Thanks to a tweet by freeform, I was just hipped to this recent article in the Wall Street Journal by jazz writer Larry Blumenfeld about New Orleans wunderkinds Christian Scott and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews. It’s well-done, so give it a read.
… done yet? OK, now for my take: I can see where Blumenfeld is coming from, citing their similar New Orleans musical pedigrees and holding them up as exemplars of young musicians expanding the style and reaching out into new, albeit different, musical horizons.
But having just listened through both of their most recent CDs — Andrews’s Backatown and Scott’s Yesterday You Said Tomorrow — in the past month or so, I don’t believe that the comparison holds up upon closer examination. Maybe it’s just my bias towards kickass trombonists, but if anything these two are a study in contrasts in how to leverage a privileged New Orleans musical heritage.
The closest analogy that comes to my mind is the recent NBA free-agency extravaganza which saw LeBron James ditch his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in a ridiculously-hyped ESPN hour-long special. This came a day after fellow superstar Kevin Durant announced his maximum-salary contract extension with the Oklahoma City Thunder via Twitter. To my ears, Scott is the LeBron James of this scenario while Andrews is the Durant (guess who’s going to make an appearance soon as the trumpet-playing Michael Jordan …)
Like James, Scott has garnered most of the spotlight among enthusiasts. Both have used that spotlight to great effect: in addition to topping the iTunes jazz charts, Scott’s album has even seen some crossover success, as pointed out by Patrick Jarenwattananon the other day. Both have rejected their hometowns to reach their current status — LeBron by spurning the Cavs for Miami and Scott with his scorn for New Orleans traditionalists.
Unlike James, Scott maintains a dark, brooding demeanor. But despite LeBron’s businesslike veneer, this points to another trait they share. In his breakdown of James’s Decision, J.A. Adande observed that everything LeBron does is derivative — even his money quote, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” was borrowed from Kobe Bryant. Similarly, Scott’s music and affect seem, to me, to be transparently riffing on Miles Davis — the New Orleans connection throws some writers off that scent. Another one of Scott’s hallmarks, the use of heavy, politically-charged song titles such as “Jenacide: The Inevitable Rise and Fall of the Bloodless Revolution,” was practiced over 50 years ago by Charles Mingus.
The two stars have also been positioned as young upstarts ready to take up the mantle of illustrious predecessors: James has Jordan, and Scott has Wynton Marsalis. James’s “Decision” was called out by Jordan, after years of “Is LeBron the Next Jordan?” media speculation. Scott has fed this perception by publicly criticizing Marsalis’s approach to jazz, anointing himself as the one with the true way forward. Ironically, Yesterday You Said Tomorrow is explicitly backwards-looking, recreating the sound of the 1960s — he even brought legendary engineer Rudy Van Gelder out of retirement to record it. There’s only one problem: despite all the bluster, I don’t hear anything new.
Andrews and Durant, on the other hand, go about their business quietly and professionally, and the result is a joy for fans to experience (unless, like me, you’re a Trail Blazers fan. Get well Greg Oden!) I’ve already written a rave review of Trombone Shorty’s latest release, so I don’t need to repeat myself. What I have noticed since that went up is that a lot of people, covering a wide spectrum of musical persuasions, have approached me to share their enthusiasm for Backatown. Best of all, it fearlessly exhibits his brassy New Orleans background while making it fresh enough for David Letterman. You won’t hear him stirring up beef with other musicians, just flashing a big smile while he blows away audiences all over the world.
Durant is similar in this regard — now the unquestioned star of the upcoming World Championship squad heading to Turkey next month, he has downplayed his role, insisting that he’s just there to get better. He even made a sideline appearance at the Las Vegas Summer League, probably some of the least-important professional basketball games ever played, to cheer on his new Thunder teammates.
While King James ascends his throne and Scott appoints himself Heir to the Jazz Trumpet Crown, both Andrews and Durant display humility, joy, and pure love for what they do. They may not have the same profile as their better-selling contemporaries, but it’s not like they’re stuggling, either. Count me among those who prefer their even-keeled passion to the youthful ambition of their more-celebrated counterparts.