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Inside Scofield

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John Scofield
Inside Scofield
I'm Filming Productions
2022

"I've been lucky," says John Scofield, two thirds of the way through Joerg Steineck's documentary on the guitarist. "I've been in the right place at the right time, and I've also made good use of the luck that was handed to me."

Of course, there may have been an element of luck in Scofield finding himself playing with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, touring with Billy Cobham and recording with Charles Mingus—all before the '70s were out. Happenstance too, that Miles Davis should turn up at a gig Scofield was on with Dave Liebman at 7th Avenue South, Greenwich Village, in 1980. Impressed, Davis would hire Scofield, who duly followed the trumpeter around the world for the guts of three years.

But as this film reveals, Scofield has never rested on his laurels, indefatigably exploring different genres and sub-genres of jazz, funk, blues and country. His work ethic is exemplary, gigging six months of the year, every year, from 1975 onwards—much of that time overseas. He is, by his own admission, a "road dog."

In essence this film—narrated by Scofield—is about the nomadic lifestyle of jazz musicians, committed to and beholden to the road. John Scofield may be the chief protagonist here, but the blur of planes, trains and automobiles, the airports, hotels and diners, the soundchecks, meet-and-greets, the long hours in recording studios and the treadmill of gig after gig in different cities every night—all a huge part of Scofield's life-is the professional jazz musician's lot.

"It beats working for a living," Scofield tells a taxi driver—who does not disagree—dropping him off at yet another airport.

Filmed mostly in 2018 and 2019, Inside Scofield catches Scofield and his Combo 66 band at various points along the west coast on its forty-city tour of America and Europe. Footage of Scofield, Gerald Clayton, Vincente Archer and Bill Stewart playing in clubs and theatres is interspersed with individual interviews that shed light on Scofield's and the quartet's modus operandi.

Bar brief footage of Scofield soloing with Davis's early '80s band, archival film of Scofield is notably absent. There is some reminiscing with Joe Lovano in a New York café about the old days in Greenwich Village, and Scofield talks about his primary influences when coming of age—jazz at the Village Vanguard, rock at the Filmore East, blues at Café Au Go Go. Seeing B.B. King was a turning point, Scofield reveals. "It just blew my mind... That's where I really got the bug for music."

But these memories are like flashbulbs going off, illuminating just briefly the road that has led Scofield to where he is today. As such, Inside Scofield is more a snapshot of the guitarist on tour, in the autumn of his life and career.

The music is everything for Scofield and his bandmates. Playing nightly before an audience seems to be as much a drug as it is way to make a living. "It really is a joy to play— more than ever," Scofield says. But it does not seem like an easy life, being away from home and family for long stetches of time.

There is arguably little of revelatory note in Steineck's film. He draws a nice line from Scofield on improvisation: "The compositions are meant to taken apart. Take notes out and put notes in—that's improvisation." There is plenty of music talk, of guitars, of interacting on the bandstand and so forth, while Pat Metheny, Phil Lesh, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, Dennis Chambers and Mike Stern, among others, share their thoughts on what makes Scofield so unique.

Steineck's film, however, is most affecting in the moments when it captures Scofield's warmth and humor. Scofield also comes across as a quietly driven musician, one who practices every morning when at his Katonah home, and a humble one who sees his band members as equals on the stage.

In an interview with All About Jazz about the making of Inside Scofield, Steineck described the challenges of the post-production phase of the film as COVID-19 knocked the world off its axis. The pandemic may have delayed the film's release a little, but it also brings it more up to date. There is a great scene towards the end of the documentary where Scofield and Steve Swallow attempt to hook up on-line. Two old men, best of friends, struggling with technology—and self-isolation—during that strange time.

From the non-touring perspective of the pandemic, playing acoustic guitar for himself at home, Scofield ponders the future: "We gotta deal with it. And the music? I don't know. My feeling is that it's going to come back strong."

Extras include over two hours of interviews with Scofield's Combo 66 bandmates and other collaborators and admirers, including Pat Murray, the guitarist's sound engineer and tour manger since the late 1990s.

Beautifully shot, Inside Scofield is a must-see for fans of the guitarist, but it also stands as an important document on what it means to be a touring jazz musician in the 21st century.

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