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Talkin' Blues with John Scofield

Alan Bryson By

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AAJ: For sure, and I can see how they were a club band, because I remember they did some terrific covers of standards, like "How Can I Be Sure."

JS: Right, Right! And they did "More." Great stuff.

AAJ: If you think back to the jazz guitarists from your parents generation, it is nearly impossible to imagine them sitting in with a rock band, especially because they tended to play with very little treble and volume. You, on the other hand, have a tone and energy that allows you to not only play with the Allman Brothers Band, Soulive, or Government Mule, but you bring the house down when you do. With jazz players like you, and blues rock players like Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring, do you think that labels and genres, like race, aren't as important to young people as they once were?

JS: I would hope so, I think I have a lot in common with Jimmy Herring and Derek Trucks, and I'm sure they see it that way too. First of all, those guys are really serious about blowing, and like jazz players they are serious about getting something happening in their solos, even though they aren't straight ahead jazz beboppers. So in that way, we do have a lot in common.

And what you said about the older generation, I think it's true that Herb Ellis, Jim Hall, and Wes Montgomery—well, in a way, you know there weren't groups like the Allman Brothers back then. But yes, they really were worlds apart. But my generation, we all started in the '60s with what has become this classic music—who knew it was going to stick around.

And blues seems to be part of the guitar in a way. Of course Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall played blues, but it was coming from a mellower place. I really started out with the B.B. King style blues, serious blues, you know, the let's-turn-our-amps-up-so-they-distort kind of blues. So that's always been something that's really been part of my thing, as a matter of fact I've had to tame that in order to play with acoustic instruments. I think in a way I'm somewhat of a rare bird, because now there are lots of young guitar players who've learned to play jazz without being into the blues. So they don't have that in their background.

And of course there are lots of blues rock guitar players who are playing Stevie Ray Vaughan style guitar and aren't into straight ahead jazz. But I really did start with that B.B. kind of thing, that was my favorite music when I started out, and that swing element of it led me to jazz. So when I got into jazz it all made sense, and I saw that it was all coming from the same kind of place.

AAJ: Watching you with the Allman Brothers at the Beacon made me think about the similarity between comedy and music—and I mean this is a good way. Both involve improvising and rely on things like timing, rhythm, dramatic pauses, changes in volume,—and of course the most important aspect of comedy, the power of the unexpected.

As you were soloing, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks, and Oteil Burbridge were frequently breakingout in smiles because you were surprising them with how you approached something that's routine to them. A unique way of approaching something is the hallmark of a great comedian, do you see that as one of your strengths as a musician that you come at things from a different angle?

JS: You know I do think I come at things from a different angle, especially from guys who set out to play Southern blues rock. I never did that, it just so happens that the little blues shit that I learned as a kid, I've kept with me.

They're such nice guys, and Oteil, Warren and Derek have been supportive of me for years. I think what you said is probably true, you know those guys are playing night after night with the Allman Brothers Band, which, by the way, is a very good band. And the way they work together is really musical, and all of those guys are so good. But they play the same stuff, so throwing me in there mixes things up a bit.

But I think what you said about the surprise element in the music is really profound, it's those little surprises that keeps it fresh.

AAJ: Right, someone like Monk, his take on things was just so different, and that aspect of him was so special.

JS: Oh yeah, exactly. What a special, special musician. And yes he was playing jazz and the same kind of music everyone else was playing, but it was just so special. And we learned that lesson from Monk, that there's always another way.

AAJ: Warren sang and played slide on a track from your That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (Verve, 2005) CD. I understand you've occasionally been treating your audiences to a bit of slide playing, did Warren turn you on to slide?

JS: [Laughing] It's been great for me to meet and listen to Warren and Derek over the last few years, because they've helped me to get back into my blues roots. I even bought a Warren Haynes Learn to Play Slide DVD. So I was doing it for a while, but I gave up because it's pretty hard to play slide. Actually here's what it was. I was listening to Derek and how great he is, and Warren too, and I was thinking, well maybe I can get back into string bending again, like Albert King. It's the same thing, you get a vocal quality like a slide when you bend the strings a certain way. So I kind of put down the slide and started to reevaluate string bending a la Albert King. I've really been taking a look back at blues guitar, and Warren and Derek have been a big part of that.


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