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John Scofield's guitar work has influenced jazz since the late 70’s and is going strong today. Possessor of a very distinctive sound and stylistic diversity, Scofield is a masterful jazz improviser whose music generally falls somewhere between post-bop, funk edged jazz, and R & B.
Born in Ohio and raised in suburban Connecticut, Scofield took up the guitar at age 11, inspired by both rock and blues players. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. After a debut recording with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Scofield was a member of the Billy Cobham-George Duke band for two years. In 1977 he recorded with Charles Mingus, and joined the Gary Burton quartet. He began his international career as a bandleader and recording artist in 1978. From 19821985, Scofield toured and recorded with Miles Davis. His Davis stint placed him firmly in the foreground of jazz consciousness as a player and composer.
Since that time he has prominently led his own groups in the international Jazz scene, recorded over 30 albums as a leader (many already classics) including collaborations with contemporary favorites like Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Eddie Harris, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Mavis Staples, Government Mule, Jack DeJohnette, Joe Lovano and Phil Lesh. He’s played and recorded with Tony Williams, Jim Hall, Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Dave Holland, Terumasa Hino among many jazz legends. Throughout his career Scofield has punctuated his traditional jazz offerings with funk-oriented electric music. All along, the guitarist has kept an open musical mind.
Touring the world approximately 200 days per year with his own groups, he is an Adjunct Professor of Music at New York University, a husband, and father of two.
Aside from being one of the principal innovators of modern jazz guitar, John Scofield is a creative artist of an even rarer sort: a stylistic chameleon who has forged a consistent, rock-solid aesthetic identity. An artist with fan bases in many camps and nearly three dozen albums to his credit, he has expressed himself in the vernacular of bebop, blues, jazz-funk, organ jazz, acoustic chamber jazz, electronically tinged groove music and orchestral ensembles with ease and enthusiasm. From early on, his versatility and technical mastery won him sideman gigs with Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Cobham/Duke among many. Regardless of the stylistic setting, his distinct guitar sound and compositions are unmistakably Scofieldesque, always coupled with an improvisational excellence dedicated to the finest in jazz tradition.
Following celebrated runs on the Enja, Arista, Gramavision, Blue Note and Verve labels, Scofield is proud to release his first project for Emarcy, This Meets That. The album finds Scofield once again in the company of what he calls his "A-Team" - bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart — the trio that released En Route in 2004, Added to that, the four-part horn section of Roger Rosenberg on baritone sax and bass clarinet, Jim Pugh on trombone, Lawrence Feldman on tenor sax and flutes and John Swana on trumpet and flugelhorn. A special treat, one tune also features special guest Bill Frisell on tremolo guitar. The parts, arranged by Scofield himself, give the music a broader harmonic dimension. “When I compose a tune,” he explains, “I often hear more parts than I end up playing on the guitar, so on this record I added the horns. We still keep our "trio thing" intact, but the sound is extended and shaded. They embellish what we're doing.”
Scofield’s music responds well to such extension, as heard on his remarkable 1996 acoustic album Quiet, and the more recent Scorched (“Scofield Orchestrated”), a 2003 collaboration with the British classical composer Mark-Anthony Turnage. This Meets That has a similar textural lushness, but also a raw and visceral impact thanks to his often biting guitar tone and the trio’s rhythmic energy. “All these tunes swing,” Scofield points out. “One may be funky, another may be country, but the swing element is important to all of them.”
Of course, swing requires finely honed rapport, and that’s where Swallow and Stewart come in. Before En Route, this rhythm section appeared on Quiet as well as I Can See Your House From Here, Scofield’s 1993 collaboration with Pat Metheny. Swallow produced several early Scofield titles and played in a previous Sco-led trio with drummer Adam Nussbaum — the band that recorded Shinola and Out Like a Light in the early 80's. “Steve has been a huge part of my development since I met him in 1973,” John says. “Now we’re aged contemporaries, but when it started, he was the established great and I was the kid.” As for Stewart: “From the first time I heard him I loved his snap crackle, you know? He usually takes the best solo of the night, in the most musical way. The three of us have an intimacy in our musical exchange that only exists after like-minded individuals play together for decades. It's really special for me.”
This Meets That features a brief appearance by another of Sco’s admired colleagues: fellow guitar innovator Bill Frisell. “We made two records as half of Bass Desires in the ’80s, and then I featured Bill on my 1991 album Grace Under Pressure,” Scofield elaborates. “Last winter, Bass Desires reformed for a tiny reunion tour of Europe, I found out that Bill was going to be in New York at the Vanguard months later while we were in the studio. We played ‘House of the Rising Sun’ on the gigs, and already had a good concept, so I asked him to come down and record it with us.”
This Meets That also includes a riotous version of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. “That and ‘House of the Rising Sun’ are two of the first songs I ever learned on the guitar,” he recalled. “I took up the guitar at 11, and after perfecting Greensleeves and some other delicate folk faves, these tunes were really my start. Jazz came a few years later.” To this day, Scofield often phrases with a pronounced touch of rock and blues, no matter how advanced the harmonic context. His lyrical rendering of the ’70s Charlie Rich country hit “Behind Closed Doors” is further evidence of his omnivorous musical taste.
The originals on This Meets That are tunes that Scofield and company first performed as a trio, and they retain their loose and jazzy immediacy here. Swallow anchors and solos with customary brilliance, Scofield expands the sonic horizon with occasional guitar effects and sampling as Stewart shakes and stirs. The horns alternate mellow contrast with added punch.
On “The Low Road, we tune our low strings down to C sharp to add some extra low notes to our guitars.” Similarly, “Down D” makes use of drop-D tuning, starting with an abstract intro and easing into a calm midtempo feel. “Strangeness in the Night” is one of the more involved tracks — “two songs stuck together,” as Scofield puts it. “The first, slower mood is kind of dark and quirky. That’s the strangeness part.” “Heck of a Job,” a wry reference to the Katrina debacle, gets a New Orleans feel going; Scofield notes the “contrapuntal fugue-like idea” articulated by the horns in the coda. “Shoe Dog” and “Memorette” typify two contrasting sides of his compositional skill: the former a slow and skronky groove, the latter a mellow, sophisticated jazz piece in 6/4. Of the more experimental “Pretty Out,” Sco says: “It’s out, but hopefully it’s pretty. This is our free jazz tune. It worked really well with the horns — the trumpet doubles the melody the first time, and baritone sax the second time. Trio Blues” is exactly that — a hard-swinging blues, though not just for trio anymore when augmented by the horns. An alternate take of Trio Blues (without horns) will be made available as an iTunes exclusive. Yet another track (again horn-less), the burning midtempo “Better New Tune,” will appear on the Japanese release.
With This Meets That and his move to Emarcy, Scofield continues his creative and unpredictable journey as a contemporary jazz master. In the true spirit of collaboration, he regularly lends his talents to varied and illustrious projects. Recent examples include the Grammy nominated Saudades with Trio Beyond (Jack DeJohnette, Larry Goldings); Out Louder with Medeski, Martin & Wood. ScoLoHoFo with Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and Al Foster and Live at the Warfield with Phil Lesh and Friends.
Scofield also believes in supporting new talent, as is clear from the presence of fresh faces in his touring bands. “It’s the jazz way,” Scofield declares. “I started out so inspired by my elders, and I got to play with many of the guys I listened to on records, like Miles, Joe Henderson, Chick and Herbie, like Steve Swallow for that matter. Then you get to pass it on. That’s the way life works . . . in music, we really get to share and grow.”
Here we are again the launching of a new project. This is my 33rd or 34th album, I think. That's What I Say JS Plays the Music of Ray Charles hits stores on 07 June.
I know that some people may be wondering why I did this. Shortly after Ray's death, Ron Goldstein (Verve's Big Cheese) suggested that I consider an album in tribute to him. A tribute to Ray not a tribute to Ron. I've got to admit that I'm rarely a fan of theme projects. Some of them work but most of them don't, As soon as I heard Ray Charles though, it resonated with me. This is music I've known since I first started to play the guitar. Ray's music was one of my inspirations: he was a super soul-music man, but he was also a jazz musician, too. I see him as the height of honest expression.
This is probably the most challenging record I've ever done because of the sheer scale of it - we had a million moving parts. It's different from all of my other recordings (primarily my original music) because these are other people's songs. It was inspiring too because the music itself was great to work with - it was easy to play them naturally. I felt a real affinity for the music though we never tried to copy Ray's versions. Plus we did our tracking in the week before Christmas. If you know Manhattan in December, it's the craziest time of the year to do anything there: fly in and out, fight gridlock, all potential disasters when you have a lot of people coming and going.
That's What I Say was an ideal opportunity to realize one of my own ambitions. I'd been thinking about doing something with singers and this gave me an excuse to approach some of my soul-music idols and perform with them. Steve Jordan is my co-conspirator in the whole thing. Jordan is in increasing demand as a Producer and classic rootsy R&B productions are his trademark. If I was going to do an R&B-ish kind of record, Steve was the guy I immediately thought of to play drums. Having him Produce as well was simply the right thing to do. Steve has remarkable musical taste, super studio savvy to get sounds and tireless perfectionism. He's also done a number of projects with big casts - so he wasn't thrown by this record. I think it was Steve's comfort level that kept the sessions smooth. It never got away from a relaxed and natural, friendly vibe. There was never a time when it wasn't FUN. This seems like a right place to say thanks to Engineer Joe Ferla too. Joe is incredible.
It was easy putting a core band together. Larry Goldings is my favorite keyboard collaborator. He's a jazz musician, but he can also play R&B organ and piano with super soul. We're a good blend that way. Jordan called up his pal Willie Weeks the legendary, bass player a man whose resume reads like a classic-soul textbook: from Hank Crawford to Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder to the Rolling Stones.
We made up a wish-list of guest vocalists and in many cases, the songs I had in mind dictated the choices. One of the great things about this record is the fact that we didn't have to overdub the singers. Everything is live in the studio we did it all together at the same time. You never know how this concept will work out- but I couldn't be happier with the way this ended up. It was an organic experience for sure.
My first singer choice was Mac Rebbenack the inimitable New Orleans singer-pianist Dr. John. Mac and I go way back and I'll take any opportunity to work with him. He had a really bad cold when he came into the studio and didn't even think he should try singing at first but he did it effortlessly! "You Don't Know Me," for instance, cried out for the kind of soulful balladry that Aaron Neville does so well. Aaron braved frigid 8 degree high-for-the-day weather to be with us. People from New Orleans hate the cold and Aaron is no exception. Mavis Staples is my all-time soul diva favorite. I mentioned her name and Steve said, 'Oh, she's my buddy, I'll call her. She signed on, even went way out of her way to accommodate our schedule and I was like, "Wow, Christmas morning!" I'm laughing now - but it practically was Christmas morning by the time we finished tracking!
Warren Haynes (of Allman Brothers, Gov't Mule and Dead fame) and I have played together here and there over the last few years. He's one of the most soulful guitar players, and a great singer. He took time away from family holiday celebrations to fly up and track with us. I had one tune in mind but Warren wanted to do "Night Time Is the Right Time" and it was perfect for him. I'm there playing though a Leslie speaker going for an organ-like sound.
The guest most likely to raise eyebrows from my fan base is John Mayer - of hyper-successful pop singer-songwriter fame. I didn't know John, but knew his name. Steve worked with John on Herbie's new record and was also producing tracks on his next record. I was surprised but John said he wanted to participate on That's What I Say in some way. I got his records out, and I realized he was playing the hell out of the guitar. We do guitar trading on "I Don't Need No Doctor." I thought he would be good for that track, and he came in and totally nailed it! After we recorded, he said he's never sung like that on a record before.' He usually does a more breathy thing, and this was full voice. And he can do it really well! Really well!
I put David "Fathead" Newman him in the 'special guests' category with the singers. He spent over thirty years on the road with Charles. He's a voice for sure.
Tune selection was another matter. I listened to every Ray Charles tune on record. I listened and listened. And we could do a Volume Two tomorrow, but these were the songs I thought we could do something with...because we changed the music somewhat on almost everything. We weren't too reverential about it, because it would have been stupid to just copy his arrangements."
The album opens with "Busted," one of Ray's big hits. Its inclusion was literally an afterthought that Jordan suggested while sitting at the drums during a down time in the session. Willie Weeks was out of the room. Larry started to play it and then Steve and I jumped in. We ran it once, then recorded it. Larry played the bass line and we just jammed it on the spot. No rehearsal.
Steve and I planned "What'd I Say" as the centerpiece of the CD. I thought a salsa feel would be nice because Ray's original hinted at that. What better tune to have all of the guests sing a verse on? It's the tune that every 60's garage band played at dances. "What'd I Say" is one of the first tunes I learned to rock 'em with at the Seventh Grade Dance circa 1965.Steve got into the rhythm arrangement and brought in [percussionist] Manolo Badrena, and we multilayered his stuff with congas and timbales. Check out Isaac Hayes' cameo!
"Sticks and Stones" we funkified it. We did more of a 'Ray Charles Live at Bonnaroo' kind of thing. You could say we 'Bonnarooed' it!
"I Don't Need No Doctor," was one of several hits penned for Charles by the killer songwriting team of Valerie Simpson, Nick Ashford and Josephine Armstead. It's a song I knew from playing in bands in high school. It was definitely one of those tunes that everybody played. I came up with the little guitar thing that starts it, then just took the blues form and extended it, put it to a different groove. Mayer knew exactly what to do too- and we did it in one take. It was a special moment.
The Buck Owens country standard, "Cryin' Time," was a must. The first Ray Charles album I ever had was called Cryin' Time. It actually one of his great overlooked records; that one I wore out. I see it as a kind of an intro to "I Can't Stop Loving You," and that's the way we segued it on the record: The tune "Cryin' Time" is just me and Larry, with Larry playing the whole range of the Hammond organ. It's really great to hear the beautiful colors he gets out of it.
Mavis wanted to do "I Can't Stop Loving You" and whatever she wants to do is fine with me! I just took out my acoustic guitar and we found a key, and we just listened to her sing it. I got chills; we all did. Mavis is simply an amazing woman and singer and one of the nicest people I've ever worked with.
"Hit the Road Jack" features David "Fathead" Newman. If ever there was a sound on the saxophone, it's this guy. I'd met him a couple of times over the years. I thought he would sound great blowing on this, and wrote a chart that took some liberties with the song, and then I wrote a horn arrangement. My childhood perception of "Hit The Road Jack" is that Ray Charles was singing about J.F.K.!!! I wanted to use the groove of the original to set up a jazz arrangement with horns, expanding on Ray's version. Dig Fathead!
"You Don't Know Me" and Aaron Neville. They were made for each other. When we found out that Aaron was available to do the project, I knew that this tune was perfect for him. He said he'd never sung it before. My version has a more standard jazz ballad treatment than Ray's. It was fun and an honor to get to trade riffs with Aaron. I think that Aaron's possibly the most instantly identifiable singer today soul meets doo wop he's a National Treasure.
"Talkin' Bout You" and "I Got a Woman" with Dr. John. I can't say enough about him. People call him 'greasy R&B,' but that music he's playing has a feel, a harmonic thing with the keyboard and a subtlety, and so did Ray's music. It's super-sophisticated music, whatever you call it. We start off with "Talkin' Bout You" just the two of us in the beginning, and then modulate into "I Got a Woman" with him singing and the full band. Fathead played an incredible solo.
"Unchain My Heart (Part 1)" kinda connects the dots between Charles's soulfulness and the funk masters who followed, such as James Brown. It's another bar-band staple, and this is another one I changed up a little bit. It's a tricky thing to get into, reharmonizing tunes. I didn't want them to sound intellectual. You don't want to mess with tradition too much-but you want to mess with it a little! We couldn't stop vamping at the end; it was Steve's idea to make it a classic 'Part 1' and 'Part 2,' which is what Ray did on "What'd I Say." (Here, the second part, naturally, gets the last word in.) If you leave it running you'll find "Unchain (Part 2)" is a hidden track at the end.
"Let's Go Get Stoned," is another Valerie Simpson-penned hit. I thought that would be a good title for the album Let Sco Get Stoned, but I realized my sponsor would be very upset. At one point, Steve and I considered asking Valerie to sing on the track, but my take on it went in a direction that isn't particularly singer-friendly!
"Georgia on My Mind" almost didn't make it on the record which would have been weird since it's Ray's signature tune. It's also part of the Great American Songbook, and one of the great jazz standards. And talk about a chord progression! That's was the one I wanted to play all by myself on the guitar, and closed the record with that.
And that's what I say...
It’s a frigid December night during the coldest winter in recent memory. Entering New York City’s Blue Note jazz club, you pass through the darkened foyer, proceed through the bar and settle at a table in front of the narrow stage. The lights dim. "Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer says, "please welcome the John Scofield Trio!"
Suddenly, the cold weather outside is a distant memory, chased away by the heat generated by three great musicians hitting their stride. Old friends and longtime musical partners, guitarist John Scofield and his trio mates — bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart — are aglow with camaraderie and spontaneous invention. The three throw off sparks as they bob, dip and weave through a tightly knit set of jazz standards and savvy original compositions. More than just a collection of tunes, the trio is playing music that embodies the spirit that has kept jazz vigorous and visceral since its birth.
Hundreds of fortunate music fans, residents and visitors alike shared this experience when the John Scofield Trio played that week in December 2003. If you were there, you’ll always remember it. And happily, Verve Records was there as well, preserving the experience for posterity as EnRoute, Scofield’s seventh Verve release.
Previously recorded outings by Scofield have found him performing in elaborate settings. His works range from the plugged-in, electronically tweaked jamming of his last Verve release, Up All Night, to the full orchestral setting of the recent Scorched, a collaboration with British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage issued earlier this year on the venerable classical imprint, Deutsche Grammophon. But for EnRoute, Scofield wanted to focus on the high-wire interaction of a small, closely knit band in the heat of a live setting. He arrived at the Blue Note armed only with his trusty guitar, amp and whammy pedal, and left his more elaborate electronic gear at home.
"I wanted to make a real jazz-improvising statement in a live situation with two of my favorite musicians," Scofield says. "It’s really challenging. You don’t rely on arrangements as much as on the way the group plays together. You don’t rely on anything other than good playing, and you know there’s no lifejacket or safety net involved. That doesn’t happen as often in a studio setting: I think the big difference is the audience. There is a symbiotic affinity between the artists and the audience that makes for something special."
Scofield wanted EnRoute to document the flow of a typical live set on a hot night. For jazz buffs, that’s precisely why the live trio record stands as one of the purest representations of the art form. He’s quick to name his own favorites: "Bill Evans’ [Sunday] at the Village Vanguard is one that I like a lot. Sonny Rollins’ A Night at the Village Vanguard, Jim Hall’s Jim Hall Live!, and John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard: On ‘Impressions’ and ‘Take the Coltrane,’ there’s no piano, so it’s a trio and those are sides that changed my life."
On EnRoute, Scofield proves that he, too, has mastered the art of constructing an exceptional live document. In one sense, the album turns the clock back to the formative years of his long, illustrious career as a bandleader: two early live trio albums, Shinola and Out Like a Light, were also recorded during a week of December performances, back in 1981. "I remember being a lot more uptight when I played back then!" Scofield recalls with a laugh. "Now, I’m just able to embrace the moment more and enjoy it. I really had a good time making this record."
Scofield has come a long way as a player and leader since those early years, but one thing that EnRoute has in common with those early dates is Steve Swallow. "There is no other man like him in music," Scofield says with genuine admiration. Not only does he play like an upright player — like the great, seasoned jazz veteran that he is — but he’s also an electric bassist who can play chords and solos like a guitarist. He adds that whole other element; what we can do is so strong harmonically."
Drummer Bill Stewart, the third side to the triangle on EnRoute, has also logged many miles with Scofield, having first played with the guitarist some 14 years ago. "I think he’s playing as good as any drummer in the history of jazz," Scofield states. "Bill knows everything that I’m playing harmonically, and with that understanding, he responds to what Steve and I play in an incredibly musical way. And also, he’s got great time: His inner clock is set and it does not move!"
Stewart’s rock-steady pulse and unique rhythmic conception are readily apparent from the opening bars of "Wee," the Denzil Best-penned bop standard that opens EnRoute. "We got into playing this tune years ago because Bill plays a fantastic beat on it," Scofield explains, "and the way Steve breaks it up on bass, no one plays like that. It’s a jazz tune and it’s swinging, but it’s grooving in another kind of way, too. I wanted to start the album with this because it’s so happy, and also because the way these guys play it is so unique.
"Toogs" was inspired by the two miniature dachshunds that guard the Scofield home. "‘Toogs’ stands for ‘two dogs,’" he explains, somewhat sheepishly. The generous, loping melody paints a scene of domestic bliss. Midway through, however, Scofield and Stewart launch into a heated exchange more than slightly reminiscent of Coltrane and Jones’s legendary duels, while Swallow settles into a backing vamp. "It starts as this pretty little thing," Scofield says, "and then there’s a dogfight at the end!"
The third selection, "Name That Tune," is a timely reminder that bassist Swallow is also a composer of distinction. Hailing from his 1997 release, Deconstructed, the mysterious tune might seem oddly familiar. "Steve wrote an entire album of melodies over the changes of existing jazz standards," Scofield explains, "and this one is on the changes to ‘Perdido.’ We take it at a breakneck pace. It’s bebop for 2003, but very much rooted in the tradition."
Scofield’s 16-year-old son Evan provided the oddly poetic title of "Hammock Soliloquy," which rocks back and forth between a slow Stewart strut and a breezier uptempo beat. "I played him a rehearsal tape of this, and right away he said, 'Hammock Soliloquy.'" The quirky title deftly combines a Shakespearean reference with the to-and-fro rocking of the composition — poetic indeed.
The next tune ‘Bag’ is a rollicking blues. "Swallow started calling Bill ‘Bag’ a long time ago," Scofield says. "I’m not sure why, except maybe that Bill’s suitcase is always a complete wreck, and Swallow’s is always pristine." Since Stewart was the one who reminded Scofield of the tune (written in the earliest years of their collaboration), the guitarist felt it only fair to name it for the drummer.
Scofield and his bandmates stretch out and intertwine with familiar grace and ease in "It Is Written." The song spices up the set list with its perky rhythm and sophisticated chord progression.
Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s "Alfie" is a timeless standard. "It’s one of my favorite songs of all time, especially Dionne Warwick’s recording," Scofield says. It’s really not so easy to improvise on, because the form is very long. It takes a special treatment; that’s probably why not so many jazz artists have played it." The ballad affords Swallow a breathtaking solo in the top range of his instrument, which lets him sound like the masterful guitarist he is.
The busy, bustling "Travel John" gives a sense of forward momentum with no time out to stop and catch your breath.
Finally, borrowing the same trick that Swallow used for "Name That Tune," Scofield based "Over Big Top" on the bass line and rhythm of one of his own tunes "Big Top," from his 1995 album, Groove Elation. "I just had ‘Over Big Top’ written on the top of the lead sheet," Scofield explains. The tune’s twangy melody and funky strut inspire Scofield to uncork one of his most unfettered solos, rousing the audience to its most boisterous reaction. Stewart’s rambunctious rhythmic displacements and ringing accents help end the set on a high note.
And in the end, that’s what EnRoute is all about: three musicians grooving in front of an enthusiastic audience and the special synergy that unfolds between them. "It’s impossible to judge your own work completely," Scofield says, "but I think this is some of my best playing. We definitely hooked up as a group, and it brought us to places we don’t usually get in the studio."
It is a rare artist that can play more than one style of music with true fluency, virtuosity and sincerity. John Scofield can, and he proves it on his new Verve release, Überjam. The album finds him confirming his reputation as a peerless jazz guitarist, while making groove and jam-oriented music at the highest level.
Born in Ohio and raised in suburban Connecticut, Scofield took up the guitar at age 11, inspired by both rock and blues players. A local teacher introduced him to Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Pat Martino, which sparked a lifelong love of jazz. Sco soon attended the Berklee College of Music, later moving into the public eye with a wide variety of bandleaders and musicians including Charles Mingus , Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, Billy Cobham/George Duke, Gerry Mulligan, McCoy Tyner, Jim Hall, and Gary Burton. In 1982, he began a three-and-a-half-year stint touring with Miles Davis. Scofield’s compositions and inimitable guitar work appear on three of Davis’ albums.
Scofield began recording as a leader in the late 1970s, establishing himself as an influential and innovative player and composer. His recordings—many already classics—include collaborations with contemporary favorites like Pat Metheny, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Bill Frisell, Government Mule, and Joe Lovano. Through it all, the guitarist has kept an open musical mind.
Signing with Verve Records in 1995, Scofield released Quiet in 1996, A Go Go in 1997, Bump in 1999, and Works For Me in 2000. With the help of bandmates Avi Bortnick (guitar), Jesse Murphy (bass), and Adam Deitch (drums), Sco adds überjam to his varied discography.
The 11 original songs on Überjam showcase a group that explores diverse influences and styles while maintaining an irresistible groove. Launching with the eastern aura of “Acidhead,” easing into the languid “Tomorrow Land,” and ending with the super-funky climax of “Lucky For Her,” Überjam takes listeners on a modern journey of forward-thinking compositions and captivating improvisations by the Scofield band.
“I had to search high and low to find the right musicians to make this record with me. It took a long time to find them, but I know that these guys are the best I’ve played with in this idiom. It’s a pleasure to go to work every day.” Scofield elaborates: “I especially wanted to record with my band this time rather than make an ‘all-star’ record. The band has grown over the past three years and nothing compares with an entity that develops over time. We went into Avatar Studios and started recording immediately after a 40-concert tour and the band was really tight. With the additional inspiration of John Medeski and Karl Denson’s contributions, we were really cooking.”
Scofield continues: “Avi Bortnick is a rhythm guitar master. Between the two of us, we cover just about everything a guitar can and should do. It’s hard to find a player who likes laying in the groove while I play endless solos! When Avi expressed an interest to get into sampling a few years back, I never realized that he would quickly turn into the electro-magician that he is today!” Bortnick was born in Israel and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, studied at the University of Sao Paulo, and later completed a graduate program in architectural acoustics at the University of Florida, Gainesville. In fact, Scofield had to steal him away from his day gig at a California-based architectural firm.
Of bass player Jesse Murphy, Scofield says: “Jesse is the most intuitive and like-minded bass player that I’ve played with in a long time. He is truly eclectic musically; he knows and appreciates so many different styles. He has the perfect temperament for a bassist—boundless energy blended with the directed focus of a traffic cop. That’s very hard to find and essential for a good band!”
When asked about the newest band member, drummer Adam Deitch, Sco says: “I’ve worked with all kinds of great drummers but I knew I found the right guy the first time I played with Adam. He’d been anchoring down the current version of the Average White Band, which tells you something about his groove. He throws ideas at you all night long.”
“We’ve had a great time playing for a broader and often younger audience with this material. They really know about music, they really listen, and their enjoyment is infectious. I get a real kick watching my audience dance while knowing that this holds up as jazz—it’s not just dance music.”
Scofield says that “the music on Überjam may be the kind of music I feel most comfortable with. I started with jazz-rock 30 years ago and the great thing about this music is that it’s still evolving. When confronted with the ‘Who is John Scofield’ question, I like to oversimplify it by saying that ‘I like rock and jazz.’”
He continues: “Almost every interviewer asks me about my past experience with Miles Davis. I have to say that out of all the albums I’ve made, I think this is the one that Miles would have enjoyed the most. Miles’ spirit is in this music. He was always looking to take jazz to a new place.”
“Acidhead” This song came about when we started jamming on Jesse’s dub bass line, which anchors the entire song. Avi’s Indian samples inspired me to improvise in a faux-Eastern style. I came up with a melody and just generally let the tune evolve over months on the road. This is a true four-way collaboration. John Medeski came in to the studio and added a lot to the sound of the piece with his odd and unique Mellotron–a weird, interesting antique keyboard. “Acidhead” is played freely with a very minimal form.
“Ideofunk” I wrote this in about five minutes but I thought the melody was too simplistic. After we played it for a while, I decided I liked it. Karl Denson takes an overblowing, overtoned flute solo, reminding me of Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
“Jungle Fiction” This tune started out a few years ago when the younger (than me) musicians I played with started to play drum n’ bass or “jungle beat” at a rehearsal. I really wanted to explore this style because I like the fast tempos. The tonalities are very major, a departure from the minor and bluesy sounds of the rest of the album. I’m proud of this one.
“I Brake For Monster Booty” Everybody brought in their own part here. We just started this jam at the beginning of a long tour and it developed over a few months. There are memorable double rhythm guitar parts between Avi and me—I love the way the two guitars work here. I think it’s the funkiest track on the record.
“Animal Farm” I wrote this one. It was a “normal” tune until Medeski played in the studio with us and it developed into the barnyard cacophony that it is now. The “dying goose” sound is my guitar sampler—with apologies to geese everywhere.
“Offspring” I wrote this on the first day of Spring. It’s jazz but it also rocks. What we’re doing during the guitar solo is a fine example of us playing together as a quartet—a loose, live feel. It’s all really spontaneous.
“Tomorrow Land” Avi brought in this tune. It has a country-soul feel that’s very “back porch”—warm and rhythmic. This tune stands out from the other material—a rest stop in the middle of the funk.
“überjam” This is the archetypal jam composition of the album. We started jamming on it about three years ago. Everybody put in their two cents and eventually “überjam” was created. It has six composers. Somehow “Blue Moon” worked its way in and became an integral part of the song. This is what puts the “jam” into this band!
“Polo Towers” I wrote this while playing a week in Las Vegas—not exactly the jazz capital of the world. If there’s one thing people don’t want after a long day of gambling—it’s an evening of progressive jazz with long solos! Jesse and Adam lock in to the best hip-hop groove of the album. Karl uses a weird 1960’s electronic sax device that is totally warped.
“Snap, Crackle, Pop” Adam Deitch provides the snap, crackle, and pop here. The actual composition is a little bit schizo with a lyrical melody over the super-groove. Avi’s rhythm guitar breaks demonstrate why Charlie Hunter calls him the greatest rhythm guitar player in the world. This one makes me want to dance.
“Lucky For Her” This is the first song we play at our concerts and we’ve come full circle putting this at the end of überjam. It begins with a mechanical hodgepodge and my “Lucky” melody that evolves into Avi and Jesse locking into some super-funk. I love the way machines, guitars, and drums meet on this song.
Some jazz musicians are content to stay in their comfort zones rarely changing from one album to the next. But not John Scofield. Not only is the influential guitarist unafraid of challenges--he thrives on them and rejects predictability. Queried about his ever evolving style, Scofield shrugged, “It’s all me--every recording that I make is representative of music that I’m feeling at that time. I’ve found the most satisfaction in letting preconceived assumptions of category and genre blur around the edges.” That’s why his current Verve release, Works For Me, is a major departure from his last album.
Recorded in 1999, Bump favored a gritty, groove-oriented blend of jazz, funk and rock. But Works For Me, produced by Richard Seidel, finds Scofield leading a straight-ahead jazz quintet that boasts Kenny Garrett on alto saxophone, Brad Mehldau on acoustic piano, Christian McBride on upright bass, and Billy Higgins on drums.
From the tranquillity of "Mrs. Scofield’s Waltz" to the hard-swinging exuberance of "Do I Crazy?", Works For Me is the epitome of straight-ahead post-bop jazz.
Jazz doesn't get any more straight-ahead than "Not You Again", a congenial number that is based on the chord changes of the well known standard "There Will Never Be Another You". Ever since the birth of bebop in the mid-1940s, the chord changes of popular standards have been a source of inspiration to jazz composers--and just as Miles Davis was thinking of the standard "How High The Moon" when he wrote "Solar" and "Half Nelson," Scofield uses "There Will Never Be Another You" to make a musical statement of his own. Scofield, however, doesn't actually perform any standards on Works For Me. Every song on the CD is a Scofield original, and his versatility as a composer is impossible to miss.
Boasting some of Scofield’s most lyrical playing, "Mrs. Scofield’s Waltz" is a thoughtful piece that the guitarist wrote for his wife Susan. In addition to being warm and affectionate, the song has a very tranquil, peaceful quality. And a sense of calm also defines "Love You Long Time," a mid-tempo item with a very inviting, good-natured melody.
While "Heel To Toe" is the CD’s most bluesy offering and "Hive" is angular and cerebral, the intriguing "Loose Canon" underscores Scofield’s inclination for more avante-garde writing.
Those who don’t know a lot about Scofield’s background may be surprised that someone would follow an album as funky and groove-oriented as Bump with a project as straight-ahead as Works For Me. But anyone who has followed Scofield’s career over the years knows that diversity is one of his primary characteristics.
Born in Dayton, Ohio on December 26, 1951, Scofield learned to play the guitar in high school and went on to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduating from Berklee, he spent two years in the 1970s fusion powerhouse the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band but demonstrated that he was equally capable of backing everyone from Charles Mingus to Gary Burton.
Scofield started recording as a leader in the late 1970’s, and as the 1980’s progressed, he became more and more influential as a player and composer. In 1995, Scofield signed with Verve--and has since added Quiet in 1996, A Go Go in 1997, Bump and now, Works For Me to his discography.
Through it all, the guitarist has kept an open mind. As Scofield sees it, everything from country to hip-hop has its place as long as it's well done.
"I play jazz, but I have always had rock & roll and R&B roots--and Bump reflected that," explains the 48-year-old Scofield. "Bump and the album I did before that, A Go Go, were very funky. But that wasn't what I was going for on Works For Me. This album is meant to be very straight-ahead, and I couldn't have asked for a more appropriate group of players."
Indeed, all of Scofield’s sidemen on Works For Me have strong credentials when it comes to playing acoustic-oriented jazz. Higgins is among the most in-demand drummers of the last 40 years, and few of today's young alto saxophonists can claim to be as fresh-sounding and recognizable as the 39-year-old Garrett. Meanwhile, the Bill Evans-influenced Mehldau and the talented McBride were among the busiest young straight-ahead players of the 1990s. The ages of the musicians vary considerably--at 28, McBride is the youngest person on the album, while Higgins celebrates his 64th birthday on October 11, 2000. Higgins’ resume is a long one; the veteran drummer is famous for his work with the trailblazing Ornette Coleman Quartet of the late 1950s and early 1960s, but he has also backed everyone from Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon to Art Pepper, Lee Morgan, Milt Jackson and Pat Metheny.
"Billy Higgins is a true jazz musician," declares Scofield, who lives near New York City in northern Westchester County with his wife and two kids. "He is one of the remaining legends from the Golden Era of Jazz, and you can really hear that in his playing. A lot of people know Billy for his work with Ornette Coleman, but Ornette was really an exception for Billy because most of the stuff he has done over the years has been mainstream jazz."
One of the things that sets Works For Me apart from many of the other albums in Scofield’s sizable catalogue is its use of an acoustic pianist. Scofield notes: "I have recorded some other albums with piano, but not that many. On this album, I wanted a quintet sound with a lot of piano. I really wanted Brad Mehldau because I love the way he plays; he's very intuitive and very swinging."
Garrett, meanwhile, pairs well with Scofield because both of them have such eclectic taste in music. Like Scofield, Garrett is far from a jazz snob and also has a strong appreciation of rock and R&B. In fact, he probably would have fit in perfectly on Bump if Scofield had decided to use a saxophonist on that album. But Works For Me, of course, called for straight-ahead playing, and Garrett brings as much passion to this post-bop project as he brought to the electric fusion that he played with Miles Davis in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
"Musicians who truly love music tend to check out a lot of different styles in their lifetime," says Scofield. "By the time I was 17, I knew that I wanted to be a jazz musician, but I didn't grow up in a jazz bubble. You could have lived in a jazz bubble in the 1930’s and 1940’s, but how could you grow up in a jazz bubble in the 1960’s and 1970’s? I came up in the era when rock & roll and R&B ruled. Even though I play jazz, I enjoy other styles of music."
"It's all related--the rhythms in jazz and the rhythms in hip-hop, funk and rock & roll are all related. The rhythms on Bump and the rhythms on Works For Me are related, although they're two very different albums. Whether I'm doing a funky album like Bump or a straight-ahead jazz project like Works For Me, I look for the best musicians I can find. And whatever type of album I do, I'm always looking for quality."
Born in Ohio on the day after Christmas, 1951, John Scofield was raised in suburban Wilton, Connecticut. He picked up guitar at age 11, inspired by rock and blues players. A local teacher introduced him to Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Pat Martino, thereby sparking a lifelong love of jazz. John attended the Berklee College of Music from 1970 to 1973, until his quick move into the public eye with the Cobham/Duke Band. Scofield toured and recorded with his own groups as well as a wide variety of bandleaders (Mingus, Mulligan, Burton, McShann, etc.) Everything changed when in 1982, he began a high exposure three-year stint with Miles Davis. His Miles credits include three recordings with Scofield supplying several compositions as well as his guitar work.
Never at rest, Scofield has recorded over 26 critically acclaimed albums as a leader. These recordings - many already classics - include collaborations with contemporary favorites like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, the late Eddie Harris and Joe Lovano. As a featured guest, he has shared his unique guitar sound with major talents including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner and Jim Hall, to name just a few. A trailblazer of jazz in the ‘80s, a perennial poll winner, bandleader, master improviser, composer and major player in the music arena; John Scofield brought groove music to its knees on his second Verve recording, A GO GO.
2000 finds Scofield continuing his exploration of the funky side of jazz with a new recording BUMP and a fresh band. Touring with bass, drums and rhythm guitar, the follicly challenged Scofield revels in an energetic, swinging jazz interpretation of the classic Rock band configuration. Projects slated for 2001 will mark a return to more acoustic, traditional jazz flavor.
A California native from Santa Cruz, bassist Jesse Murphy was born on March 23, 1970. Murphy studied music at USC and plays both acoustic and electric bass. Now a resident of Brooklyn, Murphy is very active in the New York music scene. Girls love him! Murphy is a regular member of the group Bloomdaddies with Seamus Blake and has played with Cedar Walton, Milt Jackson and Billy Higgins.
Rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick was born in Israel on January 07, 1963 and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. As a child he studied classical guitar and piano. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area at 19, in 1982 and attended the University of California-Berkeley. Avi later studied at the University of Sao Paulo. In 1994, he entered a graduate program in architectural acoustics at the University of Florida, Gainesville. Bortnick is very tall. He has played in various bands, including the retro-soul band What It Is. His band the Dry Look was an early 1990's pioneer of the groove-jazz movement in San Francisco. Avi has also been deeply involved with African and Caribbean music bands in the San Francisco Bay Area, most notably playing guitar with Kotoja, a Nigerian dance band. He has also played with Bobby McFerrin.
Drummer Eric Kalb was born on May 23rd 1970 in Huntington, New York. After high school Kalb moved to Boston where he attended Berklee College of Music. At Berklee he studied with Latin music specialist Ed Uribe and John Ramsey. Eric is currently a member of the nationally popular groove band Deep Banana Blackout - unifying and driving the group with his powerful drumming and flowing blond tresses. Kalb has had the opportunity to play with some of his biggest influences - artists including Clyde Stubblefield, Fred Wesley, DJ Logic and guitarist John Scofield.
Mark Degliantoni, appears with Scofield on loan from his day gig; the internationally acclaimed band Soul Coughing. Born in San Francisco on the 20th of June 1962, Mark remains a California resident. Though classically trained, Degliantoni is the archetypal urban Keyboard sampler fiend. Available biography materials cite his fondness for oysters, boxer shorts and the number 7.
A trailblazer of jazz in the ‘80s, a perennial poll winner, bandleader, master improvisor, composer and major player in the music arena; John Scofield brings groove music to its knees on his second Verve recording, A GO GO. Accompanying the guitar great on this syncopated summit meeting are the premiere groovemeisters of the neo-funk scene, Medeski, Martin & Wood. Together they’ve fashioned a collective groove that drives shake-that-thing funk to the core without sacrificing an ounce of satisfaction for the brain.
An organic session that hangs together on a mutual love of groove-oriented music, A GO GO stands as Scofield’s beat manifesto. “A Go Go is a phrase that reminds me of what the rock ‘n’ roll movement was when I first started checking out music,” he recalls. Whiskey A Go Go, Cafe A Go Go in New York - all tied into my first cognizant thoughts about rhythm.
The guitarist has high praise for his young collaborators on this session. “Each member of MMW is a stellar musician on his own but together, they’re unbeatable. I’m a drum fanatic - and Billy Martin’s got a groove and a half. Chris Woods, the bass player, always plays the right thing every time. John Medeski is amazing. He can cover so much and sound like two musicians at the same time. He’s definitely in the tradition of the great jazz organ players but the result is different because he’s such an original,” observed Scofield.
Medeski, Martin & Wood hold Scofield in similar esteem:
“Scofield’s really got that fat eigthth note thing happening,” says Medeski, “and I think it comes out of loving New Orleans music. You don’t hear a lot of that these days but he’s an absolute master of it. He did his thing and we played his music the way we play, trying to a little vibe within the framework of each tune.”
“He’s also got a really nice rhythmic feel,” adds Martin. “For a drummer, that’s great, because I could just get the feel from his playing. It was a very simple, natural process in that way. His affinity for groove music really made a great connection.”
“We’ve (MMW) been together so long that we’ve developed our own kind of language,” notes Wood. “He was wide open to that. He’d show you an idea and then want you to play it in your own way. He’s definitely aware of the personality factor in making music together. Plus, John was going for a raw sound, which fits into our thing pretty well.”
“The nasty factor is a special thing that the guitar can do and it’s something that I enjoy doing too,” Scofield acknowledged. From the cosmic-earthy title track, through the infectious groover Chank, the bent-string bite of Hottentot and Boozer and the heated slinkiness of Southern Pacific and Chicken Dog, that nasty quality comes across no-holds-barred throughout A GO GO. Still firmly within the funk and groove genre, Scofield puncuates the passion with auditory reststops; the eerie soundscapes Kubrick and Deadzy, the subtle and subdued Green Tea and the bright, joyous Jeep on 35.
Born in Ohio on the day after Christmas, 1951, Scofield was raised in suburban Wilton, Connecticut. He picked up guitar at age 11, inspired by rock and blues players. A local teacher introduced him to Wes Montgomery, Jim Hall and Pat Martino, thereby sparking a lifelong love of jazz. John attended the Berklee College of Music from 1970 to 1973, until his quick move into the public eye with the Cobham/Duke Band. Scofield toured and recorded with his own groups as well as a wide variety of bandleaders (Mingus, Mulligan, Burton, McShann, etc.) Everything changed when in 1982, he began a high exposure three year stint with Miles Davis. His Miles credits include three recordings where Scofield supplying several compositions as well as his guitar work.
Never at rest, Scofield has recorded over 24 critically acclaimed albums as a leader. These recordings - many already classics - include collaborations with contemporary favorites like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, the late Eddie Harris and Joe Lovano. As a featured guest, he has shared his unique guitar sound with major talents including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner and Jim Hall, to name just a few.
Scofield’s Verve debut was a surprising departure from the electric jazz path he had paved for himself. Appropriately entitled QUIET, it showcased the guitarist strictly on acoustic guitar in the company of an expanded horn ensemble. The album struck a chord with listeners for its elegant, understated beauty and lyricism while enhancing Scofield’s reputation as a first-class arranger and composer.
From the sublime to the gritty, Scofield forays into the A GO GO funk and groove genre with electrifying results. “I’m bringing some of the elements of my playing back into the foreground with a new ‘90s attitude,” says Scofield. “I loved making this record.”
Life doesn’t begin with Miles for most individuals, but in Jazz, the Miles Davis period of any performer’s career is a good place to start a bio. All that came before it -- birth in December of 1951, a childhood in Connecticut, first guitar at age 11, Berklee College of Music, George Duke/Billy Cobham, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, recordings, bands, touring and so forth -- was necessary preparation for the spotlight that began in 1982. From his well documented three year stint with the Miles Davis Group to date, guitarist and composer John Scofield has remained in the foreground of Jazz as a recording and performing artist. Leaving Miles to work with his own bands in 1985, the subsequent twelve years have been particularly rewarding. Scofield has been the winner of Downbeat magazine’s Readers and Critics for six years running and voted #1 Electric Group for several years as well.
Scofield has recorded and released twenty-four (not counting “best-ofs” and bootlegs!) critically acclaimed albums. Scofield’s collection of recordings for Blue Note Records include collaborations with contemporary favorites like Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Eddie Harris and Joe Lovano. As a featured guest, he has shared his unique guitar sound with major talents including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Gary Burton, Chet Baker, Toots Thielemans and Jim Hall, just to name a few. His most recent release Quiet denotes a series of “firsts” for Scofield. It represents his debut recording for the prestigious Verve label, his first compositions written and arranged for a nine piece brass section and most importantly, the only Scofield album to highlight his talent on acoustic guitar exclusively.
The music of Quiet has afforded Scofield and audiences alike the opportunity to enjoy nearly a year of acoustic playing. Scofield maintains a high performance profile while touring the world an average of six months yearly. A superb leader, Scofield knows how to fashion bands in his own image while drawing on and enhancing each ensemble voice. The John Scofield band has gone through several incarnations over the years, each personnel change reflecting new directions in Scofield’s music. Whatever the musical influence of the moment, with Scofield’s extraordinary diversity, one quality remains consistent -- Scofield is always fronting a tight, powerhouse group. Look for Scofield on tour throughout 1997 with his own Quintet (featuring Bill Stewart, Seamus Blake, Larry Grenadier and Kevin Hays), Herbie Hancock’s New Standards All Star Band (featuring Scofield, Michael Brecker, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland and Don Alias) and the John Scofield Trio (featuring Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart.) Autumn plans include a new recording for Verve with anticipated release in March of 1998.