When I was growing up, I placed classical and jazz music in the same category. The bin labeled dead music. Classical it seemed was all about contemporary composers reinterpreting compositions that were decades old, sometimes hundreds of years actually. There was new classical music, it just did not seem like it.
Jazz was another matter altogether. It too was dying, but not out of a fixation with the past. It seemed the people who created and supported the genre had abandoned it and the only people who seemed to appreciate jazz were educated well-meaning white people who wanted to experience one of American black cultures greatest gifts to the world.
As I got older, I began to change my perception slightly, mostly thanks to donors like you. Of course we know that only a small percentage of people actually support things like National Public Radio, and like jazz more people claim to like than actually support it. Thus my view of jazz in a slow death trajectory till exists.
And then came Christain Scott. Scott was born and raised in a musical environment in New Orleans, and was formally educated at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He made waves with his third album Rewind That in 2010 and was nominated for a Grammy.
With his sixth album Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, Scott explores contemporary political and social issues within the context of Cool Jazz. The album’s title speaks to disillusionment and the music conveys a sense of turmoil and beauty. Heavy issues like California’s Proposition 8 (“The Last Broken Heart”) and Roe vs. Wade (“The Roe Effect”) are mixed in with a song from Thom Yorke’s first solo album (“The Eraser”). The effect of using controversial and unsettling material to draw upon gives Yesterday You Said Tomorrow a pointed edge conceptually and musically with unsettling transitions to remind you that this is not Sunday Quiet Storm music.
Produced jointly by Scott and Chris Dunn, the recording sessions feature some collaboration with Matthew Stevens who wrote two songs and plays guitar. While Scott set out on an ambitious plan evoke the great jazz legends of the past (Mingus, Coltrane,and Davis), he also attempted to channel the spirit of Hendrix and Dylan. All of this genre mixing results in elegant and stately compositions with rough edges in the form of distortion sounds. These effects remind listeners that Scott is aware of music outside of the vacuum of jazz.
The conventional lineup of Scott on trumpet with others on guitar, piano, drums and bass gives Yesterday You Said Tomorrow a classic sound that could have come from the height of the Cool Jazz era (just listen to “After All’). It’s refreshing in its homages while still managing to sound fresh and contemporary. This is in stark contrast to other contemporary jazz artists like Robert Glasper who has similar goals, but gets inspiration from modern R&B with just enough traditional jazz cues.
Yesterday You Said Tomorrow and for that matter Christian Scott himself has helped change my opinion of modern jazz and the future of jazz in general. Hopefully (black) teens will hear Scott’s work and be inspired to continue the legacy established by the great jazz composers of the past. Great contributions to jazz were not limited to blacks, as Scotts influences would suggest, but there is an urgency about it that suggests it traditional core audience has moved on (to mindless rap and booty shaking nonsense).
Of course like the small percentage of actual contributors to Public Radio, jazz even when fresh and innovative like this will be enjoyed by a small enlightened minority. Ironically that population is more likely to be made up of non blacks who understand the cultural significance of jazz more than the typical black kid with a $300 pair of Beats headphones around his neck.