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Up Close and Personal with John Scofield

John Scofield John Scofield Jos Knaepen
John Scofield has been the "ever-changing weather front" of the jazz genre; moving like a forceful wind (and seamlessly) in and out of the intricate facets of jazz and funk, Scofield continues to redefine modern jazz and funk every step of the way while never losing the integrity of the moment.

Dubbed everything from the "father of jazz-funk" to the "godfather of groove", Scofield's catalog reads like a magic carpet ride, containing everything from straight-ahead swing to all out jam band driven groove. Last year's Bump, however, rocket-launched the jazz funk movement back into action with Scofield at the helm, pairing him with members of some of the scene's most groove-heavy groups, and via a still ongoing tour, continues to introduce Scofield to a whole new audience.

So, with this being said, it is no surprise that John Scofield's latest Verve recording, Works For Me, is a straight ahead jazz album, featuring the all-star ensemble of Kenny Garrett, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride and Billy Higgins.

Always amiable and ready for anything, Scofield took some time to tell us about Works For Me and the powers behind it.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: I've always found your album interesting; it seems as if each has its own little story that describes either the album or your state of mind. What does Works For Me represent?

JOHN SCOFIELD: It means 2 things really. As you know, it means Works For Me, which is very American phrase..They don't tend to use it the same casual way in England, for instance. For me, they were very musical words, and no one in the commercial world was really looking for me to do a straight ahead record, but I just wanted to do it..you know, Works For Me.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: You have a pretty unbeatable lineup with you on this record; each player a master in their own respect. Aside from the obvious credentials of all the players involved, what personally was instrumental for you in choosing these specific players?

JOHN SCOFIELD: Honestly, I hadn't played a lot with these guys, but about 3 years ago I played with Billy (Higgins) for the first time at a Charles Lloyd concert where I was called in last minute to play, had had been a fan of Billy's for many years. To me he is such a spirit of swing and a fountain of jazz knowledge that when I finally did get to play with him, I said that if I finally got it together to do a swing record, I would get him on it. I decided I wanted to make a quintet record with the sax and guitar in the frontline so you get that more classic jazz sound, and I wanted everyone to be featured as soloists, so I found my favorite players, all of who could luckily make it. I had never played with Brad (Mehldau), and with Kenny only a little bit, but it was a very nice situation. Same with Christian (McBride). It was wonderful; we had one rehearsal and went in and recorded for 2 days and everyone really got into the music. I tried to pick stuff that would allow everyone their own room for interpretation.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: With the sound and attitude that Bump put forth, you tapped into a whole new audience on that tour; some who may have not been as familiar with your more straight ahead stuff. Do you anticipate revisiting those venues in hopes of teaching that new audience a bit about the unfamiliar, or are you going to play to a more defined straight-ahead crowd?

JOHN SCOFIELD: Well, actually we're playing more jazz clubs, so I guess that would answer your question. It wouldn't work as well with the rock clubs we were playing with the Bump band. It was never my intention to teach anybody anything, but a lot of people who like different kinds of music will hopefully crossover a bit. We are actually doing 2 specific bands at this point..one is the tour band for the spring with Bill Stewart, Shawn Murphy and Seamus Blake, but at the same time I still have the Bump band which I am continuing to gig with.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What non-music related factors are a strong influence to you both personally and in your music?

JOHN SCOFIELD: It's never specific with me. Some people say 'OK, sunrise in the morning will make them want to compose..but for me it's really other art that makes me want to compose. Art, writing, films, the creative drive and expression make me want to express myself. I have to say that without sounding to religious, that stuff just flows through all of us..If I put in the time to write, I accept that what I come up with is what it is, and that good stuff will come out of it. It all relates to us as a whole, as part of this big club called humanity.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What are some well-kept secrets, in terms of up and coming groups or musicians, that you would recommend?

JOHN SCOFIELD: A great jazz guitar player named Jesse Van Reuler (spelling not verified). He just made a CD on a small Dutch label called Stand. He won the Thelonious Monk institute award a couple of years back, which is where I met him, and he's really gone leaps and bounds. There's a lot of techno type, electronic stuff that I really like. I really want to include samples in my band, and some guys from the Bump band have brought some cool stuff together.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: As someone who is influenced by pretty much everything, how would you stress and/or differentiate to the up and coming musician the need for both the standards as well as the non-jazz stuff to provide a good balance? Who in your opinion mixed the two the best?

JOHN SCOFIELD: Everybody has to follow their own instinct for what they like and incorporate it into their own playing. For me, I hate the dogmatic thing of having to learn standards, but I love standards themselves. I think we have to be aware of the history of music, and that 19th century classical music gave jazz its harmonic vocabulary, and jazz took it and made it its own thing. About classical, though, I can sit down and listen to Bach, Beethoven and Mahler and understand it because I developed my ear from learning standards. For me the importance is high. The mix has to be natural, though. When people say "I'm going to combine this and that"..it may not really work. For me the great successes of combining the traditional and the new are Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul..they created this thing that combined folk, rock and jazz, and these guys were unbelievable jazz players who came from bop and brought these elements together.

JAZZREVIEW.COM: What do you look forward to on this upcoming tour the most?

JOHN SCOFIELD: Just playing the guitar with these great musicians..it's Sunday morning in church for me..it's a spiritual thing, that chance to perform.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: John Scofield
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