Monday, March 23, 2020

Scott Wendholt: Moving The Jazz Trumpet Tradition Forward

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I had no idea who Scott Wendholt was, but when I saw his name listed in the Criss Cross catalogue, I thought I would investigate further.

As some of you may know, Criss Cross is based in The Netherlands and owned by the late Gerry Teekens [1935-2019].

A Jazz aficionado and drummer whom Bret Primack refers to as “one of the music business’ few heroes,” beginning in the 1980s, Gerry came to New York a couple of times a year to record “some of the finest young musicians on the planet.”

The more I looked, the more I liked in terms of Scott’s background and his tastes in music.

Scott is a trumpet player and a graduate of the music program at Indiana University which has produced a number of excellent Jazz musicians, among them, drummer Jeff Hamilton, bassist and composer-arranger John Clayton and tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen.

When I first encountered Scott, he had made three recordings for Criss Cross: The Scheme of Things [1078], Through the Shadows [1101] and From Now On… Scott Wendholt Quartet/Sextet [1123].

His choice of band mates on these dates included some of my favorite “young” musicians on the New York Jazz scene: alto saxophonists Vincent Herring and Steve Wilson, tenor saxophonists Tim Ries and Don Braden, trombonist Steve Armour, pianists Bruce Barth and Kevin Hayes, and bassists Dwayne Burno, Ira Coleman and Larry Grenadier. Billy Drummond - how’s that for the name of a drummer? - was the one constant on all of these recordings and Billy’s playing just knocks me out.

Scott included tunes from The Great American Songbook on each CD including Love for Sale, You Don’t Know What Love Is, In A Sentimental Mood, I Remember You, and Just In Time.

He also arranged treatments of Jazz Standards such as Miles Davis’ Solar, Freddie Hubbard’s Birdlike, Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes, and Duke Jordan’s You Know I Care.

Mixed in with a healthy sampling of Scott’s original compositions, these familiar melodies give listeners a chance to set their ears and provides them with a basis of comparison for Scott’s approach to the music.

He plays with authority, has a rich, “legit” tone and constructs solos that are interesting and unique.  There is a lot of Miles Davis in his playing as well as a good sampling of Freddie Hubbard’s style, but he brings these “licks” across by incorporating them into his own approach to improvisation.

The ensemble passages are crisply executed and include a full range of dynamics both of which indicate the Scott and his colleagues know the music and how it should be played.

In his insert notes to The Scheme of Things [Criss Cross 1078], Professor David Baker, who runs the Jazz program at Indiana University, commented:

“This is one of the most exciting CDs I have heard in a long time. These are some serious young players playing great music in a most convincing way. It is obvious that they know the tradition from which they come, but their interpretation and extension of that tradition is what makes this such a strong CD. These are players on the cutting edge, chance-lakers operating at the precipice.

This is one hell of a debut recording for a super young player. He and his cohorts have thrown down the gauntlet. Scott Wendholt!! A name to remember.”

Scott made these comments to Bret Primack during the recording of Through the Shadows [Criss Cross 1101]:

“About to depart, both warmed and awakened by the music and his striking trumpet, I asked Wendholt about future plans. "I want to keep playing modern music," he explained. "I love the Jazz idiom and what's been done, but I want to continue to explore new areas of progressive harmonic creativity. I want to keep pressing forward especially with my writing. I want to keep going, of course not doing fusion music, but writing progressive things, pushing forward. At some point, I also hope to crystallize my own working group that can tour and do records steadily. Personnel always changes but I'd like to get more of my own imprint on the music. Of course I'll always be working as a sideman with other great musicians but ultimately, I'd like to be able to pick and choose my own gigs."

Trombonist Steve Armour appears on From Now On… Scott Wendholt Quartet/Sextet [1123] and he made these observations about Scott in the liner notes to the recording:

“ …, I believe that the closer an artists gets to artistic success—not financial or critical success of their art as a commodity, but success in creating the artistic statement he or she envisions—the more their art will reflect who they are as people. In his life and in his art Scott carries always an athletic grace and confidence, a certain surety of step and of motion. There is a straightforward clarity and honesty reflected in his demeanor, refreshingly free of the back-slapping, toothy-grinned veneer of so many Jazz status-seekers, as well as in his music.”

From any number of perspectives, then, getting more familiar with the music of Scott Wendholt is a gratifying experience.

As a step in that direction, a viewing of the following video will bring you closer to it as on it Scott renders a striking version of Mal Waldron’s Soul Eyes with Vincent Herring on alto saxophone, Kevin Hays on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass and Bill Drummond on drums. The track is from Scott’s The Scheme of Things Criss Cross CD [1078].

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