Up early with John Scofield—Part 1

As some may know already, guitar great John Scofield and his band are returning to Rockford July 18 for a performance at Kryptonite. The buzz has been going around town for more than a few months, and every music lover I know has nabbed tickets early to beat the rush. A self-proclaimed jazz guitarist, Scofield has performed the Rockford circuit in the past at On The Waterfront festival. But his tour list definitely goes beyond local Midwestern fairs, as he just recently returned from Europe and found time to sit down and talk to The Rock River Times.

Scofield is one of the most respected and loved musicians in and out of the industry, and excitement is building for his nearing performance. Blending styles of rock, jazz, funk and eastern ethnic influences, his musicianship is versatile, fluent and beyond contemporary.

With all this backing Scofield’s name, one would assume that he would have some sort of arrogance or at least a trace of the “Serious Musician Attitude” (SMA). However, not only did he grant the local weekly an interview, but he was one of the nicest, most patient and interesting musicians I have been fortunate enough to speak within the two years I’ve been at the paper. That’s not necessarily high praise when one considers the interview with Vanilla Fudge last year, but trust me—Scofield is a great guy. So at 8 a.m. on a Thursday morning, I made the call to the East Coast, praying that he was expecting my call. After a few rings, and some initial small talk…(Writer’s note: the following interview has been slightly edited for length and a few unclear parts that didn’t make it on tape. )

The Rock River Times: Well, I won’t take up too much of your time…we’re not a huge paper, so we don’t have a whole lot of room, but we really appreciate you giving us your time.

Scofield: Oh, no problem. Thanks for writing about it. Whatever you can do.

TRRT: Of course, well everybody is very excited to hear you in Rockford, so…to start off, what is the most tiresome and/or commonly asked question you get from interviewers? Just so I know…

S: Well, umm, as for tiresome, people always ask me about Miles Davis, whose band I used to play in, so it’s natural that they ask me…The most common question is “Can you tell us an anecdote about Miles?” At this point, it’s been like, 20 years since I played in his band, and I get to telling the same anecdotes.

TRRT: What do you usually end up telling them?

S: I forget … It’s hard to come up with a new anecdote every time. (Laughter) It’s hard to come up with an answer to the same question that has any life, you know?

TRRT: Well, now I know what not to ask you…Would you define yourself as a “jazz guitarist?”

S: Yeah, I would. Even though the music that this band is playing, umm, a lot of people would listen to it and say “No, that’s not real jazz.” And I understand what they mean, but, you know, I’ve always loved jazz, I’ve always studied jazz, I’ve always played jazz…but the music this band plays is a combination of jazz and funk…

TRRT: So you wouldn’t consider the term obsolete?

S: No, not at all, because part of the tradition…the music that we’re playing is not “straight ahead” jazz, but it couldn’t exist without straight ahead jazz. Without classic jazz, our music wouldn’t be there…it’s really an important part of what we do. (Writer’s note: Here, the tape stopped recording for a few minutes, but Scofield did make some really good comments—so good, that I even jotted them down. He made the comparison to purity in jazz with ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, and mentioned the Albanians trying to kick Serbs out for racial purity. He also called himself a “jazz geek.”)

TRRT: How have you observed changes in the response to your music since the ’70s, if at all?

S: Yeah, ummm, it goes up and down. I think the biggest change lately was about five years ago when we cut a record of mine called A Go Go. And, A Go Go has the other guys with me on the album who were the same as Medeski Martin & Wood, and they were really getting famous for being in the jam band scene…so when I played a record with them, a whole new audience started coming to my concerts. You know, basically college age kids.

TRRT: With tour dates all over the world with few breaks in between…

S: Well (laughter) actually, we’re always on tour…we’re in the middle of a tour and very busy…

We’ll take a break here for spacing, but will continue post facto in the following issue after his performance. Tune in next week to find out Scofield’s response, who sequenced his latest album Up All Night, who his favorite new musicians are, and a number of other exciting answers from this well-established musician. Make sure to check out his show with rhythm guitarist/sampler Avi Bortnick, drummer Adam Deitch and bassist Andy Hess, on Friday, July 18, at Kryptonite, 308 W. State St. Show starts at 10 p.m., and general admission is $20. For information, call 965-0931.

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