Last Tuesday, February 20, I was at Harvard University for a masterclass with Jill Scott, the legendary R&B singer and songwriter. Additionally, the masterclass was presented by Esperanza Spalding, who is another legend in the world of music. The two Grammy winners were to present a masterclass about improvisation.
The event started with a few Harvard students presenting their original compositions to Jill Scott. It must have been quite an experience to present college age composers to play their music right in front of two heavyweights of the music world. (Legendary jazz pianist and Harvard professor Vijay Iyer was also in the audience, so that’s actually three heavy weights). Jill Scott gave constructive criticism to every student one by one. She was patient, graceful and encouraging.
Fortunately, Jill Scott is one of this artists who did not forget where she came from as a slam poetry artist. In an open mic, she was discovered by The Roots’ drummer Questlove, who invited her to a few jam sessions. From these jam sessions, the song You Got Me came out. You Got Me was recorded by Erykah Badu and the Roots. But as a writer, it opened the world for Jill Scott with its Grammy success. From there, Jill Scott went on to make four great albums in a row, while extensively touring all around the world and performing in the Rent musical despite that she did not have an education in musical theater. She made herself an undeniable success story in the world of music.
After 18 years, Esperanza Spalding asked “So how do you do it?” Scott said “By staying true to myself, not doing things for the money or fame”. Jill Scott still looks at herself as an independent artist, despite reaching mainstream success many times. The perspective of being an independent artist not only keeps her feet on the ground, but also helps her stayed focused. This is why her music connects with many people, as it is a reflection of her personality. Her musical influences are still her guiding path when making artistic decisions, just like it was when she started out when she was 27 years old. Jill Scott is here to be around for another 20 years, and this is precisely what she told us as young artists: “Don’t go for the short term hype, think long term about your artistic life”.
The same would go for Esperanza Spalding. As a 20 year old, she became the youngest instructor in the history of Berklee College of Music. She went on to become the first jazz artist to win the Best New Artist Grammy award in 40 years. After many great albums and tours, she is currently a Harvard professor. For me, she represents both staying true as a musical artist and achieving mainstream success at the same time, just like Jill Scott.
From the perspective of these two artists, it is all about the long-term success as an artist and doing what it takes. And what does it take? One student was playing a song about ‘being broken’. Jill Scott told him, “This song is about being broken. So everytime you play on the stage, you have to be broken too. You can not act broken. You have to be broken for real. That is the work we do as artist.”
Alper Tuzcu is a Berklee College of Music and Denison University alumni, and a Boston based guitarist, songwriter and producer. His new EP ‘Lines’ was released on November 2017 and his debut eclectic album ‘Between 12 Waters’ featuring 8 different vocalists is available on Spotify. In addition to being a musician, he regularly teaches workshops and masterclasses internationally. You can follow him on Instagram or Twitter, and for more information you can visit his website www.alpertuzcu.com