In Their Own Words: Kendrick Scott

Kendrick Scott Oracle, the bandleader project of drummer Kendrick Scott, signaled a new voice in jazz drumming with the debut release of The Source six years ago. With the release of Conviction, KSO takes on a broad swathe of pop culture – indie rock, samples of Malcom X, a monologue from Bruce Lee – and in the process, takes jazz drumming beyond genre expectations into a pure musical expression. We spoke with the humble 31-year-old about the inspirations behind this remarkable beatscape and what it means to him.

It Starts With The Voice

I would never call myself a singer, but a lot of my stuff I write by singing. And I try to create melodies and things that are singable and recognizable. When you leave, I want the music to linger. And I notice that the more singable the melodies are, the better it’s going to be remembered. So a lot of times I compose from that aspect. I don’t really write lyrics. On the song “Serenity,” Allen Hampton wrote those lyrics, but I wrote the music. So a lot of my music is song-based and singing-based, but it is mostly instrumental.

The Other Gospel Chops

Yeah, [the intro to “Pendulum”]’s a reference to Saint Francis Of Assisi – it’s a prayer that he wrote, and I say that prayer every time I play the drums. And it’s very important to me, because it makes me realize why I’m playing the drums and why I’m living. I was just listening to John Coltrane and I thought, It’s not even his horn that I’m hearing, it’s like I’m hearing him. So I actually write that statement on my drum sticks. And every time I think about Wow, I should play this cool mix that I practiced, been practicing for five hours – every time I see somebody in the club, I’m like, “Oh, shoot, there’s Gadd over there; there’s Kenny Washington in the corner; Oh man, maybe I should play this, maybe they would like that.” I say, “Nope, that’s not it, that’s not being an instrument; that’s thinking of what are you going to do.” So for me, that’s in my perspective before I touch the instrument, and before I get out into life every day. If I can better move myself out of the way, then I can become the instrument, and that’s what that prayer is about.

The Political Is Personal

Let’s take for instance “Liberty Or Death.” I’m really proud of that one because I was really thinking about Malcolm X. “We Shall Overcome” – that’s Martin Luther King. That’s about nonviolent resistance. And then “We Shall By Any Means” is Malcolm X. So as you move on to the next song, that sentiment of by any means necessary is big, you know? And it was kind of written as a chorale. I was watching Malcolm X one day, and the Harlem Boys Choir is singing in the funeral of Malcolm X. And I was thinking, What would that sound like if I wrote something like that but more of a rockish feel? The guys [in my band] know what I’m giving them is only a sketch of what I want them to bring to it. So especially with a guy like Joe Sanders if you listen to the way he plays the bass line? The lines were all written as eighth-notes – dom ding, dom dom ding, but he’ll make up like dom ding, da dom ding, da da ding. So he takes those liberties, and that’s the kind of thing I love to hear with my music.

Delegation Versus Total Control

I know other composers compose in a way where they feel that everything has to line in the right way, and it should be played like that. But the way I compose it’s more free and open to interpretation. I’m so honored to have the guys that I have in my band, because those guys, they are close to my aesthetic of what I love to hear. And they always surprise me with my own music. So essentially they’re making my music better than I would make it if I would’ve wrote it [without them]. If they were to play it verbatim, it probably wouldn’t be the same.

To Get Deep By Going Broad

The suite of “I Have A Dream” going into “We Shall By Any Means” and “Liberty Or Death” – we recorded that all as one track. So we recorded that as like a live show. On the record there are some edits, but nothing major to where we’re fixing notes and moving them back. Jazz is one of the things that’s dear to me. But I love the rock sensibility, I love so many other types of things, and that’s the recording process for me. I was listening to Jonsi from Sigúr Ros, and he wrote this album called Go, and when I listen to that record, it’s like layer upon layer upon layer upon layer of things and everything is going on. I always thought, How can you make that layering of things work with freeform improvisation but still have it feel like it’s a studio project. I think that jazz is so in the moment, and so you have that versus the planned sensibility. So I’m always trying to think in that way – not only in how I write the music but also in how we play it and how I’m playing in my drumming.

Checking His Ego At The Tour

Sometimes the notion that you have to prove something, I think it’s one of the traps of the human ego. Just think about the time that we spend and the practice for hours and hours and hours and we have that desire to justify all that time with the display of what we know. But for me it, it’s more about being in the moment and figuring out what works without a preconceived notion. To be honest, I’ve never really thought of myself as a solo-istic drummer. I’ve always thought of myself as an orchestrator and as a color in the band. If you listen to the song “Conviction,” that’s probably some of the most crazier drum stuff that I’ve played, but for some reason it just doesn’t come out all the time. I’m in the practice room shedding some really crazy drum stuff but if it’s not there in the moment, I won’t force it out even if it’s on the record, because then to me it just becomes a drummer record instead of a musical statement.