Still a few years shy of 30, drummer Kendrick Scott is starting to realize he can finally be taken seriously as a musician whose work both reflects and helps deepen the jazz tradition.
In other words, he represents.
"I always felt until now, and I still feel most of the time, that I am merely a student of jazz. But, yeah, now that you ask, I guess I'm just coming to grips with the fact that I am one of those guys," he says.
He ought to, considering that he released his well-received debut album, The Source, last year and plays not only with acclaimed trumpeter Terence Blanchard's band, but also with the Monterey Jazz Festival 50th Anniversary All-Stars.
The Monterey group, which is on the road celebrating the renowned festival's golden anniversary, will visit Tucson for a concert on Saturday, Jan. 26, at UA Centennial Hall.
"It does make sense that we are going out into the world sharing this tradition of jazz with people. I am representing something larger than myself, and with that comes responsibility," Scott says during a recent phone interview from a hotel in Irvine, Calif.
"The Monterey Jazz Festival is a very important institution, not just because it happens to be the longest running American jazz festival, but because it is one of the last festivals left devoted just to jazz."
The MJF's touring band came together when Blanchard was chosen as the festival's 2007 artist in residence.
Asked to form a group for the festival and tour, Blanchard brought from his band drummer Scott and bassist Derrick Hodge. Also in the group are pianist and musical director Benny Green, vocalist Nnenna Freelon and tenor saxophonist James Moody, who is the band's elder statesman at 82 years old.
Moody, who also plays the alto sax and flute, has been playing since the early bebop years in the 1940s, collaborating with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Max Roach, Howard McGhee, Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, among others.
"It's truly a blessing that James Moody has been with us to really show us the way, to show us how to keep shining that light," Scott says, pronouncing the saxophonist's name with reverence.
"On this tour, we're playing one of my compositions, and it is so weird to be there and have him asking me a question about how to approach the music. It's truly a humbling experience to know that James Moody is still seeking information and asking questions about the music. He's still hungry, and that makes the whole atmosphere, and that establishes a tone for the whole band."
Scott, 27, comes from a family of musicians and was an early convert to jazz. He was born and raised in Houston, Texas, where he attended the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. That school was a breeding ground for talents such as Beyoncé Knowles and fellow jazz musicians Jason Moran and Robert Glasper.
The Houston school's alumni also include such Scott pals as guitarist Mike Moreno and saxophonist Walter Smith III, with whom he continues to play.
Then it was on to Boston's Berklee College of Music, where Scott majored in musical education while honing his drumming skills and becoming an adept composer. While still in college, he began playing out with a variety of artists.
"At my graduation, Terence Blanchard asked me to join his band while I was still in my cap and gown," Scott recalled. "But I was still playing with The Crusaders, so I had to finish that obligation up."
Since then, in addition to being a regular member of Blanchard's ensemble, Scott has played with Stefon Harris, Kenny Garrett, Joe Lovano, Lizz Wright, Maria Schneider, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield and David Sanborn.
Scott started recording material for his solo debut two years ago, and it was released last April on the independent label World Culture Music.
World Culture Music is an artist collective founded by Scott, but it is a partnership between him, Moreno, vocalist Julie Hardy and trombonist Nick Vayenas, each of whom releases solo material through the collective.
Scott admits he was initially hesitant to release his solo album, worried it might be premature.
"I was battling with putting out a CD and all these types of things where I felt that I wasn't ready. And I had a long talk with Terence, and he said the music on any CD is just a snapshot of where you are at that moment in life. You're not making the definite statement for your life; it's just a shot from this angle of your life."
The resulting disc has inspired critics to praise not only Scott's swinging and precise percussion playing, but his compositions as well. More importantly, perhaps, it pleased Scott.
"It turned out to be a wonderful experience, man. It includes so many people from all parts of my life. It was one of those projects where you see how all those people touched my life."
Now, Scott's looking ahead to his next album. "I actually already have been writing it, and I hope to go into the studio to record after this tour."
He'll have to wait until at least the end of March. The MJF/50 All-Stars have been on the road since Jan. 8. By the time the tour finishes, they will have played 54 dates in 52 cities.
When I spoke to Scott, the group was six dates into the tour, but they also had performed together several times at the 50th edition of the jazz festival back in September. Recordings from those shows became a live album that was released Jan. 15.
"I kind of wish we had recorded it now, having played those tunes a little more since September, but what can you do, you know?" he chuckles.
Then, Scott muses that the experience of playing with the Monterey all-star band is the pinnacle of his career. So far.
"The music is growing every night. Every night we play, we discover something new."