By Regina Stracqualursi
E.K. Ellington Scott, jazz drummer and doctoral student of architectural acoustics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, can still remember his first jazz concert. It was at the KC Jazz Club in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Scott watched Stefon Harris & Blackout perform and upon meeting the band after the concert, Harris told Scott, “There are no secrets — practice, practice, practice!”
Named after the famous jazz composer and pianist Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, Scott doesn’t believe he chose to become a jazz musician, but, rather, was destined to become one. “Jazz has always been a part of my life. It was the first music I ever listened to, the first music that gave me joy, and the first music I ever played,” said Scott. “My bond has only grown stronger ever since.”
Another pivotal moment that defined Scott as a musician was his participation in Semester at Sea, a multi-country study abroad program, in 1999. With his family, he traveled to Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, and Japan. “I was enthralled by the music of every country I visited,” said Scott. “Although the musicians were very talented in their own right, they were not performing to broadcast their flawless technique, but to portray emotion. Whether it was the batá drum in Cuba, berimbau in Brazil, or tabla in India, I felt a deep connection to the rhythms, syncopation, and energy permeating through the audience.”
Scott went on to pursue a double degree in physics and jazz performance from Oberlin College and Conservatory. Before attending Rensselaer, he also spent three years working as an acoustic consultant at Akustiks LLC, where he worked on various projects, including David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
He was inspired to pursue a doctorate in architectural acoustics because of the program’s unique fusion of music and STEM. “During my undergraduate career, my drum professor made me promise to maintain both of my passions,” Scott said. “RPI has one of the best acoustics programs in the world.”
Scott, who will perform in the annual President’s Holiday Concert at Rensselaer on December 12, is now conducting research with Jonas Braasch, associate professor in the School of Architecture and associate director of the Cognitive and Immersive Systems Lab at Rensselaer, and hopes to revive jazz for generations to come. “I hope that my degree helps make jazz more accessible to younger audiences, archive its rich history of performance venues, and preserve jazz as America’s classical music,” he said.