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John Scofield: Peaceful Pursuits

John Kelman By

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Song Choices

While plenty of jazz artists have covered The Beatles, Scofield's inclusion of "I Will," from the Fab Four's The Beatles (White Album) (Apple, 1968) is both an inspired choice and a look at a far less traveled Lennon/McCartney song. "I'd just turned 12, and I got my first guitar the previous fall, when The Beatles came on The Ed Sullivan Show in the U.S., in February of '64. So I'd had a guitar for like four months—but I did know three chords, or something like that, and was way into it. The Beatles are how I learned about harmony and songs originally. I fell in love with that music, and I feel lucky that I'm of the age where I hit puberty and The Beatles came on TV, like the same day," Scofield recalls, chuckling. "Their songs were on the radio, and they swept the nation: The Mersey Beat, the British Invasion—it was all you could hear anywhere. I had all the records, and it was everywhere. So this is how I learned about music when I was 12, from The Beatles' records, and it kept going for four years; every few months there'd be this incredible new song out there as a 45, and then on an album. So it's our music, and I just loved every one of their songs. In retrospect, it turns out they were this incredible gold mine of music—I mean, what a great way to learn about music, through their catalog.



"My wife, Susan, is just about the same age as I am," Scofield continues, "and she also had the same experience with Beatles songs that I did. She knows their book even more than I do, and she recommended 'I Will.' It was five years ago, and she said, 'Man, you should play "I Will." That could work.' I listened to it and wrote down the music—because I liked the song too, so I had a lead sheet of it—and this is where it gets really freaky. I was trying to think of some other song to bring to A Moment's Peace that was somewhat contemporary, and I was listening to Radiohead songs and some singer/songwriters—I had my daughter helping me—and I couldn't find anything that I really wanted to play, that I just really loved. I was going to the rehearsal for the record, and a bunch of written charts fell on the floor in my studio, and 'I Will' was one of them, from five years before, and it really came to me like: 'Oh, shit, I should play this!'"

When Scofield refers to his wife, it's a unique husband-and-wife team. "Susan and I have been together for 35 years," Scofield explains."She's been my business partner since I started having my own bands around '85. She's responsible for any cool song or album titles that I have, and I must say that those titles are among the best in jazz. She's got great ears, and is my best fan and critic. She blew my mind early in our relationship, when she corrected me on the melody to 'Round Midnight'—she had it right and I was wrong.

"Good jazz managers are very rare, and she is one of the best. Many have asked her to represent them, but she declines. She runs our biz with great acumen. I might be that guy you remember who sounded pretty good 20 years ago but haven't heard of since, if not for Susan. And, most importantly she raised our wonderful kids (Jean, 30, advertising music producer, and Evan, 24, author and poet) while I was on tour breaking strings."

Another unusual song choice on A Moment's Peace is "Lawns," a rarely recorded song from a jazz composer whose material has been heavily covered. The song first appeared on pianist/composer Carla Bley's Sextet (WATT, 1987), but on A Moment's Peace it's played as a down-tempo swing tune. "I said to [bassist] Steve Swallow—who is my mentor and good friend [and Bley's longtime partner]—'Maybe Carla has something that I could play on this record,'" says Scofield. "So she sent me a bunch of lead sheets, and it was great; I still have this package of 25 songs, starting from the '60s right up until now. All I said was, 'I'm making a ballads record, so I want slow songs.' I have Sextet on vinyl, but I didn't even listen to it; I just looked through the pieces she sent, at the written music, and I came up with 'Lawns.' I just started to play it, and there may have been some dim recollection of hearing Carla's band do it, but not really, and I kind felt that it could really work as a swing tune.

"It just moved me," Scofield continues. "One thing is I could just sit down and play it; it was simple enough that I could get right into it, into the melody. But the song is incredible—I see it as a rock ballad, or a rock anthem, like [Derek and The Dominos'] 'Layla,' or [Stevie Wonder's] 'Isn't She Lovely.' Even though it wasn't a hit, it is anthemic. I just sat down and started to play it, and I couldn't stop."

Another of A Moment's Peace's highlights is Scofield's take on Abbey Lincoln's popular song "Throw It Away," first recorded in the 1980s. "I heard that one when I was riding the exercise bike and listening to the cable TV jazz channel," Scofield explains. "They played it, and I thought, 'That's something I could play.' It's just a beautiful song, and the lyrics kill me—the story about how you have to throw it away; that's an answer in life: let shit go. And I loved it. I'm an Abbey Lincoln fan; she's so special—talk about having your own sound. And she wrote a great one! Man, what a song."

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