Christian Scott, Jazz’s Own Public Enemy


Two years ago, Harlem resident Christian Scott was pulled over at 3 a.m. driving home from a gig in his home city of New Orleans. In a flash, he had nine cops pointing guns at him. There was no charge, and Scott escaped physically unharmed, but he came away seething inside: “My first thought was to go get my .45, go back to Claiborne Avenue, and just wait.” Instead, he channeled his frustration into writing a song, which he named “K.K.P.D. (Ku Klux Police Department).”

Scott’s reaction was a vintage turn-of-the-’90s rap move, a nod to Public Enemy or Ice Cube. The difference is, Scott is a 26-year-old jazz trumpeter who was offered a scholarship to Juilliard’s jazz program, earned a Grammy nomination for his 2006 debut Rewind That, and enjoys a working relationship with revered engineer Rudy Van Gelder. But if his jazz chops are impeccable, it’s coming up as part of the hip-hop generation that adds bite to his playing.

“Growing up, I was a seven-year-old kid going to Louisiana Music Factory to buy Eric B. & Rakim records,” he recalls between sips of the Brazilian cocktail he’s ordered at the Union Square model-slash-actress hangout the Coffee Shop. “Rakim had such a sophisticated rhythm to his rhymes. I’d listen to him, take eight bars of his shit, write the rhythms down, and test that out on my trumpet.”

Scott’s career is studded with rap references: Tracks from the new Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, out late this month, will be remixed by Saul Williams, while his previous three mashed genres together with the glee of a sample-obsessed producer; he has also recorded and performed with relative radicals X-Clan, Cypress Hill’s DJ Muggs, and Mos Def. In person, he favors a slick B-boy chic that pairs a suit with sneakers and casually throws the word “swagger” into his speech. But while today’s loudest rap voices are more enthusiastic hollering “Free Weezy!” than “Free Mumia,” Scott’s convictions echo those of prime-era Chuck D.

“In the last two years, a lot has gone on with identity politics and race relations,” he says. “I wanted to make a document highlighting these situations.” So along with his statement about the “pack-dog mentality” of police officers, Tomorrow boasts songs inspired by his views on Proposition 8, the 13th Amendment, and the Roe Effect—a theory positing that pro-choice parents will naturally have more abortions than anti-abortionists, thereby skewing the population against abortion over time.

Such an agenda can make for heavy listening, but thoughtful sequencing tempers the record into an impressively well-rounded affair. “Isadora,” a gentle ode to Scott’s girlfriend, soothes like a Bill Evans number thanks to pianist Milton Fletcher’s delicate playing, while “K.K.P.D.” is immediately followed by a cover of Thom Yorke’s “The Eraser,” its seraphic lilt designed to explicitly erase its predecessor’s ill feelings. His rage aside, Scott knows such a blend will take his message further. “You can’t tell me I don’t have a right to speak out about things that upset me,” he says. “When the police incident went down, I was thinking, ‘I grew up boxing and shit, homie—if you didn’t have a badge and a gun, I’d whip your ass. . . .’ But then, with ‘The Eraser,’ I happened to be at a party that sucked, I heard the song, I liked it, so I felt moved to record it.” He smiles. “I’m still a musician, right?”

Christian Scott plays the Nokia Theatre March 27 with Al Jarreau and does a J&R in-store March 30