K. Shackelford, M.Div
email@example.com / @kjshackelford
Everybody sings the praises of Kendrick Scott. The New York Times quickly named him as one of “Five Drummers Whose Time Is Now”. On the drums, he transforms into a masterful and exquisite sonic architect whose work is filled with imaginative capacity. Yet Scott is what they call a triple threat– filling roles not only as a drummer, but also as a striking composer and band leader.
His latest album Conviction by his band Oracle features work that is not only spiritually and consciously driven, but is also aesthetically audacious. The distinctive line-up features pianist Taylor Eigsti, John Ellis on reeds, guitarist Mike Moreno, and bassist Joe Sanders. Scott and his band are not afraid of sentimentality and truth-telling which makes the depth of Oracle’s music incapable of being missed. In his compositions and arrangements, Scott’s interior-self shines through. He says his philosophy of life is to do good to others who occupy his space through continual acts of surrender and giving. You can feel that in his music.
Conviction’s titles, compositions, and arrangements also provoke a unique context of questions that engage the existential and spiritual. The result is numerous possibilities for inner dialogue and self-revelation that previously might have been hard to enunciate. This is what makes Scott’s music rare and exceptional. It’s why he’s leaving an indelible mark on what this generation calls jazz. It’s why he’s not a game.
Although on tour with vocalist Kurt Elling, Scott graciously gave me forty five minutes to chat. I quickly realized that he has an intellectual and enigmatic mind and it was a joy and blessing to explore. Here’s the interview.
On your outstanding album Conviction, there are three titles that evoke feelings about human rights and democracy. The titles I am referring to are, “I Have a Dream”, “We Shall by Any Means”, and “Liberty or Death”. Could you share your inspiration behind these titles?
For each of these, it’s funny how everything came together. As I was composing, I was thinking about the juxtaposition of violence and non-violence. For each of these (pieces) you have two sides of the coin, and the themes represent a different side of the same conviction, which is, the conviction of the non-violent dreamer and the conviction of the steamingly violent man. I wanted to juxtapose the thought process of two influential black leaders, who I believe, wanted the same end. If that makes any sense? In the case of Malcolm X, I wanted to show how strong convictions, over time, are amended by intelligent people as in the case of his huge influence of people outside of his race. The first song of that trilogy is written by Herbie Hancock and he’s played such an important, huge role in my life and because of my understanding of music as a reflection of life in general, I had to have a song by him. Moreover, the fact that he composed such a beautiful song about Martin Luther King Jr., was an even greater reason for me to include him on this album, and it is one of the things that kind of inspired the rest of the composing. Then there is “Liberty or Death” which is the other side of the coin.
In the studio, we played “I Have a Dream” and had Joe Sanders play an improvised solo in between “I Have a Dream” and “Liberty or Death”. What I tried to do is put those two concepts into one. Taking the song “We Shall Overcome” and the phrase “By Any Means Necessary”, we decided to merge them into one title which becomes “We Shall by Any Means Necessary”. I wanted to also create some dialogue about engaging the world around me in which certain issues still span in our lives today, even though they are in different forms. That’s what I was going for.
I originally wanted to ask you what kind of messages you desire for your music to say to those who are listening. However, I want to rethink this question after studying more about you and your music. Personally, I don’t think you want the audience to get any type of message except for what their conscience or higher power would give them. I think you would want your audience to just get what they get. Right?
Sure. The name Oracle is about creating questions and that is the reason why I picked that name actually. An oracle would just not give answers but provide the questions that would make you look deeper within yourself, so that is why I chose that name. I also was looking at Art Blakely’s Jazz Messengers and I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, music has a message.” But I was also thinking maybe people can interpret the message for themselves. So actually, you’re totally right.
Then I asked about your band as a dialogue partner. Do you feel like when you’re playing, or when your band is playing, there is a dialogue happening…unspoken?
I definitely feel that we can feel the energy of the audience, but in some ways I would say that I put more energy in just trying to be the most honest I can be with the music. Hopefully, that translates to the audience more than us ‘feeling’ the audience to try to please them? If that makes any sense? So when I am composing and preparing my music, I am just trying to put a core of what I feel is pertinent and then, hopefully, if that touches the listener’s life that makes it an even greater experience. Even though we want the audience’s approval, of course, I still think that we are there to ultimately push ourselves and push the audience.
On Conviction, you chose not to stop between tracks. Is this a metaphor about life? In this decision, was there anything you wanted to portray as it relates to music as a temporal art, or life being temporal? What was the decision behind this?
In the whole, I wanted to create a space to show that life is a continuum throughout all of one’s convictions. On another level, all the great records that I love to listen to, I listen to from beginning to end. It’s that concept of taking the needle on a record and placing it back on it again. So I wanted to return to the feeling of creating a record that was a whole piece of music rather than track by track. I also took the theme of conviction, and other themes related to it such as balance, courage, truth and faith, to show that there is no separation between those ideas. I also wanted people to meditate and think on their “own” convictions. Not just about what they believe, but if they are actually acting on those convictions. Even though convictions may be different, they all rest in the same place and I wanted the record to be a singular piece of music to be listened to in that way.
How does the way you live your life shape your music, thus, resulting in music that creates an ethos of peace?
I lead by example and share what I’ve learned from the few masters I’ve had in common with. Those people are inside and outside of music from my mother, my cousins, to even people like Herbie Hancock, Kurt Elling and Terence Blanchard who are very spiritual people. I feel like that’s the biggest urge I have had in my life, recently. I want to pass on that love and knowledge that I’ve gained from being around those people, which for me is an intense task because I feel like I’m just a kid that is still learning. More and more I realize I feel like that… and that feeling never goes away. As I’m giving back to students that I’m teaching here and there, I feel that feeling. The more I give, I give back tenfold in love, and in knowledge. That is also what I try to do inside of the music, that is, to give back what I’ve learn from the masters. Hopefully, that honesty and how I filter that knowledge and love is translated to the listener. So I try to live my life through the act of giving and surrender. Those are two big things in my life that I try to live by.
So have you ever had an experience that stretched you as a jazz drummer and what was that experience? Let me give some examples, maybe, it was a particular performance , or working with a particular leader or group, or maybe it was a life experience that pushed you?
For me, it was the time that I spent with Herbie Hancock. We played almost 50 concerts. It’s a unique experience when you’re a musician and you idolize a person for so long and you finally get a chance to be next to them on a daily basis. You watch them closely. I came to the music with an analytic attitude thinking, “Okay, I’ve learned the music, I’ve learned this about Herbie’s drummers he’s had before, etc.” However, I finally realized that playing with Herbie wasn’t about music. I realized that music wasn’t about music. I realized it was about life. Before each show, Herbie, a Buddhist, chants. I wouldn’t call myself a Buddhist but I would go in and I would chant with him. Little by little, I started to see how his life was reflected in his music and that opened me up so much. Talk about stretching! As a result, I started realizing that it didn’t matter what technical stuff that I knew about the music, it only mattered how I reacted in the now, and how I surrendered to the moment, learning to quiet the ego and the mind which is always telling you what to do, and to only react to the music that was happening. That was truly a stretching experience.
I remember playing something and Herbie played it back to me in a whole different light. It was kind of the same idea, but when he played it, it sounded like glass breaking. In my mind, I thought, “How did he do that?” It was very humbling for him to take one of my ideas then take it to the next level. So experiences and lessons like this has stretched me as a drummer. To be around someone who took me outside the realm of simply just playing music, and to take it to a higher realm, that, by far, is the best example of me being stretched. To this day I use those lessons from that experience.
What is in the future for Oracle?
The next project I’m working on is revolved around time and space. It deals with my role as a drummer, and our role as time keepers. I also look at time as a metaphor for God. I’m also working on composing some poetry and using them as lyrics, spoken word, or not using them at all but just writing the music surrounding the lyrics. This is something that I’ve really not done before, usually lyrics are secondary. So I’m really excited about starting from that basis and creating the art in a different way.
What is your favorite place and time to practice and why?
This morning, I woke up after going to sleep at 5am. I was watching a talk on Herbie Hancock by a Harvard professor. I woke up at 10 am and thought, “Man I just have the urge to just play.” So as soon as I got out of the bed, I didn’t do anything except head straight to the studio and started playing. So after I wake up, around 10 am, is probably my favorite time. Hopefully, around that time my neighbors are out. I just think during this time when the sun is shining so bright, there is so much potential in the day. So I really like practicing at that time, and where I’m at I really can’t practice at night too much. Probably 10am-12pm is when I like to start because it’s just a beautiful time during the day. In New York, it’s just a beautiful thing to be able to wake up and play in your own apartment and I take advantage of that. My neighbors are extra cool.