What’s wrong with the word “jazz”?
According to a number of New Orleans musicians, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Nicholas Payton has come to feel that “black American music” better describes his music, while Jon Batiste, bandleader on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” refers to his as “social music.” With his new album, trumpet player Christian Scott introduces the concept of “stretch” music.
“Music is an expression of people,” he said. “Stretch music is the re-evaluation of the way we communicate. It’s not 1955. We live in a post-global society. Music is no longer made in a chasm in a neighborhood. For me, it’s the sound of love and being willing to consider other vantage points as valid.”
In nuts and bolts terms, stretch folds together the broad spectrum of music and sound that makes up the musical world around us, jazz being only one of them. Scott’s drummers have brought sounds and grooves of rock and electronic music to his compositions. And live, drummer Joe Dyson Jr. plays on a hybrid percussion kit that adds African drums and programmable electronic pads to a conventional kit.
Scott’s new album, “Stretch Music,” drops Friday, and for the NOCCA graduate, it’s a natural extension of growing up in New Orleans, where music rarely fits neatly into genres and doesn’t hold still.
“Whether New Orleanians like change or not, this place changes,” he said. “You have to adapt to that because it’s part of your context.”
In his case, that means being inspired by a broader arsenal of sounds than jazz musicians have traditionally accessed. The textures available to electric guitarists seem to particularly feed Scott’s creativity.
“West of the West” on the new album brings to mind Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” with a distorted and tremolo’ed guitar riff at its core. Scott traces some of that back to being jealous of guitarists.
“The natural expression of the instrument is incredible,” he said. “Sometimes, I play with pedals and like that sound, but if I walk into a club and play a trumpet that has a flanger on it with distortion, that’s going to turn heads. If a guitar player does it, that’s his voice. If I do it, I’m up to something.”
“Stretch Music” may be new as an album, but Scott has been using the term since at least 2012. It’s his response to a problem that all artists face, not just musicians.
How do we accurately talk about what they do? Genre terms like rock, pop, blues, hip-hop and jazz are market-based solutions, used to put like products together. But things the artists in a genre have in common may be so superficial that the terms are misleading. The music made by Albert Ayler, Dave Koz and Diana Krall is different enough from each other there’s no guarantee that someone who likes one will hear much to love from the others. The word “jazz” lumps them together along with early greats like Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory, who sound different as well.
Scott’s attempt to define his music is just one effort to get it before an audience of his peers, something that is every musician’s dream.
Other strategies are more immediate. Since people listen to music on their phones, “Stretch Music” is also available as an app.
“The app is crazy,” Scott said. It contains the music from the album, but the app will allow musicians to mute parts on individual tracks and play along with Scott’s band.
“You can play with the actual musicians that are the baddest cats, and you can apply that to any instrument that’s on the record. Let’s say you don’t play trumpet. You play drums. You can take the drums off and learn to play the record or any track as the drums. You can slow it down. You can loop an eight-bar passage if you want to get that part under your fingers. You need to read the music? You can do that.”
“Stretch Music” is the first album on Scott’s Stretch Music record label, and “all of the artists that are signing to our label are going to record their albums in ways that they can have interactive CDs as well,” he said.
For him, music is an extension of the artist, who is the product of his immediate and extended communities. Scott considers Stretch music to be a way to do more than just claim a musical space or fine tune terminology.
“We’re trying to obliterate the idea that these things are separated,” he said.