Trombone Shorty and Christian Scott As NBA Superstars

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.

About arodjazz

Writer, trombonist, and PhD Candidate in Ethnomusicology exploring the complexity of today's jazz world
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8 Responses to Trombone Shorty and Christian Scott As NBA Superstars

  1. David says:

    I think your analogy to Lebron and Jordan distorts more than it reveals. First, Lebron James is a narcissist in a class of his own, I don’t think even the overwhelmingly self-confident Scott approaches Lebron’s ego. And his “scorn for New Orleans traditionalists” bears little resemblance to James’ leaving his home state for the Miami Heat. Scott simply is not a New Orleans guy, he’s a New York modernist (to paint with very broad strokes) who happened to grow up in New Orleans. James is a mercenary basketball player who opted for a team he felt gave him a better chance to win basketball games. Other than the fact they no longer ply their trades in their hometowns, these two have little in common.

    Additionally, when exactly did Scott “anoint himself as the one with the true way forward”? Perhaps you can say his brashness implies as much, but in all the publicity and interviews of Scott I’ve read lately, I don’t think you can argue that he defines himself as the one true way in jazz. Maybe I’m being charitable, but it seems like he has been arguing that jazz musicians don’t have to take the Marsalis path, not that they necessarily need to take his own path.

  2. Pepper says:

    I completely agree with David’s previous post. You state that Scott is “transparently riffing on Miles” while I feel that you are transparently biased towards Andrews. It smacks of haterism. Scott, from what I’ve read and seen, possesses a superior intellect and his approach to his music is thoughtful and introspective. What’s wrong with that? You make it seem like having a sociopolitical point of view is a bad thing because Mingus did it. So should Scott abandon what he wants to say because there have been other musicians that made political statements through their craft? It’s a ridiculous assertion. Everything is not a good time dance party and I appreciate Scott’s understanding of that very real fact.

    Andrews is a great talent but, in my humble opinion, he’s not it the league with Scott.

    Poor Mr. Scott, talented, young, educated, good looking, intelligent and confident. He’s just asking to be criticized by haters.

    • arodjazz says:

      I am indeed transparently biased towards Andrews — I even said as much in the first paragraph. I welcome your disagreement, but still fail to hear the “newness” in Scott’s work. I don’t think that Scott should abandon making political statements if that’s what he wants to do, but I just don’t think he’s unique in positioning himself in that way in the jazz tradition. My point isn’t that he’s wrong, just that he’s not original. Andrews, on the other hand, strikes me as brilliantly original without all the rhetorical baggage that Scott seems to drag around with his music. Maybe I’m just not listening in the right places, and I would absolutely love to hear someone try and explain to me what makes Scott’s music work for them.

      That’s my opinion — it’s not yours, and I respect that. Maybe I’m a little hard on Scott, but I think he’ll do just fine and find plenty of fans without me writing rave reviews. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Ray says:

    Corrections to your article: It is common knowledge that Rudy Van Gelder contacted Scott, not the other way around. Mr. Van Gelder also said that what Scott and his band are doing is “new.” Obviously you think you have heard more jazz than the 85 year old jazz engineering legend so you would know that it isn’t “new.” Great job, genious.

  4. J says:

    You only choose one track off of Scott’s album, “Jenacide: The Inevitable Fall and Rise of the Bloodless Revolution,” as an example of Scott’s mimicry of “politically charged” titles used during the 1950’s and 1960’s. However, Scott’s album delves deeper than themes of race and prejudice exhibited by the jazz artists of earlier decades. Scott takes on the themes of today: Everything from gay rights (The Last Broken Heart) to abortion (The Roe Effect). Should we say he is unoriginal for choosing “politically charged” titles that represent today’s society? I can think of no other jazz artist who has written a piece reflecting the mood of Roe v. Wade.

    That being said, I completely agree on a point you made. Trombone Shorty’s album is fun to listen to and I know why he is always smiling: He sees the world as a big party. Scott’s “brooding” demeanor may be a result of a philosophical look at today’s issues and his discontent with certain aspects of current society.

    I think the better comparison would be Scott to a post-modernistic painter. He takes elements from Miles, elements from Mingus, elements from Radiohead, elements of his own and infuses them together to make something original and applicable to today’s societal issues. Whereas Andrews is essentially a painter creating art using a known formula that evokes happiness, but in the grander scheme of things, is forgettable.

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