Guitar legend John Scofield took time out from his busy touring schedule to answer questions supplied by one of our readers, guitarist Andy Batkin.
1. Do you practice? What do you practice?
“I have to practice or else I really suck! I practice things I have to play for upcoming gigs and projects..I play standards a lot!…sometimes reading through fake books, working out voicings…I steal licks from others!..practice patterns…play along with a Jamey Aebersold CD called "Good Time” [Vol. 114] – it has bass in one channel and drums (Adam Nussbaum) in the other playing different tempos. I turn off the bass and play with Adam, practicing different standards. Adam swings so hard!”
2. Do you listen to the young stars (eg Kurt Rosenwinkel; Lage Lund; Jonathan Kreisberg; Mike Moreno; Gilad Hekselman)? How do you rate them? What do you take from them (if anything…) ?
“I did a month long tour with Kurt last year and really loved his playing! It was nice to check him out night after night. The other guys you mentioned are all really good and I get to hear them around NYC some. All good jazz guitarists interest me. Mostly though, I don't listen to jazz guitar but to old jazz recordings of the greats on other instruments!”
3. Your recording scope is vast – from the acoustic 'Quiet' to Uberjam and Medeski, Martin & Wood. Where do you see things going from here?
“I'm not sure. I continue to tour with Uberjam and MMW and I've been playing a lot of standards with my trio…even playing some blues with Taj Mahal at a show in NY next year….been playing in trio with organist Larry Goldings too. Not sure what my next record is!”
4. When a young learner says: "You always know Sco – just from a single bar" and asks how you've developed such a distinctive, recognisable style, how do you answer him/her ?
“I think we all have our individual voices, we just have to let it come out. My style is influenced but my limitations too…I can't do a lot of fast picking …but also I prefer a legato sound.”
5. You've written a huge number of great songs. How do you get all those ideas? From melodies you find on the guitar or the piano? Or do they just pop into your head? Do you ever start with a set of changes, and build a melody from there?
“I write when I have a project coming up and that inspires the direction. I almost always write on the guitar. Sometimes I do choose a chord sequence first then write a melody to it, when I know what would be good to blow on.”
6. Modern jazz composers seem to go more and more for complex changes and weird time signatures. Most of your numbers are in normal 3 or 4. How do you feel about recent "hard-to-count" material – when you don't seem to need it?
“One of the interesting things about the jazz sound has been superimposing interesting rhythms OVER a 4/4 beat….Latin and African cultures dance to stuff others can't groove to!…I love that people can snap and groove and understand your rhythmic variations and syncopations! I always hope that the audience is tapping their feet!”
7. You still seem to spend a lot of time on the road. Do you see that continuing, or would you prefer to spend more time at home, teaching or in the studio?
“I'm lucky that I get to play a lot of concerts. That's the only way I seem to be able to keep my chops up!! I hope it keeps going!”
A Brief History of ‘Sco’
Raised in rural Connecticut, John Scofield learnt the guitar from the age of eleven.
Whilst in his twenties, he studied at Berklee School of Music, recorded with Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, George Duke and Charles Mingus, recorded his first album as a solo artist in Japan, signed a deal with Enja Records in the US and formed his own trio with Steve Swallow and Adam Nussbaum recording the classic live album Shinola in 1981.
In the early Eighties he was invited by Miles Davis to join his fusion band and recorded the classics Star People, Decoy and You’re Under Arrest.
Throughout the Nineties he recorded a string of classic albums for Blue Note including Meant To Be, Hand Jive and Groove Elation.
In the early Noughties he recorded two very different albums both of which became instant classics: the straight-ahead Works For Me (with Kenny Garrett, Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride & Billy Higgins) and the fusion album Überjam (with Avi Bortnick, Jesse Murphy and Adam Deitch).
Since then he has recorded the album Oh! with jazz group ScoLoHoFo (Scofield with Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and Al Foster), recorded the music of Ray Charles, recorded and performed with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, collaborated with British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and worked with Vince Mendoza. He is currently on tour promoting the Überjam follow-up album Überjam Deux.
He appears at the 2014 Love Supreme Festival on Saturday 5th July in the Ronnie Scott’s Big Top at 10:15pm.