Remembering Scott Sherwood

Peter Cobb By

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What does one possibly say when a treasure is ripped from our lives? What can you say? The jazz world lost a great light recently with the passing of guitarist, composer and educator Scott Sherwood. The rest of the world lost an even greater human being.

I don't know what the proper measure of a man is. I'm sure that opinions vary. I'm definitely sure that I'm not qualified to answer that. But I will say this: in his far too short time here, Scott created great art and beauty on a daily basis, inspired countless others to do the same, taught gently, loved strongly, and made better people out of all those he came into contact with. I'd say that's as good a measure as any.

It would be easy to talk about his accolades. I could get into how some of the greatest musicians of our generation Steve Giordano, John Abercrombie, Steve LaSpina) all admired Scott's talents and loved playing with him. I could tell you how Scott's last album, Ripples (a duo with the incomparable pianist Bob Rodriguez and featuring music that Scott wrote following his first bout with lymphoma), was called "nothing less than the absolute peak recording of all existing guitar-piano-duos in jazz history" by Swiss critic Juerg Sommer. Or how it went without saying that he was beloved by his legions of students of all ages and abilities.

But that would only show you Scott the musician, not the man who made the music, and there is a difference. So I will try to describe what he did to change the life of one person—me—in hopes that when you listen to his music you will also hear what imbues each note he played with tremendous meaning...

I met Scott several years ago in Philadelphia at a session with guitarist Steve Giordano back when I was still working as an attorney. I had heard him play both live and on some recordings, and I was a little nervous to be playing with him. Let's just say that a lot of times great players do not have attitudes that reflect the quality of their playing. But Scott had one of the humblest and gentlest personalities I had ever encountered, and he immediately put me at ease. Consequently, I enjoyed playing the session with him very much. I also took note of how pretty his composition "Ripples" was, and kept a copy of it.

And that might have been all I knew of Scott Sherwood had I not moved to New York last September. Steve Giordano gave me Scott's number and also put a call into Scott to say something to the effect of "look after this guy, won't you?" And he did.

Man, did I ever need that. When I first moved to the city I felt like I had fallen off of a cliff. I had left a stable career (complete with a desk job), and a comfortable and cheap apartment in a quiet Philadelphia neighborhood. I drove my car to the supermarket. I hadn't had a roommate in years. I had a great group of friends. And then overnight I'm living in Chinatown, I have two (sometimes three) roommates, the only thing moving faster than the pedestrian hordes are the rats, and I'm trying to follow a subway system that appears to have been transcribed directly off of the wall of John Nash. Oh, and I don't know a soul and everybody I meet thinks I'm crazy for quitting law. Except for Scott Sherwood.

And he didn't need me—he was on top of the world at that time. He had beaten lymphoma two years earlier, he had just released an amazing album of original music earning rave reviews, and he had a thriving teaching practice at the prestigious Turtle Bay Music School in Midtown. He worked there with his wonderful wife, Jennifer, who was about to be featured on the hit reality T.V. show "What Not to Wear" (the first person to ever write herself in :-)). They had a beautiful Manhattan apartment. He didn't need any strays...

But he took me in anyway. On days that I had late classes and he had late students, I would take the 6 train up to Turtle Bay and wait in the grand old lobby of the school, sipping coffee and eating a bagel from one of the nearby carts. Scott would walk in with a smile and we would get to playing—exploring new directions with old standards or bringing in songs with which we were both unfamiliar but were on our mutual "wish list." I attempted to learn his compositions—some of them stretched the limit of my technique, but Scott was always incredibly patient with me. Sometimes I would bring in some of my homework or a song I was struggling to comprehend (some of Kenny Werner's tunes come to mind). Scott was very well-schooled and had an incredible harmonic knowledge, and he was an excellent teacher.


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