John Scofield: This Meets That And More

R.J. DeLuke By

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"The Low Road starts out like it might come from the psychedelic era, with Scofield's guitar crying, but it quickly settles into a sweet groove where the guitar plays jazz, swing and beyond over a liquid beat provided by his mates. The form is open and yet the three are so tight. It's a tune that might become a popular one for other bands to pick up and stretch out on. Scofield glides effortlessly over the music and the horns after they slide in. Its subtle toe-tapping changes are delectable. "Strangeness in the Night also has the feel that you might hear if picked up by others looking for a modern funkiness, with time-tested swing. Good time music, but heady nonetheless. His reworkings of the cover tunes are all worthy, creating a new groove and a new interest. On "Trio Blues you can see the guys in a club, on the stand, swinging and playing off each other. Ballsy. The disk is entirely digestible.

It's a superb trio disk, encapsulating the different feels the group can achieve in a manner that is personal and versatile. Yet there's so much more to what Scofield does and what he's willing to try, based on his upbringing—born in Ohio, raised in Connecticut and listening to music of the 1960s, when jazz was hard to find, but blues-based rock was plentiful. It left him with an open mind for music. Scofield's in a place now, as far as his stature, that when sees a direction that interests him, he can take it. And he's in a place as a musician that whatever that decision is, it will sound good and be valid.

"I don't choose. It's what sort of happens. Things fall into place for one project or another, he says matter-of-factly. "I mix it up. After I've done a funky kind of record with the Uberjam Band—that's what we did a couple years ago. That was my band and we did a couple CDs. Then I feel like I want to do some more stuff with the trio, whatever that music is. Or Trio Beyond. And then the MMW thing just comes up. One project, for lack of a better word, is more straight-ahead, and another one, for lack of a better word again, is funkier. It goes back and forth. It's just that you're looking for something a little bit different than what you did the last time. I just keep going these different ways. I don't have a master plan at all.


As a young man checking out guitar players, Scofield gravitated to horn-like players like Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery, Pat Martino and George Benson. But there was also the blues, the music that helped launch Scofield on his musical journey. "To this day I love all the classic guys, B.B. King, Freddie King and Albert King. I think that that tradition of guitar playing, which spawned rock and roll guitar playing—those guys really did it so well and it rubbed off on me. It still does.

Jazz wasn't easily found in the 1960s, but Scofield was serious about music. Schlepping around in local rock bands wasn't enough. Older musicians he played with were listening to other stuff, creative music with solos that let the artists cut loose and passed this knowledge on to the younger musician. "Check out this Tal Farlow record, kid, says Scofield, recalling those days. "Even though they were playing in these clubs, mostly this R&B shit in the '60s, they were aspiring to Tal Farlow, Wes Montgomery and Barney Kessel, this whole other world. And it was through kind of guitar stuff in Connecticut, through the bar band scenes, that I started to learn about jazz.

"And I think guitar players still learn about it that way. So it wasn't any jazz in high school kind of thing. It was more of, dare I say, the streets, even though it wasn't the streets. Just because I was so into music. The Filmore would have Miles Davis and Santana, and BB King and Albert King. So there was a way to access bluegrass, jazz and mainstream rock, all from the same place. So you would hear Miles at the Fillmore and realize his history, if you were really curious.

Playing in high school and with the bar bands, Scofield realized he wanted to be a professional musician. He heard about Berklee College of Music in Boston through the band scene, and made the jump in 1970, after high school. There he met people like Joe Lovano, Pat Metheny, Kenny Werner, Steve Swallow, Billy Drewes and Jamey Hadad. Gary Burton was a teacher and mentor.

"I started doing all the different gigs that I could. I got to play with Gary [Burton] a little bit after I had been up in Boston a couple years. A great drummer named Joe Hunt, who teaches there, we had a group, with Dave Samuels on vibraphone. I played with some of the older guys too. Some of the guys that played in Buddy's and Woody's [Rich and Herman] bands, the kind of Herb Pomeroy set. These were older guys who were real beboppers. We played club dates, but played bebop tunes.


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