Jill Scott Visits with Berklee Students
On tour in support of her new album, Woman, Jill Scott stopped by Berklee for a very special and intimate interview prior to her performance at the Orpheum in Boston on Tuesday, December 1. The Loft at 921 Boylston Street was packed with Berklee students lining up to get in to see and hear from Scott, the multi-Grammy-winning singer-songwriter known for her smash R&B and soul albums, starting with her 2000 debut Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, which went platinum.
Scott is also an actress who has appeared in films such as Get On Up and Why Did I Get Married? and television shows such as Girlfriends and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. She has also established the Blues Babe Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “nurturing college-bound students of color, artistically and academically.”
During the candid session with Berklee students, Scott told vivid stories of her start as a poet and spoken-word artist who eventually decided to sing and put an album together. She discussed times of being impoverished and trying to find work, and, finally, of being a working musician.
Watch a music video for Jill Scott’s “You Don’t Know":
Edited and abridged excerpts from Scott’s talk are presented below.
On the impact of being shot at and an attempted mugging:
“I got to work and I could not shake this feeling of dread…I had a poetry reading that night. I got there and stood there with a poem in my hand and my hand was shaking. I had written something so angry about that particular night, but it didn’t come out. I just sang, and I hadn’t done that before. The space went quiet and then there was this thunder that kind of startled me, and I was like: ‘They loved it! I think I’m going to do this again. Maybe I should make an album.’”
On musicians in her band:
“I’ve had great musicians that play the pocket great, but I’m not in Rent and I can’t do the same thing every night or I will die. It has to be different every day. You have to communicate via your instrument. The drum is the first telephone; I need you to call somebody. I need you to play colors! I need you to play flavors. I need you to play the story within the story. It’s fantastic to play and to be precise, but if there are no guts involved in the music, you’re playing the lines. Congratulations. Put some grit in there. Put some passion in. Put some heartbreak in. Put some spit in.”
On her distaste for repetition:
“I try my best, when I go to the studio, to tell a story, to unveil, unzip, release, let go, and tell the story different every time I record it. There is a story, and I’d like you to follow it, but when I perform, it’s going to be different, because I have to be free.”
On being in the music business:
“There’s such a need for originality in this business. People get stuck on what works. Radio gets stuck. TV shows get stuck. It’s hard to be original in anything you do. You have to keep pushing forward and find an audience. My audience started with a couple people in a bar, and then they told somebody who told somebody, and then I got $15 for a performance, and then $25, and the next thing I knew I was doing bar mitzvahs. You can’t push yourself on your audience. Just make sure you’re somewhere where they can find you, even if it is $15, or even if you have to work another job or two.”
On her work with the Blues Babe Foundation:
“As far as sending kids to school, I only send people who want to do the damn thing. If you’re wasting your time and mine, my grandma said, ‘Do not throw pearls at swine.’ If you’re in your freshman year and I’m helping you out, and you’re playing with it, thank you very much for your time and good luck. This money is hard earned, babe.”
“Every great thing that you do, you’re supposed to grab somebody and bring ‘em along. No matter what society tells you, you are not stuck. You are not a product of your community or your neighborhood. You are an individual who happens to live in the hood, and you can make your life anything you want it to be.”