KENDRICK SCOTT: Interview with a real self-starter
I’m always interested in the efforts of artists who aren’t sitting around longing for some elusive record deal but who are putting their music on the marketplace themselves; and not just the vanity project purveyor but those who show real entrepreneurial spirit. Such an artist is the very promising young drummer Kendrick Scott, another in a growing line of musicians out of Houston (see our earlier Q&A with pianist Helen Sung) who were trained in part by renowned high school educator Bob Morgan. Over the last year Kendrick has been steadily growing his World Culture Music (WCM) imprint, releasing not only his own music but also those of exceptional colleagues as well. I recently caught up with the busy Mr. Scott for a Q&A on the whys & wherefores of World Culture Music.
Willard Jenkins: Generally young artists like you when they do start their own imprint they do it purely to support their own releases. Why and how did you determine to record other artists as well as your own music on the label?
Kendrick Scott: When I first decided to record my own CD it was going to be for a small label. The deal essentially was they would give me a nominal fee, with no future returns in sight, and I would give them a record… period. After deep thought I realized how ludicrous that was. So I decided to do it on my own so that I will have total control over the whole process and own my master. While I was in the process of doing my CD I found myself recording three other CDs with friends of mine who I felt have strong voices. These musicians possessed a very important trait, they are strong composers as well as players. I developed World Culture Music (WCM) as an artist collective so that we might bring our creative expression and vision to the listener in an honest and sincere way that could also benefit the artists.
WJ: What is your mission for WCM?
KS: Our mantra is "Progress The Music and Expand The Culture." Through the artist collective effort we want to empower our peers of younger accomplished jazz musicians. In today’s society we are missing a sense of community, which is why on another level you see our country coming together this election season. It takes a strong collective of people to make things flourish as well as strong will to act on your dreams and not leave it in other hands. WCM is a part of that community that says it’s our turn. And that’s the type of label we want to create, a gathering of minds. We want to continue that sense of community by not only catering to our established jazz fans but tapping into a younger audience of our peers who may not listen to jazz. And we adamantly want to develop a fresh new marketing model.
WJ: How have you gone about developing your label?
KS: We’ve done a lot of market anaylsis on the jazz industry. We have looked at a great deal of things from record sales and trends to market development and beyond. Next we set up a Board of Directors which includes the artists in the collective and also an advisory board of young professionals in the music industry, business, and other ventures. Both of these structures aid us in our decision making while developing our various revenue streams, marketing model, and returns for the artists.
WJ: What have you done about tackling the distribution question — even though the business paradigm has shifted with the near demise (or at best the diminshment of importance) of traditional 4-wall retail record stores?
KS: We had been in negotiations to partner with another established label in order to get our product into stores. The reality was that brick and mortar stores are on the way out and it wasn’t cost effective for us right now. However, we do want to be in stores. For young musicians presenting debuts on their own, 4-wall distribution can be a rough undertaking. Right now we are concentrating our efforts in online distrubution and later in 2009 we plan to be in stores.
WJ: How do you get your releases to the press and electronic media? And given the fact that the media receives a blizzard of new releases, what steps have you taken to try and make your releases stand out from the pack?
KS: The first thing that I wanted to stand out from the crowd is the music itself. We want to release music that will touch people’s life in a great way. We try to make everything from the record concept and the recording quality, to the art top notch. I feel if that is the basis for everything that we do, then we are headed in the right direction, whether it stands out now or down the line, which is the ultimate goal. Each of the artists in the collective has been blessed to play, as a sideman, with many of today’s leading artists and visionaries, as well as our many exceptionally talented peers. This has been great for us in piquing interest in our music to those who may never have heard of us. Our publicist, Jason Byrne from Red Cat Publicity, has helped tremendously in introducing our names and music to the jazz world individually and as a solid collective.
WJ: How effective have your early efforts with the label been so far?
KS: WCM has been doing very well so far. Each of the artists has released a CD for a total of four. We have been blessed that they have been well received and have had critical acclaim by writers (New York Times, All About Jazz, Downbeat, JazzTimes), musicians, and listeners alike. My record The Source received 2007 end-of-year poll wins in the Village Voice and All About Jazz, and (guitarist) Mike Moreno’s record has been chosen by JazzTimes as one of the top 50 CDs of 2007. Julie Hardy’s CD The WIsh was also well received. Downbeat magazine said "[vocalist] Julie Hardy interacts as a skilled, challenging improviser and vocalist, leading the way melodically and rhythmically." Trombonist Nick Vayenas’ release is doing very well too. We had a record release performance with Nick’s band at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center in May. And in June we had a WCM weekend celebration at the Jazz Gallery. Our music is doing the talking for us and if we keep that up we will be on our way in following the masters in terms of developing a strong body of work and continuing their legacy; that’s our marker.
WJ: Will you always be concerned with making hard copy releases or do you ever foresee a day when your whole catalogue will be purely downloadable?
KS: I think the music industry is headed toward being totally digital, but I think that most jazz fans are also collectors in some way. I am a young guy but I do remember seeing the eight track in my parents’ car and I have a nice collection of [vinyl] records. For me nothing can replace the feeling of having a record like Barry Harris’ Live At the Jazz Workshop in your hands. It’s really a romance I don’t think people will totally get away from in the long run.
WJ: What else do you see as the ongoing benefit of hard copy releases besides that tactile need?
KS: For those of us who have had computers crash and lost everything on our hardrive, there is the obvious reason for having the hard copies. As I stated in the previous answer I think listeners across the board still have somewhat of a love/hate romance with the hardcopy, at least when the music moves them.
WJ: What kinds of artists are you interested in recording and releasing on your label?
KS: Our interest is in artists who have a strong vision for their music; artists not just in the now but who have the drive to develop their craft over the long haul like all of the great masters have. I believe now we are in a one hit culture and I think we should represent the opposite… but we should also make hits! We want to have not only strong players but strong composers on the label. We want artists with an attitude to promote the collective.
WJ: Talk about your future plans for the label and for your own playing career.
KS: I plan for the label to develop a strong catalog of what is happening in the present. Jazz is undergoing a revival. It’s so great to be in New York right now and to play with my peers that many people don’t know about… at least for now. My goal for the label is to get those voices heard. The next WCM CD will most likely be my own. I am in the process of writing right now and plan to release it in the first quarter of 2009.
As far as my playing career I’ve been extremely blessed. I am really saddened that many of the masters are passing away. That’s one thing I feel our generation needs, we need to be around the masters on the bandstand and off, at the bar and on the plane, on the street, at rehearsal, etc. Those are valuable lessons. I was on a three month tour with the Monterey Jazz Festival All-Stars earlier this year. One of the most memorable moments for me was when James Moody was at rehearsal and he asked ME how he should play my music! He’s James Moody! That really caught me off guard and taught me a great lesson. If he is 83 and his thirst is that heavy, that’s all I want to wish for my own future. I never want to be stagnant. My future plan for my playing is to have as many of those experiences as I can get of playing with the greats and continuing their legacy through carrying on the tradition, not in style but in spirit.
Learn more about WCM at www.worldculturemusic.com.
World Culture Music Discography
Kendrick Scott, The Source
Julie Hardy, The Wish
Mike Moreno, Between the Lines
Nick Vayenas, Synthesia