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Artist Profiles

Remembering Scott Sherwood

By Published: September 18, 2009
But mostly we just played. It's a very special process that occurs when two like-minded musicians begin to play together, especially in a duo context. There's a give-and-take, a constant interaction, and adjustments of timing and taste until you learn the other's strengths and weaknesses as a player. The result can be magical, and with Scott it was an easy process. He was constantly listening and evaluating, striving to bring out the best in me. That is rare.

Even more than playing, I loved just spending time with Scott. Sometimes we would grab breakfast before we played, and I would take that chance to pour my guts out to him—the older brother I never had. Life goals, rent issues, ex-girlfriends—nothing was off limits. He possessed an uncommon wisdom that perhaps came from confronting his mortality at a young age, but which I suspect was just an innate part of his character. He had a Midwesterner's dry sense of humor, and he would immediately cut to the root of any problem. He helped me to define my own goals as an artist ("Do you know why you're working on that, Pete? Where do you want it to take your playing?"), and as a person ("You must be getting something out of that or you wouldn't keep doing it, right?"). He was firmly rooted in the moment but still thought about grander artistic concepts ("People create art for three reasons, I think. Beauty, self-expression or to impress.")

When I think about Scott, I will hold one memory above all others. The night before Halloween the Turtle Bay Music School held a volunteer get-together to decorate the building. I had a Halloween gig but nothing else to do that weekend, so Scott invited me along. We hung out eating pizza in the basement until Jen tasked us with moving furniture. We were then pressed into service hanging skulls and cobwebs in the halls, and I literally lost track of him through the gauze webbing. But somehow at the end of the evening we all ended up in his studio, drinking wine and playing trio with a cute cellist I think he might have been trying to fix me up with. He was a really good sport, tolerating hours of mediocre sax-cello-guitar renditions of, frankly, boring tunes. Jen finally rescued him well after midnight :-) As I stepped out into the chilly night air, I looked back at the two of them standing so happily together there and waving goodnight. I can't describe why I felt this way, but I experienced a moment of contentment, maybe even bliss, that I had not had in years. I have only had a few moments like that in my life, and I cherish them. I owe one of them to Scott.

He got sick again after Thanksgiving. I cannot imagine—do not want to imagine—what he felt physically and emotionally during that time. I'll leave it that he had to endure things no person should ever endure. And he fought like hell. He was the toughest, most courageous guy I've ever met, inspiring me at every turn. And he never complained to me. On the contrary, he was always asking about my family and what I was doing. I tried to visit him as often as I could, and we would play like before. As tired as he was, his love of music was so great that we would play for hours (sometimes he'd take a nap, and hop up ready to play again), and it never mattered that he hadn't touched the instrument for a few weeks, he just seemed to get better and say more. His advice and companionship were still wonderful, and I took as much of it as I could get.

The last time we played was about three weeks before he passed. He was in the hospital and had just received his new custom-built guitar that he had ordered many months earlier. He had lost a lot of weight and could no longer speak. But somehow—with the help of his family to find a way to hold it—he got the guitar out and found the will to play. I have no idea what reserve he must have tapped to do so, but he just kept playing—we ran standards that we had played many times before and he still found new ways of interpreting them and motivating me, taking me directions I had never been musically. He was even asking whether I found the timbre of the new guitar easy to mesh with... So I guess that is something else I will never forget. Because even through horror of medications and operations and injections in a fight against an incredibly cruel disease, Scott found the strength to stand up and say—through his actions—enough already. You can take this all away from me, but you will not take who I am and what I love or the music I've worked so hard to build. I am Scott Sherwood, and I am a jazz guitarist no matter what...

He played his ass off. And on that day at least, he beat that disease.

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