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12

Kendrick Scott and His Convictions

K. Shackelford By

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Everybody sings the praises of Kendrick Scott. The New York Times quickly named him as one of "Five Drummers Whose Time Is Now." On the drums, he transforms into a masterful and exquisite sonic architect whose work is filled with imaginative capacity. Yet Scott is what they call a triple threat—filling roles not only as a drummer, but also as a striking composer and band leader.

His latest album, Conviction, featuring his band Oracle, illuminates work that is not only spiritually and consciously driven, but is also aesthetically audacious. The distinctive line-up features pianist Taylor Eigsti, John Ellis on reeds, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist Joe Sanders. Scott and his band are not afraid of sentimentality and truth-telling which makes the depth of Oracle's music incapable of being missed. In his compositions and arrangements, Scott's interior-self shines through. He says his philosophy of life is to do good to others who occupy his space through continual acts of surrender and giving. You can feel that in his music.

Conviction's titles, compositions, and arrangements also provoke a unique context of questions that engage the existential and spiritual. The result is numerous possibilities for inner dialogue and self-revelation that previously might have been hard to enunciate. This is what makes Scott's music rare and exceptional. It's why he's leaving an indelible mark on what this generation calls jazz.

All About Jazz: On your outstanding album Conviction, there are three titles that evoke feelings about human rights and democracy. The titles I am referring to are, "I Have a Dream," "We Shall by Any Means," and "Liberty or Death." Could you share your inspiration behind these titles?

Kendrick Scott: For each of these, it's funny how everything came together. As I was composing, I was thinking about the juxtaposition of violence and non-violence. For each of these (pieces) you have two sides of the coin, and the themes represent a different side of the same conviction, which is, the conviction of the non-violent dreamer and the conviction of the seemingly violent man. I wanted to juxtapose the thought process of two influential black leaders, who I believe, wanted the same end. If that makes any sense? In the case of Malcolm X, I wanted to show how strong convictions, over time, are amended by intelligent people as in the case of his huge influence of people outside of his race. The first song of that trilogy is written by Herbie Hancock and he's played such an important, huge role in my life and because of my understanding of music as a reflection of life in general, I had to have a song by him. Moreover, the fact that he composed such a beautiful song about Martin Luther King Jr., was an even greater reason for me to include him on this album, and it is one of the things that kind of inspired the rest of the composing. Then there is "Liberty or Death" which is the other side of the coin.

In the studio, we played "I Have a Dream" and had Joe Sanders play an improvised solo in between "I Have a Dream" and "Liberty or Death." What I tried to do is put those two concepts into one. Taking the song "We Shall Overcome" and the phrase "By Any Means Necessary," we decided to merge them into one title which becomes "We Shall by Any Means Necessary." I wanted to also create some dialogue about engaging the world around me in which certain issues still span in our lives today, even though they are in different forms. That's what I was going for.

AAJ: I originally wanted to ask you what kind of messages you desire for your music to say to those who are listening. However, I want to rethink this question after studying more about you and your music. Personally, I don't think you want the audience to get any type of message except for what their conscience or higher power would give them. I think you would want your audience to just get what they get. Right?

KS: Sure. The name Oracle is about creating questions and that is the reason why I picked that name actually. An oracle would just not give answers but provide the questions that would make you look deeper within yourself, so that is why I chose that name. I also was looking at Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and I thought to myself, "Oh yeah, music has a message." But I was also thinking maybe people can interpret the message for themselves. So actually, you're totally right.

AAJ: Then I asked about your band as a dialogue partner. Do you feel like when you're playing, or when your band is playing, there is a dialogue happening...unspoken?

KS: I definitely feel that we can feel the energy of the audience, but in some ways I would say that I put more energy in just trying to be the most honest I can be with the music. Hopefully, that translates to the audience more than us 'feeling' the audience to try to please them? If that makes any sense? So when I am composing and preparing my music, I am just trying to put a core of what I feel is pertinent and then, hopefully, if that touches the listener's life that makes it an even greater experience. Even though we want the audience's approval, of course, I still think that we are there to ultimately push ourselves and push the audience.

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