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John Scofield: Eclecticism in Action

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I started out with the Beatles and I liked soul music and loved R&B. So I never looked down on the other stuff after I got into jazz...
On his website, jazz guitarist extraordinaire John Scofield has written a short piece that follows the official record company bios for his last two Verve recordings, EnRoute and Up All Night. It's called "How I Got From There to Here in 704 Easy Words. Scofield traces the arc of his career in the essay, from his days playing jazz-fusion with the likes of Billy Cobham and Miles Davis, to producing a string of powerful and stylistically eclectic recordings for the Gramavision, Blue Note and Verve labels over the past two decades. He talks about the varied influences that have helped point him in interesting musical directions—from Jim Hall and Pat Metheny to Albert King, Carlos Santana and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Here's how Scofield concludes the piece:

"In the last couple of years, I've heard some great young players that remind me often of what it is that I like so much about the music of sixties R&B. Now I'm able to take that music and mix it with jazz all over again. I'm having more fun playing now than I ever have and I feel like I can finally really learn to play the guitar. Now, after having the chance to play with many of my musical idols—I'm getting inspiration from younger musicians. I'm as excited about writing and playing music as I ever have been.


In the following interview, John Scofield looks back on some of his influences—and touches on the always-intriguing new musical directions that lie ahead for one of the jazz world's finest musicians.



All About Jazz: It seems like you're constantly involved with a lot of different musical projects. Can you give us a quick heads-up on what you're up to this year?

John Scofield: Well, I've got my trio that I'll be playing with—Steve Swallow on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. I've been doing that for the last year because we have the live album out—and because I really like it. In addition to the tour coming up in that brings us to the Midwest, we'll be doing a European trio tour this fall. I'm also going to Europe this summer with Bill Stewart—but Dennis Irwin is going to be on bass. And Chris Potter is going to join us on sax for a lot of those dates.

I'm also going to be doing something soon with an orchestral piece called Scorched. Mark-Anthony Turnage and I put it together. He's the orchestrator and co-composer. It's really based on pieces I wrote, but he turned them into a kind of Stravinsky thing for orchestra. We've already recorded it and it's out on Deutsche Grammophon. We're going to do some gigs in Europe starting next January with the Scottish National Orchestra.

AAJ: It seems like you're always working on a recording project as well. What's been going on in that area?

JS: I've also just finished making a record with different musicians. It's the music of Ray Charles (That's What I Say) with a lot of singers guesting on the session. Doctor John sings a tune; Mavis Staples sings a tune, John Mayer, Aaron Neville and others. We've got Larry Goldings on organ, Willie Weeks on bass and Warren Haynes played guitar as well. And we've got Fathead Newman from Ray's old band as part of the horn section. It's really an R&B—jazz album. That's going to be out in June. Then in September, I'm putting together a band to play that music. Naturally, I won't be able to get most of the musicians on the record, so I'll be using some young folk. I'm organizing that right now.

AAJ: You've always been known for your eclectic musical approach. You've worked with jazz legends like Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Jay McShann, Charles Mingus and Phil Woods. But you were also part of jazz fusion in Billy Cobham's band, you played with Miles Davis for three years in the early 1980s when he was pushing musical boundaries, and you've really developed a strong following on the jam band circuit playing with Medeski, Martin & Wood, and Warren Haynes' band, Gov't Mule. Have you always had such a wide-ranging approach to music?

JS: Well, I started out in music with rock and blues, really. I was a blues snob in high school. When I was 16, I was just trying to play like B.B. King and Otis Rush. B.B. and Howlin' Wolf were it for me. I was one of those obnoxious guys who put down everything else. I think I even had some sunglasses I tried to wear all the time back then. When I turned 17, I got into bebop and decided I wanted to be a jazz guitarist. I went out and bought a big jazz guitar and focused on bebop. But I started out with the Beatles and I liked soul music and loved R&B. So I never looked down on the other stuff after I got into jazz, and I kept following that music too.

AAJ: After high school, you went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. That's where you met saxophonist Joe Lovano, who you've had a strong musical relationship with ever since. And that's also the first time you met Steve Swallow, whom you've played with off and on ever since—and is part of your current trio. How did you two meet?

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