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Scott Henderson: Welding Sounds


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Nobody knows the whole vocabulary of jazz, or rock or country or any kind of music out there. You learn what you learn, but it is in the back of your mind or in the left part of your brain and you don't really think about it.
Any jazz lover who believes the boundaries of musical genres can't melt together to influence the technical development of improve-based music needs to take a listen to guitarist, Scott Henderson. Henderson's early musical influences of rock and blues transcends through his hard-hitting jazz compositions.

Henderson studied guitar in his native state at Florida Atlantic University. Soon after graduation he moved to Los Angeles where he quickly started getting gigs with notable performers like Chick Corea, violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and Joe Zawinul. It was not until he formed his own fusion band, Tribal Tech, that his own unique styles of bending sounds into jazz compositions really reach a new audience.

Henderson's latest album, Live, is an excellent representation of his style at work. This two-CD set showcases many of his vast compositions all done live, and yes it is worth not just a listen but seeing with your own eyes. AAJ had a chance to sit down with Henderson and ask him some questions on his style.

All About Jazz: Let's start with the type of equipment you use.

Scott Henderson: I play John Suhr guitars exclusively and then I play different amps, like a Suhr OD100 and sometimes I just use Marshall amps, and an array of distortion pedals. All this information is in full exact detail, "vomit inducing" detail on my website at for all the tech heads out there. There is a message board with a multitude of gear questions for any gear nerds.

AAJ: What are your biggest musical influences?

SH: I grew up playing blues so that is my main influence, the blues of the '60s. I listen to a lot of different kinds of music, but guys that are dead, like Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Albert Collins, mainly influence me, those are my favorite blues players. I listen to jazz, but more modern jazz like Weather Report and John McLaughlin. I played with Joe Zawinul of Weather Report, and he and Wayne Shorter are my favorite composers, not just improvisers. For me, when you are listening to someone's composition that really tells you what they're into. Also, John McLaughlin is not just a guitarist; he has also created a whole big world of music that I really enjoy listening to.

AAJ: Who have you played with that has really influenced your playing and composing?

SH: Most of my sidemen experiences were not what I thought they would be. A lot of times when you get a role as a sideman you are put into a little niche. The bandleader needs something that you do, but normally it is just a small part of what you do. Playing with Zawinul was the only time I did not feel painted into a corner. Other sideman gigs made me feel limited on my own creativity.

AAJ: What is it like to play with other musicians in your community of music genre? Like when you played with Steve Smith and Victor Wooten on both Vital Tech Tones I and II?

SH: That was the first time I was ever shoved into an experience like that. It was more Steve Smith who had a meeting with Mike Varney and said if there were a guitarist and bassist I would like to play with it would be Victor Wooten and Scott Henderson, so let's get those two guys to record with me. We went into the studio for 10 days with nothing and I had never done that in my life. For me, as a picky writer, if I take the time to write out the music I feel more confident that it should be out there. I had never been in a situation where I had to finish writing a tune in an hour and then they would record it. I do not think it was my best writing; it was kind of like boot camp in the studio. Everyone was really stressed and in a hurry to get recording, and Smith and Wooten did not want to sit there waiting while I thought about cords, they were saying "let's play, let's play. I would go to a cord and ask, "how does this sound? and they would say, "that's great! no matter what it was.

AAJ: Who is the most influential teacher you had or who you studied with?

SH: I learned the most from transcribing Zawinul's music off his records while I was playing with him because I did not want to seem like an idiot bothering him with questions like, "what do you play over minor 7 flat 5? You do not want to go there with the bandleader. If you want to learn what they are playing, you really need to sit there at home with the records and check it out. I learned the most from just listening to records.

I never had a teacher that I was directly influenced by. There were teachers that helped me understand concepts that I needed to know, but not one that directly influenced the way I play now. It is not like Herbie Hancock was teaching at my school. Now if he had been teaching I could say I was really influenced by his teaching, but I never took any lessons from Herbie.

AAJ: How did you develop your style and tone? How technical are you when you are playing compared to just improvising?

SH: Nobody knows the whole vocabulary of jazz, or rock or country or any kind of music out there. You learn what you learn, but it is in the back of your mind or in the left part of your brain and you don't really think about it. Just like when you learn to speak a foreign language, you are thinking more about the ideas you are getting across you are not thinking about vowels and consonants. You kind of learn it to forget it when you are playing and just talk. You try to have a conversation with whom you are playing with. This is more than training to be technical; it is the experience of just playing with other musicians.

Check out Scott Henderson's latest album, "Live." This two-disc album was recorded at La Ve Lee in Studio City, California where he frequently plays on Wednesday nights.

Selected Discography:

Scott Henderson, Scott Henderson Live (Tone Center, 2005)
Scott Henderson, Well To The Bone (ESC Records, 2002)
Henderson, Smith & Wooten VTT2: Vital Tech Tones, Vol. 2 (Tone Center, 2000)
Tribal Tech, Rocket Science (ESC RECORDS, 2000)
Tribal Tech, Thick (Zebra Records, 1999)
Henderson, Smith & Wooten Vital Tech Tones (Tone Center, 1998)
Scott Henderson, Tore Down House (Mesa Records, 1996)
Tribal Tech, Reality Check (Bluemoon, 1995)
Scott Henderson, Dog Party (Mesa, 1994)
Tribal Tech, Primal Tracks (Mesa/Bluemoon, 1994)
Tribal Tech, Face First (Bluemoon, 1993)
Tribal Tech, Illicit (Bluemoon, 1992)

Related Article: Scott Henderson Trio Live (2000)

Photo Credit: Joe Smith


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