your music is probably going to be unique because you are.”
On the similar topic of inspiration, Scott also shared his fulfilling quest to try musical ideas that he may have once hated to grow his palette, especially because he believed doing too much of something he already enjoyed would make his music lacking. Christian explained this idea in a larger philosophical sense, saying “…once you get older… you realize that making music purely as a means of catharsis is not healthy. Just like anything in life, if you do too much of one thing all the time because it makes you super, super happy then you’re probably going to be lacking in other areas.”
To hear more from Christian about his upbringing in New Orleans, the recording process for his latest double album, and much, much more, check out BerkleeJazz.org. Also, for everything else Christian Scott, including samples from his current album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow and news about his forthcoming double album, check out ChristianScott.tv/
– Elisa C. Rice
*images provided by the author
My life is a constant stream of failures that I’ve strung together, and the failures make me happy because it means I’m living. – Christian Scott