Photo by Kiel Adrian Scott
Artist Circle Member Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a two-time Edison Award winning and Grammy Award nominated trumpeter, composer, producer, entrepreneur and music executive. A scion of New Orleans’ first family of art and culture, nephew of Saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr. and the grandson of the legendary Big Chief, Donald Harrison Sr., the only man to be Chief of four Black Indian tribes of New Orleans, Adjuah is a torchbearer of tradition and a propagator of innovation. Since our first collaboration with Adjuah in 2011, he has continuously asked the questions: “How can I push the music further? How can I bring more of myself into this music? How can I create space for others?” These provocations have resulted in the development of new harmonic conventions such as the forecasting cell, new instrumentation such as the Siren Trumpet, Sirenette, Reverse Flugelhorn and Pan-African Drum Kit, new technology such as the Stretch Music App but most of all a new sound and musical movement – Stretch Music.
Twitter: @cscottjazz | Instagram: @cs_stretchmusic
ARTIST CIRCLE PROFILE QUESTIONS:
SE: Why did you decide to join the Harlem Stage Artist Circle?
CSaA: I decided to join the Harlem Stage Artist Circle because of the level of welcome that I feel when I come here. It’s very rare to find reservoirs for creative process that are so welcoming to so many different types of people from so many different backgrounds. No matter what’s going on here, everyone in the room feels welcomed and that’s special. If I were to create a space for anything, I would want it to feel like Harlem Stage. This is why I want to be involved in everything that Harlem Stage has going on.
SE: The Harlem Stage Artist Circle is committed to artistic excellence, experimentation, embracing risk and engaging community. Can you tell us what those tenets mean to you and how they inform your creative practice?
CSaA: Coming from New Orleans, almost all artistic practice is about trying to nourish and heal the community. Given that people have had life experiences that can be considered tumultuous and daunting, it’s very difficult to actually touch and affect them musically if your artistry doesn’t embody vestiges of their experience in it. My music is informed by those things and the tenets that you discussed, particularly risk-taking.
The drummer in my band, Joe Dyson, says that I jump off of cliffs, musically, every day. What I’ve learned is that it is very difficult to find the edge if you are not looking for where the boundaries are. Growing up as a spy boy in the Afro-Native American tradition, I was considered a scout or a reconnaissance person. The spy boy is always by themselves, roaming and looking for other tribes during the war games. Having occupied this role since the age of four, it was instilled in me at an early age that I have to be comfortable walking on my own [and also on the edge of things].
SE: With the work that you are doing around Stretch Music, how do you feel like you are embracing risk?
CSaA: Obviously, Stretch Music is jazz music. It’s just a new take on an older idea. Some may see it as fusion 2.0 but because of what has happened in jazz or creative improvised music in recent years, a lot of the traditional tenets of the music have been washed away and what has been broadcast as the traditional tenets are not the real tenets. Given this shift, it’s easy to be admonished in this community if you are actually looking for new landscapes, textures and sonic realities. It was as if there was a proclamation in the 80s that stated that in order for something to be considered jazz it had to be “1, 2 and 3,” so when you create music outside of that construct, you are almost immediately admonished and not seen as valid because of your interest in other things. So your interests may be considered a risk. For the lack of a better way of saying this, there is also a problematic philosophy held by some that jazz is the pinnacle of musical expression and other forms of music are considered below it, so why would one debase themselves musically and compromise both their artistry and economic livelihood to embrace other forms. I actually think that all musical forms are valid and work to highlight and celebrate that through Stretch Music.
Circling back for a second to my drummer’s statement that I jump off of cliffs, musically, every day, I think that he was also referring to the fact that if I am going to incorporate or marry things musically, I’m never interested in low hanging fruit. I often marry disparate things, which is a risk in and of itself, so I have to take the time that is actually required to learn about these other forms of music, which can be really time consuming and daunting. It is very easy for someone to be written off as appropriating something because they haven’t done the work to get the information or put in the time necessary to understand and respect the form. I can’t just play around with it. I do the work.
SE: What would you like people to know about Harlem Stage?
CSaA: The first thing that I would like people to know about Harlem Stage is that they are welcome here. Given all that has happened with gentrification, this is actually really important. With longtime residents no longer feeling comfortable in their own neighborhoods, one has to ask “what is for the Harlemite, in Harlem?” If you really look around, not much. For me it is really important to be a part of a community that is concerned with making sure that the people feel like they have a home and Harlem Stage does just that. I know that the good work is being done here.
A lot of the times it’s easy for me to feel like an island in what I do, since I’m on the road for more than 200 days a year. I’m everywhere else for one reason or another but at the end of the day when I come back to Harlem Stage, I realize that I am a part of something larger. We all have our days but I always look forward to being back here. It’s important for me to be able to come back to a place and sort of always have my north star.
SE: What would you like other artists to know about Harlem Stage?
CSaA: Mostly that. Secondly, if they are looking for a place where they can be themselves, they can do that here. A lot of musicians accept the type of insincerity that is requisite for their musical survival in terms of what they disseminate to people. This is a space where you are free from that trope, especially within creative improvised music. Many times artists create things that they think this group or that group is going to dig because it is what is in vogue, as opposed to feeling comfortable enough to actually create what they feel or hear for themselves; letting whatever that is really be okay- as crazy, beautiful, frightening or heart-wrenching as it may be. The thing that I find most comfortable about this environment, which Meshell and I were talking about, is that I could be my most intellectual and highbrow self in a musical context as well as my most base and guttural self in the same exact space and all of that is welcomed and understood (laughter), which is even deeper. That’s important to me.
I think that once artists come here they automatically become part of the family. I don’t know anyone who has performed here and not completely be welcomed. It’s a space where you can actually artistically be YOU.
SE: What upcoming projects would you like to share with the Harlem Stage community?
CSaA: The Stretch Music Residency! It is going to be crazy! Clearly, we are exploring a myriad of things throughout the residency – trap and alternative music, just to name a few. While we are jumping in and dealing with a lot of different things, one of the things that I am most excited about is exposing people to my family’s tradition and Afro-Native American culture by actually bringing a traditional Black Indian Second Line to Harlem. My grandfather had a big stake in the Black Indian or Afro Native American culture as he was the only guy to be a chief of four tribes of Black Indians. What is great about being born in that line is that it is well within your rights to start new camps so I’m going to start a collective here called “The Brave.” It will premiere at the Stretch Music Festival. “The Brave” is going to represent Harlem and the community. Everyone is included. I am really excited about that.
SE: Can you tell us more about the Stretch Music Festival?
CSaA: The Stretch Music Festival is my attempt to fill a gap by creating a program that points heavily to the future of this sound with full respect for the past of this music. We are at one of the most important junctions- culturally, socially and politically in this country. This is one of the reasons why my appetite was so huge when you talked to me about putting the festival together. I was like finally we have a space where we can musically address all of this stuff from the perspective of the musicians that are actually on the ground and going about the business of doing the work that is requisite to make positive changes for this generation.
It is very important to me to make sure that we create a space where younger, developing artists have an opportunity to contribute and have their voices heard in way where they are not being eaten up and consumed by also being on a bill that also has Ron Carter, Pat Metheny and The Bad Plus on it. It can be very difficult to build as a 20 year old if you have to compete with the titans of this business whilst developing. When you come to Stretch Music, you are going to hear artists that have come from the same foundation [jazz] but have really vibrant and contrasting perspectives on where the music is headed.
SE: As we celebrate our 10th Anniversary in the Harlem Stage Gatehouse, what is your anniversary wish for us?
CSaA: I have a lot of wishes for you guys. First and foremost, continued success and the ability to expand on the work that you are currently doing. My biggest wish for this place has to do with the spirit of the people. The Gatehouse is a building, but it’s the people that make Harlem Stage. My hope is that the vision, mission and spirit of the people here continues to stay long after we are gone; for us to have achieved what we set out to do and that there is another group of people building on what we have built so that when they are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Gatehouse they understand the good work that was done and that spirit continues. That is my wish.
SE: Thank you.