If conventional wisdom and the Nielsen SoundScan survey are right, jazz titles constitute three-to-four percent of CDs. That means that jazz CDs account for about two-million-480-thousand of the 619-million total CD sales Nielsen reports for 2005. Putting aside such value-laden considerations as what constitutes a jazz record or, for that matter, what jazz is, nearly two-and-a-half million CDs sold indicate a substantial audience. Of course, the jazz album market is not large in comparison with the audience for, say, recordings by Arctic Monkeys or Black Eyed Peas (I am not making up those names).
Except for Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte in the eighteenth century, certain songs of Stephen Foster in the nineteenth, and a few hits during the unreproducable years of the swing era, art music has always been less commercially viable than pop. It probably always will be, whether it is by a jazz piano trio or the Budapest String Quartet. Charlie Parker sold many fewer records than Patti Page. At the height of his jazz-rock success, Miles Davis sold millions fewer than Jimi Hendrix or Sly And The Family Stone. Diana Krall, one current jazz musician who has edged into the pop market, is leagues behind Jennifer Lopez—in terms of sales, that is.
It is not that jazz (and classical) musicians are opposed to popular success, or even that they are unwilling to compromise. The guitarist Jim Hall once said, more or less seriously, “Where do I go to sell out?” But a musician of Hall’s commitment, integrity and talent is unlikely to be able to sell out even if he makes the effort, simply because of his inability to tune into frequencies lower than those of his artistry. Witness trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s Coumbia albums of the 1980s, ineffective as either jazz or pop.
So, what to make of Rewind That by the gifted twenty-two-year-old trumpeter Christian Scott. There is no apparent reason not to take him seriously when he is quoted in a Concord Records news release, “I set out to find my own style to convey how I feel in my heart…” and, “Everyone wanted me to do a straight-ahead album, but that’s like meeting a woman and trying to be like her last boyfriend. You’ve got to be special.”
If individuality is the key to being special in jazz—I am persuaded that it is—good for Scott for wanting to develop his individuality. If, on the other hand, he is devoted to being different for the sake of being different in order to achieve commercial success, he is likely to end up being like the last boyfriend.
From Tod A. Smith’s liner notes for Rewind That:
His music is the language of this era – forged by the sounds of a new generation and developed by the shared experiences of that new generation. And while others may be content with reading the primer for this new language, Christian Scott is writing the definitive style guide.
Scott appeared destined to record this music, at this very moment in time. Incorporating the influences of jazz, hip hop, R&B and rock in a Harrison-developed concept called Nouveau Swing.
Harrison is Scott’s uncle, Donald Harrison, the brilliant New Orleans alto saxophonist who made his first splash in jazz in the eighties. I first heard Scott with Harrison’s band at the Estoril, Portugal, jazz festival in 2000, when Scott was seventeen, already an impressive trumpeter. I made a note then to keep an ear out for him. Harrison called not only his concept, but his band, Nouveau Swing. It had the rap and rock underpinnings that Scott was to adopt, but it also embodied swing, the kind of 4/4 groove that grew out of Kansas City in the 1930s and has delineated the rhythmic component of jazz for decades. Rewind That does not have that kind of swing. Rather, it seems to contrive to bend over backward not to swing in the conventional sense (“You’ve got to be special”). As a result, despite Scott’s gorgeous tone, and his range and fluency on the trumpet, the music of his sextet has an oddly static feel throughout much of the album.
The drumming of Thomas Pridgen occasionally hints at New Orlean parade beats but most often concentrates on hip-hop rhythmic sensibilities, as do Linques Curtis’s fragmented, non-linear bass patterns. Straight time is not an element of this collection. That, clearly, is how Scott wants it. Most of the music stutters along to a degree where, ultimately, I found myself excoriating the speakers, “Swing, damn it,” even as I was enchanted by Scott’s soft tone and crisp articulation in the lower register of his horn. As Scott meanders over the rhythmic hesitancies of “Caught Up” and “Paradise Found,” the most unified and satisfying track of the album, an experienced listener taking a blindfold test might conclude that he was hearing Chet Baker.
Walter Smith III’s tenor saxophone solos in the post-Coltrane mold flow nicely, as do the solos of guitarist Matt Stevens. Zaccai Curtis’s Fender-Rhodes piano is employed mostly to provide chords and atmosphere. Donald Harrison, a guest on four tracks, is the most adventurous of the soloists, taking interval leaps that bring life to the piece called “Suicide.”
If Christian Scott is “writing the definitive style guide” for his generation of jazz musicians and his style continues to develop around hip-hop rhythmic values, I am disturbed about where jazz may be headed. In the final analysis, swinging is what differentiates jazz from other music. It will be a challenge to keep paying attention if swinging is phased out. So far, jazz has absorbed and integrated its influences. The optimist in me assumes that it will not be dominated by rap and hip-hop. There is much to like in Mr. Scott’s playing. I shall continue to have an ear out for him and hope that he listens more to Count Basie and Zoot Sims and less to Black Eyed Peas.
I had the pleasure of watching this young trumpter’s development and think that his music speaks to his generation. I can’t stop playing the cd and everyone I know loves it. Those who have not been jazz fans are now listening to Scott and exploring other musicians’ music. With that said, I feel Scott is the definitive answer to a generation that jazz would have been lost to. This cd is great and I can’t wait to see how this kid develops. After all, he is only 22.
Get a clue. Louis Armstrong didn’t swing. Is he less worth listening to. You are doing this guy a disservice with your comments. Many people will enjoy this outing. I hope Scott does well with his debut. By the way, I don’t hear anything that sounds like rap on this cd and I do hear elements of swing in some of the cuts. Maybe you should “Rewind That” and take another listen.
I think his sound is creative and innovative. He is expanding the genre as well as creating his own unique style. This is a musician with a vision that will only continue to grow by leaps and bounds. After all originality isn’t suppose to sound familiar!