A Fireside Chat With John Scofield

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These are guys that I want to play with for the rest of my life in some way, shape, or form. We are not going to be a steady band, but that makes it all the more special. Once we are together, the music takes care of itself.
A bird told me that John Scofield would be touring with old friend and band mate, Joe Lovano, Al Foster, and Dave Holland. That was a handful of years ago. Logistics, being that it was a European tour, made it difficult for me to catch the band live. Thankfully, Blue Note recorded the band and that recording, OH! , is not a live recording, but it might as well be. It has all the verve and spontaneity of a live concert. I spoke with Joe Lovano and John Scofield (separately) about their new record, as always, unedited and in his own words.

All About Jazz: ScoLoHoFo, how serendipitous for the Blue Note marketing department.

John Scofield: Yes, yes, I've known Joe for a real long time and Al since the Seventies anyway.

FJ: Your thoughts on Joe Lovano.

JS: Yeah, Joe, I remember meeting him when we were kids and I was in Berklee and I had to take French class in my first year (laughing). I was taking some academic courses and I remember sitting in French class and hearing this guy across, out the window, and I look across an airshaft, into this practice room, and this guy was playing and it was Joe. I saw this head, rather formidable upper torso, rocking to the music while he was playing the tenor sax. I had that vision back then and he has always been a great guy. We used to jam some in school and then we both moved to New York around the same time and I think he was with Woody first and then came to New York. He has always been my favorite tenor saxophonist of my gang and age group. He is just an incredibly strong improviser in all ways and he always had such a great rootsy sound too, from his dad or something. It is so historical in his playing as well as being absolutely contemporary.

FJ: Dave Holland?

JS: Dave, well, Dave, because he is a few years ahead of Joe and myself, I really grew up listening to Dave with Miles and after that with everything from his albums like Conference of the Birds. We wore that stuff out and hearing him with Chick Corea's band and it has been great to play with him over the last few years. I didn't play with him until whenever, I played with him a couple of times, but more really when we recorded with Joe Henderson's So Near, So Far a few years ago with Al Foster on drums. Then we did some concerts and then I got to play with him with Herbie Hancock's New Standards project and we went on tour with that group. I think he is absolutely, besides being the Segovia of the bass as far as absolute mastery, he's so consistent a group player. He just makes it all possible for you to take it easy. I remember playing with Herbie and Jack and Dave and Mike Brecker and those guys would be taking it so far out, but I could always count on Dave to keep it together. He allowed everyone else to stretch. So he has got it all covered. He is the most consistent musician that I have ever met.

FJ: And Al Foster?

JS: Al was really a big influence on me. When I first came to New York in the Seventies, I got to play with him fairly early on and he is such a great jazz drummer and we really spent some time together and then I got in Miles' group and got to hang with him. He is a one of a kind personality. He is all about shape and coloring and music, much more than just a drummer. He's always listening and putting in his own personal touch on things and making it special. He's got his own style and you can tell right away that it is Al. Again, talk about jazz tradition, Al started playing in Harlem when he was a teenager with Illinois Jacquet and he was really just such a jazz musician. He's a bridge for me to the Fifties and stuff even though he is not that old. He was there for some of that that I missed because he started so young and was in New York, was a kid in New York, in Harlem and that all comes through in his playing as well as being an absolute modernist too.

FJ: So OH! is not an all-star jam session.

JS: Yeah, actually, Fred, a couple of years ago, we did a big, long Europe tour, worked out music for a bunch of shows three summers ago. So this is no pickup group for the record. Before the album, we had also done a big, long, extensive tour, where we worked the music through. So not only have we all played together and understand how to play together because of the different groups we have been in together, but the actual project, we wanted to record after we really had some time to put the music together. It's not a throw together for a record company type thing. Nobody wanted to do that.

FJ: Joe told me the session took a day.

JS: Yeah, pretty much. Like I said, we were pretty much in the groove from touring. So we came in the studio and played each tune a couple of times and left it at that. We recorded direct to two track and we trusted the engineer to get a great mix and a great sound and we played just like we were playing gigs, except maybe we would do a song twice. Usually the first time was better (laughing). We pretty much recorded it straight out. We had reference point of playing a lot of concerts.

FJ: Favorite track?

JS: Of course my tunes are my favorite tunes. I take that back. Actually, what was surprising to me is that everybody's tunes all worked together so well. I think it is a nice program and we were just lucky that way. Dave would write a certain kind of tune or I would write another one, but they worked well together and they offset each other. But I loved playing everybody's music. I loved the challenge of playing these guys' tunes that everybody wrote. It's meaty stuff. We're not just playing blues or something. Every tune has a tricky little thing to it. I don't have any one favorite. I think it all goes together to make one big thing.

FJ: So this will be an ongoing project.

JS: Well, we're going to play some gigs, mainly a club gig at the Iridium in New York. It is hard to get everybody together because we're all bandleaders. There is talk of another tour in a couple of years in Europe. These are guys that I want to play with for the rest of my life in some way, shape, or form. We are not going to be a steady band, but that makes it all the more special. Once we are together, the music takes care of itself.

FJ: And the future?

JS: Well, I just made record with my band, which is the same band that made the Uberjam (Verve) CD. We were just in the studio and that will be coming out in May and it is called Up All Night.

FJ: The work for Verve may raise some eyebrows for those so accustomed to your Blue Note years.

JS: Yeah, right. It is kind of like dance music and funk or world jazz. It is something I have been into all my musical life, but it differed from ScoLoHoFo. Some may say that it is a really different kind of jazz, but to me, it hasn't been any problem. I like to mix it up a lot and I really enjoy the fact that when I am playing this electric stuff with samplers and electric rhythm sections and using funk rhythms that it still feels fresh to me. It feels like there is no blueprint for it. So we have to kind of make it up as we go along and make a way to make it creative. If you are playing in more standard jazz forms, which I love to do, you always have Bud Powell or Bill Evans or whoever, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, or Wayne Shorter, over your shoulder. It doesn't feel as much like that. Selfishly, it feels like it is more of an open road. Young people want to dance to the music too and I love it when they move to it and the whole thing starts grooving.

FJ: And soon Uberjam is a bridge to Miles and Trane.

JS: Let's hope so, Fred, because that is what I have always loved, is jazz and hopefully, they can hear that in my stuff. They can hear that, I would think and some of them may get turned on to some other stuff through that.

FJ: Holiday wishes?

JS: Peace for 2003.

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