In addition to his work as a support figure, he has also developed a reputation as an innovative composer and bandleader, with the help of his ever-evolving musical collective. The Kendrick Scott Oracle began their creative odyssey in 2007 with an eclectic and ambitious debut recording called The Source, and followed up on its success with Conviction, an album set for release on Concord Jazz in March 2013.
Born in July 1980, Scott grew up in Houston, Texas in a family of musicians whose eclectic interests ran to gospel, classical and R&B. His earliest musical experiences were in his church, where his parents and older brother were involved in the music ministry. “I remember sitting in a pew in church when I was very young, and I remember feeling a chill in my body during one of the songs. I thought, ‘What is this feeling?’ I had to know what it was and what was causing it. I had to be a part of it. I knew even then that the source of that feeling was something that I wanted to pursue.”
By age 8, Scott’s parents set him up with some sticks, pads and drum lessons. The combination of innate talent, discipline and support from his parents earned him a seat in Houston’s renowned High School for the Performing and Visual Arts – a school whose roster of prestigious alums also includes Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, Mike Moreno, Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Beyoncé, and many others.
“I was naïve enough to never really have any doubt about playing music as a career,” Scott says of his high school years. “I never really thought about the possibility that it couldn’t be done. It was a blessing to just be a part of that environment, where I saw so many guys – like Eric Harland, who was four years older than me – doing great things. When you’re in an environment like that, the extraordinary becomes the ordinary.”
Before finishing high school, Scott won a number of Downbeat Magazine student awards, as well as the Clifford Brown/Stan Getz Award from the International Association of Jazz Educators and the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. He was later awarded a scholarship to attend Berklee College of Music, where he majored in music education.
In addition to long hours of instruction and practice, the Berklee years also presented Scott with the opportunity to establish relationships with prominent artists like Kenny Garrett, Pat Metheny, the Crusaders and others. After he graduated in 2003, he had offers to tour first with the Crusaders, and later with Terence Blanchard. He has played with Blanchard for most of the ten years since.
“Kendrick is a true artist of the highest order,” says Blanchard. “He is not bound by the conventional wisdom of the music world. I’ve noticed that he never says why, but rather why not. He is exactly what the music world needs: someone with the vision and courage to press forward and expand the world of music. I am blessed to have him around and I look forward to seeing what he does every time we play.”
It was Blanchard who encouraged Scott to record The Source, his debut album with Oracle. “He’d been telling me for years to just go ahead and put something out there,” Scott recalls. “He told me that the work doesn’t have to define who you are for all time. It’s just a little piece of who you are in that moment. I actually started recording The Source in 2005, then I re-recorded it in 2006, and then it came out in 2007. All of those early experiences – being around the Crusaders, being around Terence, being around all the other musicians whom I grew up with in my community – that really spurred me to create that CD. I had a lot of people playing on that album, including Robert Glasper and Gretchen Parlato. It was about a sense of musical community that I felt that I should try to capture on a record.”
More than five years after the release of The Source, Conviction is the next step in the creative evolution of Kendrick Scott Oracle – a band whose lineup is now saxophonist and bass clarinetist John Ellis, guitarist Mike Moreno (the only member to also appear on The Source) pianist Taylor Eigsti and bassist Joe Sanders. Guest vocalist and guitarist Alan Hampton makes appearances on two tracks.
“I wanted to make this more of a band statement,” says Scott. “This current lineup of the band just molded itself around this music, and then took it in all different kinds of directions at the same time. It all came together so easily and so well.”
Scott is committed to keeping his artistic vision fresh and new. “Making a piece of art should never have a sense of finality to it,” he says. “When I make a record, I listen to it and I always think about rewriting some part or some section. Sometimes I think that when we play it on the road, it will sound so different to people that they might not even recognize it. It’s that constant state of evolution that I’m hoping to achieve.”