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Kendrick Scott Talks Blue Note Records, Lessons from Legends Ahead of Anniversary Gigs

Kendrick Scott drumming for Charles Lloyd at the Dakota in 2023. Photo by Kathleen Ambre.

Last updated on February 13th, 2024 at 09:06 pm

A lot has changed over 85 years; technology evolves, society changes in a million ways, and generations come and go. As a reflection of our culture, the music industry is not immune to this. It’s possible the world of music is more turbulent than most, with trends, movements, and institutions constantly shifting at a rapid pace. For better or worse, change is the name of the game. 

Because of this, it’s impressive when an artist or institution has real longevity, and that’s how Blue Note Records stands out. Created 85 years ago this month, Blue Note has served as the Jazz label, reliability releasing works both era-defining and on the cutting edge. From Miles and Coltrane to Herbie and Wayne, even a brief walk through the Blue Note catalog can help one trace most significant developments and milestones in the history of jazz.

In recent years, Blue Note has stayed true to form, releasing high-level work by established legends and young stars alike. On Saturday night, five of jazz’s brightest young stars will come together for two shows at the Dakota to celebrate the label’s 85th anniversary. The quintet, appropriately dubbed “The Blue Note Quintet,” features Matt Brewer (Bass), Joel Ross (Vibraphone), Gerald Clayton (Piano), Immanuel Wilkins (Sax), and Kendrick Scott (Drums). 

Fans of the label will likely be familiar with the work of these stars, and many of them have been through Minnesota before with various projects (Clayton and Scott played a marvelous run with Charles Lloyd at the Dakota last year). But the fact that this quintet has never played or together before this tour makes it all the more unique and exciting. With five innovative masters of their craft, the quintet promises to honor the storied label in sound and spirit. 

At the center of it all will be Scott on drums. A true heavyweight in the drum world, Scott has played with many legends, from his recent runs with the aforementioned Lloyd to tours with Herbie Hancock and work with Wayne Shorter. He’s had myriad gigs as a bandleader, key collaborator, and composer. Through it all, he’s been an exceptionally versatile and tasteful drummer with a knack for honoring jazz tradition while moving the music forward. Saturday night’s show is a can’t-miss experience for both new and old fans of jazz.

Below is an interview with Kendrick Scott. Content has been edited for consistency.

Music in Minnesota: On this tour, you guys are celebrating the eighty-fifth anniversary of Blue Note. Can you speak to, from your vantage point, the historical significance of the label and the anniversary?

Kendrick Scott: When you think about eighty-five years of Blue Note, you think about 85 years of the vanguard. For me, I think about the relationship of the musicians to the label. I feel that the founders of Blue Note were people who were living the music and being around the music, and they got this cadre of musicians together, in which it all sprung out of, from just being around the music and hanging out. For me, the beauty of it is you can see how one musician will come on board, and they would come and then they would create these other records around that musician. How many times have you seen Freddie Hubbard on there? How many times have you seen Hank Mobley on Art Blakey sessions or his own sessions?

I feel like for me, watching Art Blakey is like one of my entries into Blue Note, and when I check out Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, I learned about so many other musicians. And I feel like if you were to cut everything off and say to some young person, “Do you want to learn about jazz? Just go to Blue Note” (laughs).

You can go down the Blue Note catalog, go down all of those records, you can see the whole expanse from the beginning and the progression of the music throughout Blue Note. Eighty-five years, you know, it’s very close to one hundred. I think it’s just an important label, and it was seriously important for me because like I said, I went to those couple sources and found out so much more info and so much more that made me curious.

MIM: Were there any specific Blue Note artists that were particularly influential to your development as a musician and artist?

KS:  We just lost one; Wayne Shorter was of particular importance for me. There aren’t many musicians whose compositions are on par with their playing, so when we talk about “GOATs,” Wayne was a GOAT Saxophone Player and a GOAT Composer. That doesn’t happen a lot. Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and so many others. Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, I could just name everybody (laughs), so many of them have touched me in a certain way. For me, when I’ve thought of Blue Note, like I was saying before, I think of Art Blakey. But “Infant Eyes,” that’s my favorite song.

MIM: All of those guys, you can really trace the history of the music through the label. There are so many GOATS, it’s astounding. There isn’t much like it in music.

KS: Everybody! The list is just so limitless, you just have to think, why were these people drawn to this label? And then you have to think about, Blue Note is not only the place where people gathered to create, but Blue Note is also a sound. When you say that in your mind, you say the “Blue Note Sound,” you think Rudy Van Gelder. Not so many record labels have a sound. I feel like Manfred is that way with ECM. I feel like Blue Note definitely influenced that.

I want to zoom forward to this tour. you guys are five of the finest musicians in the world. I know some of you have played together in different contexts, including you and Gerald in Charles Lloyd’s Quartet. This will be most listener’s first exposure to this particular quintet. What can we expect from this group as listeners and fans?

KS: It’s funny, because I happen to be the oldest member of the group now, but I remember being the youngest. We did another Blue Note all-stars group with Robert Glasper, Derrick Hodge, Marcus Strickland, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Lionel Loueke. We recorded with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. What we learned from that recording and being around those masters is to be sure you’re giving your heart every time. We want to carry that spirit into this group as well.

I’m the only one that’s in both groups, but we want to carry spirit that with us. We’re going to be taking vignettes from some older Blue Note pieces and including them with our original works, paying homage to those masters that have come before us, and using their works as starting points for whatever our perspectives are today. This group is very special because we’ve never actually played together like this before. It’ll all be a discovery, and the beautiful part: it will be an honest discovery because everybody in the band is great at being present.

MIM: You’ve played with a lot of different arrangements and bands. What’s the most rewarding part of playing with a new group of musicians like this?

KS: I think one of the most beautiful things you can do for any human being is to listen to them. To listen to understand and not just reply. When you’re around people who are open, it gives a certain amount of trust that you can be yourself and try different things. I think that’s the thing I seek most when I’m playing with everybody. What I’ve noticed is from the most storied famous musicians to the newest musicians that I’ve played with, whenever that trust is present, the music will take flight. I feel like that’s what I’ve learned from playing with the masters, and that’s what I bring to playing with everybody.

MIM: You mentioned recording with Herbie Hancock, and I know you toured with him as well. What did you take from that experience?

KS: The story I always tell about Herbie was that the first day of the tour was at the Vienna opera house. We played, and in the beginning song, I think I made a mistake, and it was bothering me. After the set, I went up to Herbie and said, “Man, I am so sorry about that first song, that was really terrible of me,” and he said, “Wait, you thought about that for two and a half hours?” And I said, “Wow,” and it messed me up! He reminded me that the mental space that it took for me to be thinking about that mistake, I could’ve used that as an opportunity.

That’s a story that he tells about playing with Miles, he played a “wrong” chord, and then Miles played a note that made his chord sound right. To me, that epitomizes his whole thought process. Throughout that tour, I started to go and chant with him; he chants before every show. When you chant with him, you start to understand how he’s vibrating in his life. This lifeforce that he has and that he brings to the music, you understand it because you’re vibrating with him as you walk on to the stage.

For me, seeing how he’s always curious, he’s a child in mind (laughs). He’s always curious, always searching for things to learn about, things to grow. That was a most beautiful time for me because I was like, “Oh, you’re Herbie Hancock, you’re settled, you can just go and play and have fun,” and he was on the bus listening to people’s CDs that had been handed to him, he’s up at night researching the latest camera, the latest phone, the latest technology. That ever-present curiosity that just never stops.

MIM: I think that’s reflected in his music, for decades, just pushing forward and forward. I think that’s something Blue Note fosters, and I think Herbie epitomizes that in a way.

KS: And Blue Note was a part of capturing all of those moments. I always wanted to be a fly on the wall in those rehearsals. Blue Note had rehearsals before they recorded. You’ve gotta think, most of our most famous records were sessions of just a few hours. Some of those weren’t actually bands. Some of those combinations when you think of “all-star groups” getting together, it doesn’t really work. On Blue Note, it worked.

MIM: What are some lessons you learned, musically or otherwise, from playing With Charles? He seems like such an interesting, almost Zen character.

KS: Absolutely. We were playing once, and he turned around when he wasn’t that happy with me and said, “EMIT! EMIT! EMIT! Man, Come on!” and I said, “Wow, EMIT?” I had no idea what it was. I didn’t go up to him right afterward, I kind of had to sit with it for a while. Then, the next day, as we were getting on the plane, he said, “You’ve gotta give me more EMIT, man!” I said, “What’s that?” and he said, “You gotta EMIT; what’s EMIT backwards?” I said, “Time, ohhhh” and then what is to emit? Sound! More sound, more time! My mind was blown! He has so many beautiful codes like that to get you to think about the music in deeper ways and think about what you’re giving to the music at all different points in time.

You can see that every time he puts the horn in his mouth, he’s giving that. He’s trying to go deeper and deeper in the music. Sometimes he pulls out his horn at soundcheck and says “I still love it, there’s nothing like it.” To think that he still has that love and passion for the music; that translates to me, Gerald, Reuben, and all of us that have the pleasure of playing with him. He’s leading by example with his love for music. That Zen-like thing that you feel is the same thing we feel being on the stage with him. He uplifts us into that mindset as we’re playing. When I think about playing, I think about “EMIT!!” (laughs) …sound and time.

Written by Aaron Williams


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