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Scott Sawyer

Scott Sawyer displays his musical diversity like a badge of honor, re-visiting his blues & rock roots while continuing to explore the jazz tradition & beyond… – (Philip Van Vleck)

He’s performed at major festivals, concert halls, and beer-soaked dives here and abroad (Asia, Brazil, Canada, Central America, Europe, and the Middle East) including Monterey Jazz Festival (CA), Herbst Jazz Festival (Austria), St. Lucia Jazz Festival, Playboy Jazz, 2002 Silde Jazz (Norway); Ottawa Jazz Festival; Detroit Jazz Festival, Berlin Chamber Music Hall (Germany); the Blue Note (NYC); Joe’s Pub (NYC); Catalina Jazz Club (LA), to name a few.

Born in Chicago, Sawyer was introduced to jazz and other music at an early age via his father’s record collection, which included recordings by John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Miles Davis, Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson and others. Jimi Hendrix caught his ear and that led to blues and blues/roots influenced rock. Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Son Seals, Tim Buckley, The Doors, Tom Waits and so many others were early inspirations.

By the time he landed in Greensboro, NC as a junior in high school, Scott had lived in Texas, Maine, and Chicago-land. Already immersed in the Chicago blues, he was exposed to Southern roots/rock music and fusion. Eventually jazz became a priority. Guitarist Jim Hall caught his ear and sparked a deeper interest in jazz guitar and harmony. He landed a steady gig in Greensboro at “Sammy’s”, with vibraphonist Jon Metzger and bassist Charles Dungey that lasted a couple of years. A few lessons with John Scofield and Mick Goodrick added fuel to the fire. From 1984-1996 Sawyer’s trio and special guests performed most Wednesdays at the legendary Pyewacket (restaurant/bar) in Chapel Hill, NC.

In 1985 Sawyer toured Central America as a member of the Jon Metzger Quartet (USIA Arts America Program). Since then, he has recorded and performed here and abroad with jazz singer Nnenna Freelon (1992 Philip Morris Superband World Tour and more), including performances in Europe, Norway, Brazil and Canada.

Sawyer has shared the stage with John Abercrombie, Charlie Byrd, David Murray, Oteil Burbridge, prima ballerina Marie-Christine Mouis, Kate McGarry, Tony Williamson, Bob Cranshaw, Dave Finucane, Bill Anschell, to name a few.

Sawyer’s latest album “Night Visions” was released in 2020. His previous album “Dreamers” (2013) included guest appearances by Kate McGarry. “Go There” (2007) featured Kofi and Oteil Burbridge and charted on XM Radio. “Guitarspeak” (EP, 1999) was preceded by “In The Stream” (1993). Sawyer has appeared on 45+ recordings including David Childers and Bruce Piephoff “Army Town Madrigal” (2016); Stephen Anderson and the 360° Jazz Initiative’s “Distracted Society” (2015); Keith Water’s “Carolina Tracks” (2012, guitar and Associate Producer); Bruce Piephoff’s “Soft Soap Purrings” (2014, Co-Producer, electric/acoustic gtr) and “Still Looking Up at the Stars” (2012, Co-Producer, electric/acoustic gtr); “The Meldavians-Farewell to Arigemon” (2012); Nnenna Freelon’s “Homefree” (2010), her 1997 Grammy-Nominated “Shaking Free”, “Live” (Kennedy Center, 2003) and “Listen” (1993) albums; Lois Deloatch’s “Roots: Jazz, Blues Spirituals” (2010; guitar and Co-Producer) and Bill Anschell’s “a different note all together” (1998), to name a few. He arranged & recorded “The Glory Of Love” w/ actor Danny Aiello, as featured in the Cinecom film “Once Around”.

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Album Review

Scott Sawyer: Change of Scene

Read "Change of Scene" reviewed by Doug Collette

Notwithstanding a history including associations with the varied likes of famed jazz fretboardists John Abercrombie, and Chris Stamey of the veteran power popsters the dBs, guitarist Scott Sawyer may have the lowest public profile of the three musicians appearing on Change of Scene. Still, it certainly says something about his reputation, not to mention his chops, that he can attract the likes of bassist Oteil Burbridge (Col. Bruce Hampton's Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Allman Brothers Band), Dead & Co.) and ...

Album Review

Scott Sawyer: Night Visions

Read "Night Visions" reviewed by Troy Dostert

As a North Carolinian, guitarist Scott Sawyer may not enjoy the visibility of his counterparts in better-known jazz meccas, but fans of contemporary jazz guitar shouldn't pass him up. With some smart songwriting instincts and a knack for finding talented bandmates, not to mention possessing terrific guitar chops, Sawyer delivers on the promise of a career dating back to the 1980s that has involved sideman work with everyone from Nnenna Freelon to alt-rocker Chris Stamey. But Sawyer's had several releases ...

Album Review

Scott Sawyer: Dreamers

Read "Dreamers" reviewed by Dan Bilawsky

Creative musicians are dreamers by their very nature, but not the garden variety type; plain old dreamers simply imagine possibilities while musical dreamers imagine and realize them. They follow thoughts, concepts and ideas from inception through completion, ushering in life with their hands, hearts and minds. They sow the seeds of harmony, melody, rhythm, nuance and life to create something that's, hopefully, worth hearing and holding. Creative musicians, in essence, work the seam between anything-is-possible openness and structural specificity, marrying ...

Album Review

Scott Sawyer: Dreamers

Read "Dreamers" reviewed by Jeffrey Uhrich

With a warm and inviting sound, guitarist Scott Sawyer offers an intriguing and engaging collection of songs in Dreamers, his latest release on Doll Records. Sawyer's style of playing is complex yet tastefully restrained and nuanced, reminiscent of guitar legends Jim Hall and Wes Montgomery. By doing so, he allows the song itself to shine as an artistic work, rather than using the song merely as a vehicle to display his prowess on the guitar. On Dreamers, Sawyer ...

Album Review

Scott Sawyer: Go There

Read "Go There" reviewed by John Barron

Guitarist Scott Sawyer is the kind of musician who displays his musical diversity like a badge of honor. The North Carolinian, who is probably best known for his work with vocalist Nnenna Freelon, showcases his electrified playing and composing on Go There, a dynamic release featuring drummer Kenny Soule, bassists Oteil Burbridge and Ron Brendle, organist/flutist Kofi Burbridge--Oteil's older brother--and percussionist Chris Garges.

The disc opens with a funked-out arrangement of George Harrison's “Taxman, a raucous introduction to Sawyer's tastefully ...

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N&O/Owen Cordle; May 2007 Scott Sawyer, "Go There" - 3 1/2 Stars This story originally appeared in the News & Observer (Raleigh) on May 6, 2007 AND online here: http://www.newsobserver.com/105/story/571286.html If you know Raleigh guitarist Scott Sawyer from only his jazz gigs and tours with jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, "Go There" (Doll) opens a different door. Welcome to Scott Sawyer, the funk, rock, blues — and jazz — player. A comparison might be made to guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell, who also cast a wide net. With a preponderance of Sawyer tunes, the album is all groove underneath

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Primary Instrument




Willing to teach

Intermediate to advanced


Lecturer of Jazz Guitar (University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill) Applied Jazz Guitar and Jazz Chamber (East Carolina University) Group Guitar (Durham Jazz Workshop) Private Instruction (availability is limited; detailed info provided when requested)

Clinic/Workshop Information

1. The Melody Is In The Chords. Scales don't tell the complete story, and they're not always so practical when confronted with rapidly shifting tonal centers

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Miles Davis
Bill Frisell
guitar, electric
Jim Hall
Jimi Hendrix
guitar, electric



Recordings: As Leader | As Sideperson

Change of Scene

Self Produced


Night Visions

Self Produced



Self Produced


Go There

Self Produced




Bill Frisell
guitar, electric
Hiram Bullock
guitar, electric
Robert Walter
organ, Hammond B3
Jeff Richman
guitar, electric
Barry Finnerty
guitar, electric

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