John Scofield: This Meets That And More

R.J. DeLuke By

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His presence in that band gave Scofield and the others a certain stamp, "just the fact that all of a sudden everyone knew who you were in a different way. Because I've made records and had gigs in New York with Swallow and Adam Nussbaum. We had a trio. All of sudden, after I played with Miles, everyone knew who you were. After leaving Miles in 1985, Scofield started his own band, "and I was able to, business-wise, because Miles had put me in the spotlight by putting me in his band. It was such that everybody knew who you were after you played with him. So from then on I formed my own groups.

Scofield's groups have played quality over the years. He's recorded over thirty albums as a leader, including collaborations. There's something to find in them all, which include the likes of That's What I Say - John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005), Works For Me (Verve, 2001), Groove Elation (Blue Note, 1995), or I Can See Your House From Here (Blue Note, 1994), with Pat Metheny. Right through to today, his playing remains sharp, aggressive, thoughtful, and searching. He seems to be touring constantly and still finds time to take on students as an adjunct professor oat New York University.

"You keep looking for something to keep it interesting. It's not that I get bored, but there's some instinctive thing that happens when you can feel, 'Wow, this is cool and we can play this song, this instrumentation, this group of people.' So I am always looking for that, says Scofield. He doesn't get worried if he might face criticism for playing groove music, or funk or anything in between.


"It turns out all of us like jazz for a lot of social reasons too. It's like the 'real deal' as opposed to the world of commerce. So I think when people hear me playing stuff that is really related to rock and roll and hip hop, because they've chosen to become 'jazz people,' a light goes off and people say, 'Wait a minute—that's not the kind of music I like. It's setting me up to be this kind of person. That's not my personality.' It's a kind of pompous thing. You could just say that you don't like that kind of music, that's one thing. I think a lot of it is some kind of social thing. You can't please everybody all the time, that's for sure.

With more bands on the scene incorporating influences from all over the globe, and from all styles of music, Scofield sees it as a good thing for contemporary music, including jazz. Eyes and ears may be opening up to more things, with fewer turned up noses than in the past.

"I think, in a way, it is easier with the young generation. The jazz purists of all generations—and I'm one of them, believe it or not—the younger people don't even know what you're talking about when somebody says Weather Report sucks and Miles is only good until 1970. They can't really understand and I think that's a much healthier attitude. Because I think Weather Report is really great and I think [Miles'] Live at the Fillmore East (Columbia, 1970) is really great. So that old battle is moot to them, in that way.

The confused, and sometimes unfriendly, state of the music industry also doesn't seem a cause for concern. It is what it is, and the guitarist's focus stays on the music and his career.

"I don't even think about the industry ... I really have no idea, it's so all over the place. I think one good thing is that live concerts and clubs seem to be thriving. There's still a scene in Europe, too. We've always made our money on gigs, right? No jazz musicians ever said, 'Well, I'll just sit back and let the royalties accrue,' he says with a laugh. "As far as the CD scene, it's pretty bleak, but I think maybe it's just changing, and new opportunities for the music to get out there and for musicians to profit from that will come. I just don't think it's quite there yet.

John Scofield

"I don't think anybody knows how this is going, he says of the shift away from the traditional recording industry and the influence of the Internet and new media. "Everybody's trying to figure out what this all is. I've been going to YouTube for six months and watching all this great shit. Then it dawned on me that this is six months of not paying copyright royalties to the composer. I've been obsessed with watching old Gerry Mulligan clips or whatever. It's not on the radio and not on a TV show where they're showing this, where they would have to pay royalties. I really never thought about it. And then I wondered if there is anybody else out there like me.

"You see shit on YouTube from guys' phones. Then I saw this TV show of a gig I did at the North Sea Jazz Festival that somebody put on. It was Dutch television, so it was a nicely produced thing. Then they kept showing these people in the audience holding up their cell phones and recording this. So he doesn't fight city hall, at present, and allows recording.


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