The Nokia Theater is not a typical jazz venue, but trumpet player Christian Scott, who played the theater this weekend, isn’t your typical jazz musician. The 26-year-old trumpet phenom is creating jazz for a younger generation by distancing himself from fellow New Orleanian Wynton Marsalis. Instead of American songbook standards, Scott prefers to play Radiohead covers, like “Eraser,” which can be found on his new album, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow, which comes out tomorrow. Scott talked to Vulture about his new album, his beef with Marsalis, and teaching Mickey Rourke how to play trumpet.
Your new album doesn’t have any classic jazz standards — why is that?
This album basically tries to marry two different eras, musically and subject-wise, as a means to try and find something new. This era has to be filled with musicians whose intent is to find new audiences, new sounds, new ideas, and be willing to show who they are. People don’t watch a concert of Jazz at Lincoln Center on PBS and say, “Wow, that guy Wynton Marsalis has personality.”
You’re both from New Orleans, you both play jazz, trumpet, and live in New York. What’s your gripe with him?
I disagree with the man’s ideology because I think it’s a little bit warped. He wanted me to come to New York and go to Julliard to study with him, and he told me the only way was through him. I was 17 years old, I looked up to this person my entire life. For him to tell me something like that, like, I get it, you’re at the top of the heap, but there’s always another way. I’m not second to any man. If he wants to say something about my music — and he has before — he will. But he’s smart enough to know now is my time. Plus, his concept of swinging don’t swing to me.
A song like “Eraser” by Radiohead definitely doesn’t swing in the traditional sense, and it’s the one song on the album you didn’t write. Some might call it a sell-out move.
That’s the funny thing. Everyone says, “This dude’s trying to get rich.” The song is interesting. [Beats table.] I don’t make any money when that plays on the radio! It’s not my song! I don’t make a nickel! The song is interesting and as a musician and composer, I’m in the business of trying to find new things.
You worked with Mickey Rourke to help him with his part as a trumpet player in Passion Play. What was that like?
When he’s acting, he’s on his own. But I showed him how to look like he was playing, what he needs to do with his facial muscles to make it look like he’s playing certain notes. I was helping direct the scenes, but I wasn’t there playing the trumpet for him. He had to do it.
Why don’t you get booked in a lot of jazz clubs in New York?
We played the Nokia Theatre, and there’s some other jazz festivals coming up in New York. I live in New York, but I’m gone 310, 320 days a year. My apartment is storage. We do get love, but some of the buyers and promoters don’t get it. They say, “We could’ve booked him at Dizzy’s, but now he can’t play in New York for three months because he played the Nokia Theatre.” I’m not mad. If they want to book us, we’ll come and play, and we’ll tear that shit up. But if you don’t, we’ll go around and do the higher-profile gigs.
Do you think you’re blackballed?
Yeah. When you have somebody who’s willing to say, “We need to try and do everything we can to change an amendment in the U.S. Bill of Rights” [such as Scott does on the song “Angola, LA, & the 13th Amendment” from his new album], that person is dangerous to these people. They would rather someone play a song about how pretty the brick wall is when they were having breakfast. I don’t just play the trumpet because it’s something that resonates with me, I play the trumpet because I realize it’s a means to help free a lot of people that ain’t free.
So you’re kind of trying to create jazz for the streets?
Well, I wouldn’t even label it like that. I’m just talking about somebody who refines who they are based on their environment, but an environment that is clearly designed for them to fail and they still succeed. Depending on what you allow, you can still get the blues, man. I’m still trying to figure out where the blues really lies, where the street is.