Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: 2nd Century Jazz
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is leading the charge into jazz’s next chapter.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is a pioneering trumpeter and composer known for merging disparate musical influences into a form of jazz known as “Stretch Music.”
Adjuah was born in 1983 in New Orleans into an established musical family. He was taught from an early age by his uncle Donald Harrison, Jr., a renowned saxophonist. Soon after graduating with a degree in professional music from Berklee School of Music, he released his debut major label album, Rewind That (2006), which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. He has received five subsequent nominations, including for The Emancipation Procrastination (2017), the third installment of his Centennial Trilogy considering 100 years of jazz music.
Adjuah released his thirteenth studio album, Axiom, in 2020. It was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Instrumental Album.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah seemed destined for a life in jazz. He grew up in New Orleans’ ninth ward surrounded by music. The young trumpeter developed artistically under the mentorship of his uncle, Donald Harrison Jr., who was widely considered a master of the saxophone. Adjuah’s philosophy would be forged through observations of his surroundings. He attended William Frantz Elementary School more than 25 years after it had been desegregated by the enrollment of Ruby Bridges in 1960. But racial tensions had far from disappeared.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: To me, when I would see that, even as a small person, it didn’t make any sense to me ’cause essentially they were going through the same things, they were the same people. So I wanted to try and find a way musically to address this.
His solution was stretch music, an approach to jazz that honors what’s come before while embracing influences from a wide swathe of other styles.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: If I asked you to visualize a Western classical musician, then I asked you visualize like a trap musician or hip hop musician, and then I asked you to see a salsalero, you see very different people right. Well, it’s because how music is disseminated to you is sort of fragmented in these little sort of bisects of culture. So in what we do, we try to sort of obliterate this notion, or this idea of genre, in favor of creating musical realities that illuminate the sameness between seemingly disparate cultures of music as opposed to just looking for the topical differences. So as an example, if I can mix n’goni or core music or rhythms like casa zorro or from places like Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and if I can mix those rhythms with a harmonic template that sounds like a Polish folk song with a melodic type that comes from traditional Korean music with an emotional fervor that comes from the Delta blues, then what am I saying about those people? So if I can marry all of those cultures of music, essentially I’m saying that the people belong together as well. So this is like our attempt to sort of create a new reality where we favor the sameness between us as opposed to just looking for the differences because I think we’ve had enough centuries of seeing what it looks like when we’re constantly preoccupied with the differences.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is now a pioneer of this new movement sometimes called second century jazz. But it wasn’t until while on overseas tour that he realized the power of what he was helping to create.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: We didn’t know that what we were doing was so palpable that people had identified it as something different, right, or sort of like second century jazz. That wasn’t something that we thought about but as they kept shouting it at us, we started to think about the principles of what it was that we were developing and the word made sense. Essentially we were stretching the rhythmic, melodic and harmonic components of jazz to encompass as many vernacular as possible as a means of trying to figure out a reevaluation of how we communicated with listeners, and how we interacted with listeners.
In 2017, he released a trilogy of albums celebrating the first 100 years of jazz and ushering in a new century of sound.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: First record, Ruler Rebel, sort of has themes of trap music and also indie rock because these are things that I like to listen to so you’re sort of getting a little bit of my identity politics through a record. The second one, Diaspora, just deals with all of us. So this is sort more wide ranging in terms of what it’s acculturating into in that sonic space so there are things like Nordic pop music, traditional Japanese music, like casa zorro music from Mali and these sort of places and stuff from Senegal and Gambia and so we’re mixing all of these things in that record. And then the Emancipation Procrastination is sort of more of a traditional sort of stretching thing where it harkens more to the jazz idea. And so this one has a lot more improvising, it’s more through composed as opposed to segmented like the first two records. I think the one that means the most to me on the Emancipation Procrastination is a song called “Ashes of Our Forever”. It just talks about relationships and how I think when you’re younger, we sort of accept this idea that when you find love and you find that person that whatever that forever is going to be I think the thing that we think about the least is that the only thing that you can predict in any of those types of amorous environments is that something is going to change. And having the foresight to see that and being able to embrace that and grow together through those things are paramount. As I get a little bit older, I see that more clearly now.
“Ashes of Our Forever” was written in the midst of the break up of his marriage but it’s not a sad song because he’s not one to wallow in the melancholy.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Because of my life’s experiences, losing a lot of friends growing up and just one day people being there and the next minute they’re not, I don’t shy away from those moments. I know that whatever it is that I’m going through, if it’s good or bad, it’ll pass, and I think even as a younger person, I’ve always had the ability to be able to take a step back and realize that sometimes if you have to go through that type of, if it’s mourning, a relationship or any of those things, just like the positive things that happen in a relationship, to feel what you’re feeling and process those things so that if you ever go through it again, you’ll be able to handle it better or do better but not to fight that so hard, it’s a part of it.
Today, jazz is an endangered art form but the uniquely contemporary values that musicians like Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah are bringing to the form suggests that a renaissance may soon be upon us.