Mu­sic Young Man With a (Weird) Horn

By reimag­in­ing jazz, Chris­tian Scott atunde Ad­juah is both hon­or­ing and sav­ing it

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - BY RYAN BORT @ryan­bort

hated the trum­pet. Re­ally hated it. But grow­ing up in 1980s New Or­leans, where mu­sic was one of the few ways a kid could get out of his neigh­bor­hood, the in­stru­ment he pre­ferred was al­ready taken. Ad­juah is the nephew of renowned sax­o­phon­ist Don­ald Har­ri­son Jr., and “I knew that if I played the sax­o­phone, I prob­a­bly wasn’t going on the road,” he says. “My un­cle still would have trained me at home. But if I played the trum­pet, I was going to be on­stage get­ting the ac­tual lessons.”

By 16, he was a bona fide prodigy, and in the more than two decades since, the 34-year-old has won awards, toured the world and re­leased close to a dozen ac­claimed al­bums, be­gin­ning with his self-ti­tled de­but in 2002. One thing never changed, though. “I hate the fuck­ing sound of the trum­pet, man. It’s fuck­ing ter­ri­ble.”

So Ad­juah ditched it and in­vented some­thing bet­ter. We’re talk­ing in the up­stairs green room of the leg­endary Blue Note Jazz Club in New York’s Green­wich Village, and he’s ex­plain­ing what he calls his “B-flat in­stru­ments,” which look a bit like space-age weapons. Such in­no­va­tion is a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of Ad­juah’s un­ortho­dox mu­sic. Along with fel­low jazz mu­si­cians Robert Glasper and, more re­cently, Ka­masi Washington, he has been at the fore­front of a gen­er­a­tion of mu­si­cians tear­ing down the bound­aries be­tween gen­res, with el­e­ments of rock, hip-hop and elec­tronic mu­sic flow­ing into jazz record­ings and vice versa. Among oth­ers, Ad­juah has col­lab­o­rated with Thom Yorke and Mos Def; Glasper and Washington worked with Ken­drick La­mar on the Grammy-win­ning 2015 al­bum To Pimp a But­ter­fly.

Ad­juah’s sounds are rec­og­niz­able—a mod­i­fi­ca­tion of tra­di­tional jazz, with fa­mil­iar el­e­ments— but he wel­comes myr­iad in­flu­ences, from trap beats to samba rhythms to polka. “Jazz is the original fu­sion mu­sic,” Ad­juah says. “Bringing all of this in is the essence of it; the tra­di­tional tenets are to con­stantly search, to look for new ter­rain, new ver­nac­u­lar and new ways of com­mu­ni­cat­ing. But we were up against this no­tion that it had to be one way.”

Ad­juah is about to re­lease the fi­nal in­stall­ment of an am­bi­tious and so­cially in­sight­ful ex­pres­sion of his jazz ver­nac­u­lar, what he calls his “Cen­ten­nial Tril­ogy,” three al­bums com­mem­o­rat­ing the 100-year an­niver­sary of the first jazz record­ing, “Livery Sta­ple Blues,” from the Original Dix­ieland Jass Band. Ad­juah and his band are at the Blue Note for a fi­nal night of sold-out shows in sup­port of this in­stall­ment, The

Eman­ci­pa­tion Pro­cras­ti­na­tion, recorded in just six days but in the works since he was 14. When he was grow­ing up, his mu­si­cal elders would say, “When you guys get to be adults, the cen­tury mark will be up,” Ad­juah says. “What are you going to do? How are you going to cre­ate beauty out of this mo­ment, how are you going to spark a mu­si­cal di­a­logue that will last an­other cen­tury? Are you good enough? Are you valiant enough? I be­gan the work in that mo­ment.”

His ex­pe­ri­ences as a teenager, in the Up­per Ninth Ward, fur­ther shaped his mu­sic. “I’ve seen white peo­ple en­dur­ing food in­se­cu­rity. I’ve seen black peo­ple en­dur­ing the same things. They view each other as their neme­sis, even though they’re the same peo­ple,” he says. “As a so­cial con­struct, race ex­ists, but it doesn’t, man. There’s not Homo sapi­ens Africans.“

In time, Ad­juah be­gan to find the term jazz “lim­it­ing,” so he cre­ated a new name, “stretch mu­sic,” for a sound free of ar­ti­fi­cial and ar­bi­trary bound­aries, where Kurt Cobain is as much of a blues mu­si­cian as Muddy Wa­ters. And, he says, “if I can blur or oblit­er­ate the spa­ces be­tween gen­res, which are the cul­tural ex­pres­sions of the [races] that we’ve carved up, then what am I say­ing about the peo­ple?”

Later that night, as he stood on the Blue Note stage be­fore a be­guiled and di­verse crowd—asian, white, black and ev­ery­thing in be­tween—you could see ev­i­dence of Ad­juah’s hope­ful philosophy on their faces. “I’ve never met any­one who doesn’t like sounds,” he’d said ear­lier. “There’s noth­ing more pow­er­ful than the po­ten­tial mu­sic has to be able to heal peo­ple, and to get peo­ple past that junction. I think we’re going to do it.”

The third and fi­nal in­stall­ment of the Cen­ten­nial Tril­ogy, The Eman­ci­pa­tion Pro­cras­ti­na­tion, is out Oc­to­ber 20 on Ad­juah’s la­bel, Stretch Mu­sic.

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