Scott’s Percussive Prophecy
Drummer Kendrick Scott began a U.S. East Coast tour at Washington, D.C.’s Bohemian Caverns on March 29–30. The performances celebrated the release of Conviction, Scott’s third disc—and first album for Concord Records—which dropped three days prior. With his Oracle ensemble, Scott played to such an enthusiastic crowd that even he was surprised.
“There’s such an energy at Bohemian Caverns,” Scott said. “There was such a prepared readiness for the music. I felt that before we even started playing. The people were just ready.”
After a decade of steering ensembles led by such musicians as trumpeter Terence Blanchard, vocalist Gretchen Parlato and saxophonist Myron Walden, Scott talked with DownBeat about the process of becoming a bandleader. He also explained how he developed his propulsive yet sleek approach to drumming and provided his thoughts on writing compelling compositions.
Explain the group concept behind Oracle.
Being around Terence Blanchard has been a blessing because he’s been imparting things that he learned from Art Blakey. In the way of Art Blakey and Horace Silver making the name “The Jazz Messengers,” I really connected with that because I believe that all the music that we create carries a message. At the same time, I was watching The Matrix. Whenever Neo went into the Oracle, she never gave him straight-up answers. She always gave him something that made him create a dialogue, either within himself or with other people. I think the Oracle name stands for the band carrying a message for people, but it’s more about creating a dialogue than giving that one answer that people hope to get.
Talk about the experiences of switching from a supporting role as a drummer to becoming a bandleader.
I think it’s funny because I always think of myself as a leader. If you notice, a terrible band usually has a terrible drummer [laughs]. The drummer can make or break a group. In each great band that I’ve been in, the leadership role has always been skewed. A great leader knows when to let other people lead. As a bandleader, I’m trying to be in the front just a little bit more, and to create a body of work. That’s what I found all my heroes have done.
How do you shape your approach to drumming?
I still remember being a child in church and getting chills when I heard someone sing. Even though the drums are my instrument, I try to connect with that feeling. To me, the singing aspect of music—the vocalizing—is what the beauty of sound is. To me, music is sound versus silence. If I could use those things effectively, I don’t need to be so much of a virtuoso to bring you in than I need to be a sensitive musician. I’ve learned that that’s my place.
I used to want to be that other drummer that could just stop the show. You know when people just say, “Oh my God! He’s the greatest drummer ever!” But I realized where my place was. If I can shape the band and make everybody in the band sound the best they’ve ever sounded, then I think I’ve become the instrument.
There’s strong melodic content to your music. Talk about your approach to composition.
Most of my songs are written through singing. I write most of my songs when I’m in motion—when I’m traveling on a plane, train or car. For some reason, that’s when I’m most inspired. So my ally is mostly my iPhone. I got inside my voice memo and start singing melodies and start working with ideas that way. When I get home, I start working with those melodies; sometimes just with the melody with the drums. Most of the time, I go with the melodies to the piano.
I never think about writing songs to feature my drumming. I think about writing to most lyrical and beautiful melodies. And if a lot of drumming makes it sound better, then that’s great. But first, I just want a person to be able to sing that melody.
As a composer, I’m trying to get those elements across by not bombarding you with too much information, and to be honest, I haven’t learned composition that way—that approach [of] giving too much information. That’s a blessing in disguise for me. I can be overanalytical and start putting too many things in too many places and forget the message.