Kendrick Scott Turned His Demons Into Jazz

Kendrick Scott knows about walls, and he’s learning about bridges.
Kendrick Scott knows about walls, and he’s learning about bridges. Scott Cooper
Kendrick Scott, whose band, Kendrick Scott Oracle, just dropped A Wall Becomes a Bridge in April, knows a few things about walls — particularly the figurative kind.

Being an introvert, the Houston-born, New York-based jazz drummer can get lost inside his own head, dwelling behind personal walls of fear and insecurity. That might surprise those who know he’s toured with jazz greats Charles Lloyd, Herbie Hancock and Terence Blanchard and had multiple albums released by the prestigious Blue Note Records label.

But shortly after his band’s release of We Are the Drum in 2015, Scott’s anxiety and insecurities stifled him. Sometimes he would hear voices telling him the music he was writing wasn’t good enough; other times he would become distracted, weighing himself against fellow musicians and composers.

When longtime producer Derrick Hodge suggested that he tap into his fears and insecurities and turn them into music, Scott took the advice and came up with “Voices,” the starting point for A Wall Becomes a Bridge. (The band will draw from the album during a pair of shows at Dazzle on Friday, May 3.)

An expansive song, “Voices” ebbs and flows, fueled by Scott’s nuanced drumming and built around a melody that Scott and Hodge hum with Oracle guitarist Mike Moreno and saxophonist John Ellis. Pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Joe Sanders also help propel the composition through various peaks and valleys.

Scott says there’s a flow with “Voices” that encompasses the feeling of A Wall Becomes a Bridge. “Even though we go in many directions on the record, I think that was the tipping point in some ways of how I was feeling and learned how to accept what was coming out,” Scott says.
click to enlarge Kendrick Scott - SCOTT COOPER
Kendrick Scott
Scott Cooper
Scott wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the material on the album; he says it’s sometimes easy to get stuck writing alone, so he makes an effort to be around collaborators.

“Feeling other people’s energy is big for me,” Scott says. “I am an introvert, but I do get energy from people. Sometimes I think as artists we get so hung up being in the lab, so to speak, that we forget that the art is bigger than just the music. The art is bigger than the art. The art is actually reflecting our lives.”

While the art reflects the lives of the Oracle musicians, it’s also a response to an era in which our president is more concerned with building walls than bridges. So in addition to making A Wall Becomes a Bridge about overcoming inner obstacles, Scott, who loves to spark conversation, wanted the album’s title to comment on Donald Trump’s policies.

“I actually believe that in this current political climate, this is a bridge for us to be better,” he says. “If we all pay more attention and actually band together and try to get some unity, even within things we disagree about, that’s a good thing; that’s a bridge. I feel the optimistic way of thinking is the way, so we can always stay positive.”

A Wall Becomes a Bridge marks Kendrick Scott Oracle’s fourth album since the group debuted with The Source in 2006.

“If you notice, sonically my records all have a certain theme to them. And I think one of the most paramount things that I try to do is capture a feeling and what’s the intent behind the music that we’re playing,” Scott says.

When he brings compositions to his bandmates, it’s like giving them a small seed they can germinate into a garden, he explains. “I give them a seed and they plant it, and they change it in ways that I wouldn’t know how to do. And that’s what I love about having my band — that everybody tends to the seeds in their own different ways and germinates the ideas in different ways.”

While Scott spends a lot of time performing, he’s also in his second year teaching at the Manhattan School of Music. Two words — “command” and “surrender” — keep coming up as he tries to explain to his students what he’s doing in music and life.

“Each time we sit down and play, it’s going to be for a different purpose,” Scott tells them. “We have to learn to surrender to the moment. That’s one of the hardest things to do as a musician, as a drummer, sometimes, because I’ll be in the practice room and practice something for five hours. And of course, my ego says, ‘Let’s play this tonight, because this is really dope, and I practiced it for five hours.’

“But, really, that has nothing to do with being in that space with those people each night,” he continues. “There’s going to be a different vibe. I can only garner those things to help me build myself as a person, but I can say [whether] I’m going to use this tonight. That’s the ego. So being in that moment and living in that nirvanic place of surrender is so hard to do, and I do that a lot while I’m playing the drums. That’s when I feel like I’m at my most honest self.”

Kendrick Scott Oracle, 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday, May 3, Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street, $12-$27.
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon