June 17, 2024

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John Scofield: Showing off is not his thing: Video, Photo

Easy-going master: Boxing Day John Scofield is as original and versatile as he is.

Even jazz musicians don’t do everything right. Except for John Scofield. It may be due to a guitarist trait that cool jazz guru Miles Davis was quick to spot. When the two crossed paths in the early 1980s, Miles brought the young man from Dayton, Ohio into his open pool of musicians. Reason: Now he finally has someone who can teach his guitarist Mike Stern a little understatement. Whether the taming of the wild Mike Stern by the reserved John Scofield worked may be unclear; their interaction at Miles was short-lived anyway. What remains to be noted, however, is that John Scofield’s never boasting guitar playing, far removed from any star posturing, has secured him the sympathy of the guild and opened many doors in jazz and other musical genres.

Anyone who asks a jazz guitarist about his role models or rockers who they value as jazz musicians can bet that the name Scofield will come up. Of course, this is primarily related to his musical competence, and in turn to an almost encyclopedic variety of styles, which he masters without posing as a musical polymath. The best example of how John Scofield doses his skill and discreetly hints at his knowledge is the track “She Was Young” from his recent recording “Swallow Tales” from last year with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart. Towards the end of the improvisations – cleverly prepared on his Ibanez AS-200 from 1986 – sharp distorted tones emerge as if blown over from another sound world. And shortly thereafter follows a rock ‘n’ roll lick, as one remembers from the legendary Chuck Berry, before he began one of his curious duckwalks across the stage. It doesn’t need more to indicate that nothing musical is alien to him.

After training at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, John Scofield had a spectacular start on the professional music scene in 1974 with the reunion of Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker in New York’s Carnegie Hall, before joining Billy Cobham’s power band. Musical highlights followed, performances with Charles Mingus and Gary Burton, with Lee Konitz, Ron Carter, McCoy Tyner, Joe Lovano and finally enrollment at Miles Davis’ private jazz university. He probably also learned from Miles to give young musicians a chance and at the same time to give himself musical rejuvenation. It was fascinating how his style changed and yet always remained the same, always with this clear, sometimes also edgy, melodically comprehensible, blues-oriented playing without virtuoso frills.

This becomes noticeable in the chamber music compressions with Marc Johnson’s “Bass Desires”, the duo album with Pat Metheny “I Can See Your House from Here” and the exotic trips to India on “Überjam”, then in his soul jazz adaptations with “Up All Night” or the folk outings with Larry Goldings on “Country for Old Men”. When the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage was looking for some jazz soloists for his orchestral work “Blood on the Floor” with the Ensemble Modern, the choice fell naturally on John Scofield. And in this dark-melancholic avant-garde composition, too, John Scofield has designed his part “Elegy for Andy”, which is completely fixed in notes, with his characteristically striking jazz articulation, without actually playing jazz. Among contemporary jazz guitarists, he is one of the most productive, versatile, original, open and certainly one who has remained young at heart. On Boxing Day he will be seventy.

John Scofield 2009 in Montreux

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