“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 Davis, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock , and 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.”
— John Scofield
One of the highlights of the 2010 Victoria JazzFest is John Schofield. Born out of traditional jazz and blues, guitarist John Scofield has long since remained at the forefront of modern jazz. Scofield’s distinctive approach to the electric guitar has grown and been nurtured through his stylistic and compositional open mindedness. His love and dedication to traditional jazz as well as contemporary styles has offered Scofield the opportunity to create and collaborate with many legendary artists in his outstanding career.
Scofield was born on December 26, 1951 in Dayton, Ohio. Music became a part of his life upon a family move to Wilton, Connecticut. By age eleven, Scofield began playing the guitar and was deeply inspired by the blues legend BB King.
As Scofield grew into his teens in the late 60s, he witnessed the boom of blues rockers Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was the living embodiment of rock & roll. Upon seeing him live as teenager, Scofield had an instant realization that Hendrix was the pinnacle of rock music. The show pushed him to follow a different path as he soon entered the world of jazz.
Scofield’s enrollment in Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 1970 allowed him to sharpen his guitar skills and discover the inner workings of jazz music. By 1974 he had left college to play in a traditional jazz group with trumpeter Chet Baker and saxophonist Gerry Mulligan. The ensemble was recorded soon after at New York’s legendary Carnegie Hall.
By the mid 70s Scofield had moved on to join a jazz fusion group with master drummer Billy Cobham and pianist George Duke. Substantial touring and two album releases then led to Scofield’s invitation to record with the jazz pioneer Charles Mingus. After years of continued live performance, recording, and composing, Scofield’s efforts then culminated into gaining a highly sought after spot in the band of jazz phenom Miles Davis.
Scofield’s three and a half year tenure with Davis placed him on the world stage and at the cutting edge of modern jazz guitar. As it did with many great musicians, working with Davis pushed Scofield into new musical and mental territory. Davis encouraged Scofield to embrace the bluesy elements of his style, while also experimenting with electronics and pedals.
In addition to being a part of Davis’ touring act, Scofield also offered personal compositions toward three of his albums, including Star People, Decoy, and You’re Under Arrest. “It’s weird, even on an off day, he makes everything come into focus,” says Scofield. “Miles is into all sorts of power trips but whenever he put his horn to his mouth that’s what counted. He made music happen. It gave me faith in humanity.”
Scofield’s time with Davis launched him toward international acclaim. Just prior to his departure with Davis, Scofield began to compose the first of several solo releases in his Gramavision series. Soon after, he signed a deal with the infamous jazz label Blue Note Records which carried him through the 90s.
His consistent and diverse records exemplify not only his range of stylistic ability, but also his gifts as an composer and arranger. “When I compose a tune, I often hear more parts than I end up playing on the guitar,” says Scofield.
Since the late 90s Scofield has fully delved into funk, r&b, and gospel to combine with his jazz sensibilities. His initial collaboration with the jazz-funk trio Medeski, Martin, & Wood, entitled A Go Go, was a brilliant indication his new experimental direction.
Scofield’s move to Verve records coincided with this experiential shift, creating the the albums Bump, Works For Me, Überjam, and Up All Night. A second collaboration, this time under Medeski, Scofield, Martin, &Wood, brought fans the album Out Louder in 2006. Their second outing transpired though a collective creative effort, dawning a second dose of heavy funk with outside jazz leaving listeners on the edge.
Scofield is currently touring in support of his 2009 release, Piety Street. Recorded at a studio on Piety Street in New Orleans, the album contains a collection of gospel songs with a modern touch. With help from with legendary bassist George Porter Jr. of the Meters, pianist & vocalist Jon Cleary, and drummer Ricky Fataar. Scofield brings forth some of his most bluesy and soulful playing to date.
Scofield continues to tour heavily, playing approximately 200 shows internationally each year. “Some people would think, Well you tour so much don’t you get tired of it? And I tell people, yes I get tired of traveling and I miss my family. But I think the only way to play creative music is on tour. You can’t do it at home. I can play in my basement by myself, but it’s not the same as playing with a band and performing.”
Victoria JazzFest 2010
From June 25 through July 4, the 26th annual JazzFest music festival in Victoria, British Columbia will offer fans a variety of jazz, as well as world, blues, r&b, and urban styles. Some of the most incredible artists in jazz music will perform, including George Benson, Stanley Clarke, Bill Frisell, and Mike Stern.
To experience some of John Scofield’s music, seek out and have a listen to these select tracks which are standouts in an extraordinary career. These songs are an excellent starting point for new listeners and a glimpse at his large body of work. Below that, you will find two excellent videos for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!
“Jungle Fiction ” on Uberjam
“Blue Matter” on Blue Matter
“Jeep on 35” on A GoGo (with Medeski, Martin, and Wood)
“I Can See Your House From Here ” on I Can See Your House From Here (with Pat Metheny)
“The Angel of Death” on Piety Street
John Scofield On Video
What Do You Think?
Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts on the music of John Scofield. What are some of your favorite songs or albums? How have they affected you? If you have seen John Scofield in concert, please share some of your comments about the shows.
John Scofield Guitar macskapocs@flickr
John Scofield 2 – Author – willemvanbergen@flickr
John Scofield 3 – Author – nomo/michael hoefner – Wikimedia Commons –