Christian Scott, Al Vega
January 1, 1970This week's two pieces were yesterday's Jazz Notes about Christian Scott, a talented young trumpeter player from New Orleans with a new CD out on Concord Records, and Al Vega, the legendary local pianist who celebrated his 85th birthday at Scullers on Thursday.
Scott is the nephew of a previous Jazz Notes profilee, Donald Harrison, and the boyfriend of yet another, Esperanza Spalding. He'll be playing with a quintet at Scullers on Wednesday, and my wife and I are planning on catching him that night as part of an evening spent celebrating our wedding anniversary.
One glitch crept into the Scott profile. It was my fault, and I noticed it only after it made it into the paper. In my rush to get the story turned in (this was also the week I turned in final grades to Boston University, so I was more distracted than usual), I didn't notice that I wrote Erin Bode when I meant Erin Boheme, confusing one good young singer for another even younger one because their names are so similar. I should have said Scott toured with Boheme. The mistake is corrected below, but it's a shame I didn't catch it earlier, because the story itself got bigger than usual play in Friday's paper.
I missed the extravaganza planned for Vega because of another trip into the city with my wife, in this case a crack-of-dawn doctor's appointment Friday morning. There an ultrasound photo revealed unmistakable evidence that the new baby we've got on the way is another boy.
I'd have liked to have caught the Vega celebration, too, but figured it would keep me out too late with the doctor appointment the next day. So I'll try catching his 90th instead.
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For trumpeter Christian Scott, jazz wasn't meant to be played straight ahead.
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | May 12, 2006
Christian Scott, 23, could well be the latest in a line of New Orleans trumpet greats, including Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, and Wynton Marsalis and stretching all the way back to King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
That said, he's got pretty strong ties to Boston, too.
Maybe you've heard him on National Public Radio, welcoming in the new year from Berklee's David Friend Recital Hall; at the 2004 on-air Toast of the Nation celebration, he backed his uncle, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Last year, he backed pianist Henry Butler. Or perhaps you've seen him at Wally's Cafe in the South End on one of the countless nights he led bands there before graduating from Berklee in 2004. Or witnessed one of his performances at the Virgin Megastore on Newbury Street, one of which led to his recording contract with Concord Records.
The point is, when Scott and his band celebrate the release of his debut, "Rewind That," at Scullers on Wednesday, it will be a sort of homecoming. Ditto his appearance at Saint in early February, the local stop in a barnstorming tour with fellow Concord up-and-comers Taylor Eigsti and Erin Boheme.
In his hotel room at the Marriott Copley the next day, Scott — who these days shares an apartment in downtown Manhattan with his twin brother, Kiel — recalled having played at Wally's the day he moved to Boston for school. "At first, I was playing with Walter Smith's group," he recalls, "and within two weeks I had my own band in there."
That band usually included guitarist Matt Stevens, brothers Zaccai and Luques Curtis on piano and bass, and drummer Thomas Pridgen — the same guys backing Scott on "Rewind That" — along with Smith on tenor sax and Harrison as special guest on alto sax on four tracks.
"Same dudes, man," Scott says. "I'm pretty good about keeping a band together." (The Curtis brothers, Stevens, and drummer Marcus Gilmore will be with him this week at Scullers.)
That Scott could commandeer the Wally's stage so quickly isn't surprising. He'd started touring internationally with his uncle within a couple of years of picking up the trumpet around age 12.
In Harrison, Scott had an ideal teacher, albeit a demanding one. "The first time I went over to his house," Scott says, "I had only been playing for maybe three months, and he made me learn the melody for 'Donna Lee,' which is something that people who have been playing for 10 years can't play. He gave me this alto chart of it, which is not my key. I just discarded it, and learned it by ear. A week later, I could play it. And he was like, 'Man, maybe you can do this.'"
So Harrison kept teaching him and working him hard.
"I came up under a lot of great musicians," Harrison said recently by phone, "so I was only teaching him the way I was taught. The masters don't play with you, you know. They make you get it right."
By the time Scott got to Berklee, he was able to test out of several classes. By the time he graduated, he had self-produced a CD that he was selling at Virgin on consignment. And it was during a packed in-store concert promoting that CD that a former Concord distributor figured young people flocking to hear jazz meant something special was going on. He persuaded Scott to send Concord a copy of that first CD, and within days Concord called to offer him a contract.
He accepted, provided he could continue doing his own thing, which meant eschewing straight-ahead jazz in favor of a more modern sound incorporating rock, funk, and other pop genres. He further personalizes his work with a distinctively warm, breathy trumpet tone, and by writing music inspired by his own life. ''Kiel" is for his brother, a Cooper Union arts school graduate who shot the photos for "Rewind That." "Suicide" was written to call attention to trigeminal neuralgia, a rare nerve disease from which his mother suffers. It causes pain so intense it's been called the suicide disease.
Then there's "Rejection," written for Scott's current link to Boston: his girlfriend, bassist and Berklee instructor Esperanza Spalding. They started dating while classmates at Berklee, but at one point Spalding broke off the relationship so that she could focus on getting her bass chops together. The tune portrays Scott phoning from the road and getting the news.
"At the time it hurt, but I understood it completely," says Scott. "I mean, as a musician, I could understand. I think ultimately, in the context of my life, I'd have probably been more angry if she had never come back."
"Now she's got herself together. She can really play. And she's back."
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Al Vega's 85th - An All-Star Birthday Celebration
Scullers, Doubletree Guest Suites Boston, 400 Soldiers Field Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 & 10 p.m. $18, $58 with dinner.
Pianist Al Vega (right) is still going strong as he zeros in on his 85th birthday on June 22. He's been playing Fridays and Saturdays at The Good Life since February and is in his fourth year of anchoring Sinatra Sunday at Lucky's Lounge. He's also beginning his 51st season of coaching Babe Ruth baseball, which seems appropriate - Ruth had barely retired when Vega began gigging around town in the late 1930s. Vega became a local legend by staying put through Boston's jazz heyday, performing with such greats as Sidney Bechet, Charlie Parker, and Billie Holiday. Tonight others will be lining up to play with Vega. A partial (and still growing) guest list includes Rebecca Parris, Ellen O'Brien, Shawnn Monteiro, DD Martin, Cassandre McKinley, Steve Marvin, Jim Porcella, Johnny Souza, Mark Creel, and Grace Kelly. "I guess I'll have to show my versatility," quips Vega.
Wed 5-17 Ramona Borthwick Local artists will also be celebrating at Ryles next week. Veteran trumpeter Greg Hopkins toasts his 60th birthday on Tuesday with Bill Pierce, Mick Goodrick, and others. The next night, pianist-vocalist Ramona Borthwick celebrates the release of her debut CD, "A New Leaf," joined by Phil Grenadier, Noel Borthwick, Fernando Huergo, Esperanza Spalding, and Francisco Mela. Ryles, 212 Hampshire St., Inman Square, Cambridge. 617-876-9330. 9 p.m. $10.
Fri 5-12 Pat Martino Quartet Standout guitarist Martino celebrates his new Blue Note release, "Remember: A Tribute to Wes Montgomery," backed by pianist Rick Germanson, bassist Gregory Ryan, and drummer Scott Robinson. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 & 10 p.m. $25. Repeats Sat.