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Published: 1999/09/15
by Dean Budnick

Sco For It: John Scofield reflects on Making Music with Miles, MMW and His Own Band

John Scofield is a hero to many. The Berklee-trained guitar player emerged from that school in the mid-seventies and plunged into the jazz scene in a trial by fire performing with such legendary players as Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. His career carried him from one legend to another, recording with Charles Mingus and serving a three year stint in Miles Davis’ band.

Many readers of jambands.com probably know Scofield best through his recording with John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood, A Go Go. His tour in support of that release with Clyde Stubblefield performing for a honeymooning Billy Martin won him a new range of fans. Last month he enlivened the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival with his participation in its all-star jam. On September 25th he’ll make his second consecutive appearance at the Autumn Equinox Festival, appearing with his quartet.

John took some time a few days after his performance at Berkfest to speak about the full scope of his career as well as his current and future projects. For updated info, or just to scratch your head in amazement at his complete discography visit www.johnscofield.com.

DB: Let’s start off talking about A Go Go, which is probably how some of our readers came to discover your music. How did that come about?

JS: I was a fan of MMW. I had heard their albums and I became convinced when I heard Shack-man that I should play with those guys because the style of music they played was so close to my own. Billy Martin’s drumming has a certain kind of looseness and jazziness- it’s a New Orleans thing. There has always been a kind of r&b that swung, and it turns out that a lot of it comes from these New Orleans drummers of thirty years ago. I’ve always tried to play with people who like playing funk type stuff but they’re hard to find. A lot of guys who are into funk are more into the fusion style like the Dave Sanborn style, which is great but it’s just a different way of playing it. But when I heard these guys I said “This is it, this is who I want to play with.” I wanted to make a more funky record. My previous one had been an acoustic record called Quiet, and I was really ready to do something hopping. So I called them and asked them. At that point I knew they were crossing over into some kind of market but I didn’t really know what that was. I didn’t really know about the jam band scene. I knew about MMW from playing in New York.

DB: How were your songs transformed when you went into the studio with them?

JS: MMW just took the songs and put their own thing on it. It’s hard to express in words but they put their personal spin on it. And it worked out that their personal spin made me want to play too and join in. It was never “Oh that’s different from what I wanted and I don’t like it.” It was always “Oh that’s a little bit different but it’s great.” Every song changed because they have such a stylized sound on their own. That was another really fun thing. Usually you get a bunch of musicians and the sound that comes together has its own sound but they already had this own developed thing that they do, and I just fit in.

DB: After that record came out you went out on tour with Clyde Stubblefield. How did that come about?

JS: Well Billy got married and he went out on a honeymoon so he wasn’t available.

DB: How did you find Clyde?

JS: I was a fan of his because he had played on all those James Brown records that we all grew up on. He was part of that generation that invented funk. Medeski and Wood were real into him too, and when we were talking about the different possibilities on drums, they said that they had played with Clyde when they were out in Wisconsin and that he was in great shape. So we decided to call him and he agreed to do it. I loved it. He’s a great man, a wonderful guy and he really does sit in the groove like nobody else.

DB: Let’s move to a related topic. I am curious, to what extent have your audiences changed over the past year or two?

JS: It’s certainly different because of the A Go Go record and because of MMW. The audience which is coming to check me out is in part a college audience that wasn’t coming to hear me before. Here’s what I know about the jam band scene which is admittedly not a lot: it seems like at these festivals that jazz-rock especially (and I use that term lightly, I don’t mean a style, I mean any kind of jazz that has a groove, it could be anything from Les McCann to Pharaoh Sanders to Miles Davis- that’s old stuff), anything that has a groove to it these fans will get right into. This is because the idea of improvisation to them is not at all strange, it’s part of the deal. It’s part of the whole jam thing. It IS the jam thing. So jazz fits right in. Groups like the Greyboy Allstars and MMW fit right in. So the next step is why not check me out, I’ve been doing that sort of stuff for a long time. I love the way at these festivals how one band will be kind of bluegrassy, and then there will be this real rock thing happening and then my group which is a jazz group of sorts will come on. And all these groups are getting listened to. The audiences are willing to give varied types of music a chance and they get off on seeing it come together. They get off on a band taking chances and seeing it all happen- that whole magic thing when it does work- it’s spiritual and wonderful.

DB: How do these audience react differently from your more traditional jazz audiences?

JS: They react differently because they’re dancing, or at least many of them are. A lot of people want to dance which I love. I am not one of those people who gets upset by that. I prefer people to relate physically to the music rather than just to sit there. I get off on it.

DB: Do you think there is a reciprocal energy between yourself and the audience?

JS: Definitely. I’ve never been mentally so far away from my electric rock and roll guitar roots. I started out playing in seventh grade and high school bands. I love that feeling of it. I love playing in jazz clubs for jazz audiences when people get into it and shout. Our music is primarily hot stuff and it’s supposed to be responded to. I know other musicians who aren’t like that, who prefer the concert hall serious atmosphere which I like too, and I can understand that. But man, I like it when people get into it. I like it to be a party of sorts.

DB: Tell us a little about your current quartet.

JS: We have Marlon Browden on drums. He’s a fantastic drummer from New York City, twenty-six years old and getting better ever day. Will Boulware is on organ. He’s my age and he’s played with a whole lot of bands, most recently Maceo Parker. He’s wonderful. Now on bass is James Genus, who has played with the Brecker Bothers and a bunch of other groups.

DB: Would you describe the quartet’s current sound as in the same mode as the music on A Go Go?

JS: Right now it is because we have the same instrumentation. It’s definitely in that same A Go Go area but it’s going to stretch out as well. Plus I have some new songs.

DB: Will you be heading back to the studio anytime soon?

JS: Yes, and it is going to be different because I am not going to use all the guys in my band. First of all I’ve decided to make an album without organ. This is because not only A Go Go but the two albums before that, Groove Elation and Hand Jive had Larry Goldings on organ. I love organ. It’s like you love devil’s food cake but at a certain point you have to stop eating it for a bit. So the organ orgy is going to be over on my next record. Just because it is such an identifiable sound. So there’s going to be no organ and then I’m going to play with a bunch of different rhythm sections that I like. The drummer Erik Kalb and the percussionist Johnny Durkin from Deep Banana Blackout are going to play along with a bass player named Davey Livolsi who is Erik’s friend. They came over to play in the basement of my house and we got into some really good stuff. I am trying to get Chris Wood to that session but I’m not sure if he’s in town. Then I also have the rhythm section, bass and drums from a group called Sex Mob, that’s Tony Sherr and Kenny Wollenson. Those are guys I’ve known from the New York scene and I love the way they play. I will also have Mark Di Gli Antoni who is the keyboard player from Soul Coughing. Actually he’s more than a keyboard player, he’s a sonic environmentalist. Actually I’m not sure what he does because I don’t know how he does it- he’s going to come out and I’m real excited about that. Since I’m not having any organ on the record I thought there would be room for him to come in and do his thing.

DB: When do you think that will be released?

JS: Next spring. The working title is Loose Canon.

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