Aaron Scott

Interviewed By Barry Solow

Aaron Scott is an acclaimed jazz drummer, but he's no stranger to being an outsider. When he first moved to Paris, it took a year of odd-jobs until Scott, an unknown Black American, was accepted to perform in the Orchestre National de Jazz. While in Europe, he met jazz pianist McCoy Tyner, beginning a fourteen-year tenure traveling the world as part of the McCoy Tyner Trio. Scott credits his gifts of focus and perseverance with his ability to succeed. Today, as a resident of Washington Heights, he applies the same drive to the preservation of Isham Park, where he aims to keep J.A. Reynold's vision alive. (Summary written by: Lauren Hamersmith)

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nearly sixty years old (00:40)
born in Chicago (00:46)
Berklee College of Music (00:59)
military service (01:01)
"Jumped out of airplanes" (01:03)
moved to France (01:12)
music career (01:23)
McCoy Tyner (02:58)
On playing with McCoy for 14 years: "That's no easy feat" (03:02)
best drummers in the world (03:10)
humility (03:18)
drummer (03:24)
self-determination (04:05)
Paris (04:50)
foreigner (05:11)
outsider (05:19)
"I just kind of dropped out of the sky" (05:26)
August 1985 (05:34)
author (05:48)
painter (05:49)
period of low employment: "I would paint his canvasses white and he would give me something" (05:58)
Orchestre National de Jazz (06:15)
jam sessions (06:40)
meeting the music director, National Orchestra (06:56)
On being discovered: "I thought it was a prank call" (07:36)
Black American (08:11)
rejection by the press (08:30)
touring (09:24)
year contract (09:31)
Big Band (09:46)
"took a year for them to accept me" (10:26)
how I met McCoy Tyner (10:40)
Vienne Roman Theater (11:02)
Marc Ducret (11:26)
Michel Benita (11:30)
on being on the road (12:02)
love for music (12:57)
value of music (13:20)
"I don't play for the glory or the recognition...I play to make people feel good, to help them" (13:35)
Louis Hayes (14:42)
on meeting your heroes (15:00)
London (17:33)
audition with McCoy Tyner (17:59)
music performance setting, large vs. intimate (18:49)
playing outdoors (18:54)
moving to Inwood (19:26)
1990 (19:27)
Riverside Drive and Henshaw St. (19:34)
apartment sublet (19:46)
commuting between France and NY (19:58)
quality of life, U.S. vs. France (20:40)
political system, U.S. vs. France (21:02)
on France: "Everyone in the street understood what was going on politically" (21:34)
Mona Lisa (22:12)
love for art (22:21)
Musee du Louvre (22:54)
"reality is better than fiction...at least it straightens you out" (23:46)
Park Terrace East, Inwood (24:13)
Officer Bruce Reynolds (24:45)
notable Black men, Inwood (24:50)
common culture (25:10)
Isham Park (26:14)
Bruce's Garden (26:30)
gangs (26:51)
"He convinced the gangs to do better with their lives" (26:57)
civic groups (27:12)
Greenstreets (27:21)
9/11 Memorial Garden; The Memorial Slope (28:36)
“Isham” Ginkgo tree (28:39)
transients (28:46)
Broadway Corridor (28:49)
discrimination against Black Americans (29:06)
love of nature (29:46)
"I love the planet...this is the only home I know" (30:16)
traveling as a learning experience (30:46)
gaining perspective (31:21)
started music program in Harlem public school (32:01)
organizing and facilitating (32:15)
"stay the course" (32:59)
on focus and practice (33:15)
Chapel Hill (35:47)
strong focus (36:10)
Beethoven (36:34)
illness (37:02)
Isham Garden (37:14)
"A job is only as big as you are" (38:19)
role in Isham garden (38:30)
"The garden is only 20% of what needs to be done" (40:14)
people wrongly believe Isham garden is always closed (40:53)
changing conditions of Isham Garden (42:14)
chain-link fence put up (42:22)
former gardener who left because of gangs trashing his work (43:10)
"Now we have water, again" (43:40)
1970s rehabilitation of Isham Park (43:49)
"In the 60s there was water, and the 60s was when the parks were trashed. So during the rehabilitation…contractors came in and redesigned the park. But they failed to reinstall the water. (44:05)
"Aesthetically, it's changed the face of the neighborhood." (44:51)
"It's changed the face of how people relate to each other" (44:59)
eastern face of the garden (45:36)
207th and Broadway (45:43)
cons of Water Project, petition won (45:58)
opposition to Park dept. taking down the fence (46:16)
accessibility (46:50)
Gramercy Park (47:13)
maintaining Mr. Reynold's legacy (47:49)
respect for elders (49:11)
on American culture: "stuck in nursing homes and drugged" (49:33)
illness and aging (49:58)
Mr. Reynolds at 91: "Dementia, blah blah blah...Hell, I wanna be like that at 91" (50:10)
advertising ageism (50:38)
mentorship (51:29)
raising family in Inwood (51:41)
"If you want excitement, you just go down the hill." (52:11)
"all you hear are birds and airplanes" (52:25)
preservation (52:56)
outside visitors (53:10)
developers (53:23)
problem of education (54:10)
families commuting to schools outside of Inwood (55:20)
trail-blazer against racism (55:40)
appreciation (55:49)
community elder (56:17)
"tribe of Inwood" (56:22)
pockets of malcontent (56:53)
Dr. King demonstrations in Chicago (57:04)
"I've seen vicious, nasty things...directed at me" (57:13)
"I've seen the worst of racism" (57:16)
role models (57:51)
the future of Inwood (58:18)
area protection (59:26)
"the in-fighting should stop" (01:01:02)
intimacy and beauty (01:04:13)
collective push (01:04:17)
on Inwood: "It's better than mom's apple pie" (01:05:08)
lack of restaurants (01:05:46)
unique nature: "a little tiny beach with sand" (01:06:23)
“Come see us as well. If you want to get out of the cement and glass and steel.” (01:06:55)


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Interview Data

Date of Interview
March 16, 2015
Location of Interview
Home of Storyteller
Place of birth
Chicago, Illinois
Dates in Neighborhood
1990 to date of interview
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About This Collection

Bridging Our Stories: Washington Heights and Inwood Oral History Project

This is a neighborhood oral history project that works to both preserve and document Washington Heights and Inwood history through the stories of people who have experienced it. This project will collect oral histories of people who have lived or worked in the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods. Over 90 volunteer interviewers have been trained to collect these stories. Interviews will be preserved at The Milstein Division of US History, Local History and Genealogy and available in a circulating collection. Interviews will also be accessible in full length at this website.