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Published: 2011/10/19
by Randy Ray

A Cosmic Thing Happened with John Scofield

RR: The band is listening to each other so well it is almost tangible. What I also noticed is that the crowd is both very respectful and quiet, yet engaged.

JS: Yeah, they’re not going ape shit because they’re French, first of all. (laughter) But, man, they are listening. They were wonderful, and God bless the social democracies of Europe because they’ve kept creative music going. It’s not just me; it’s so many people that have found a little niche over there.

RR: “Steeplechase” is better than coffee for me from that gig.

JS: Yeah. (laughs) Rhythm changes, man. God bless rhythm changes. That’s George Gershwin, too.

RR: Speaking of hot guitarists, I wanted to talk about your first collaboration with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon this year during their annual run.

JS: Oh, man, it was so much fun. I’ve known Warren and Derek for years, and I’ve played with them a little bit more and more, and a couple times with Derek before, and they’ve always been really nice to me, and I love ‘em. Derek Trucks has changed guitar with the way he plays slide. I don’t know; maybe, there are other people out there that play like that; I haven’t heard ‘em. (laughs) He’s phenomenal. They invited me to play with the Allman Brothers and it was just like guitar love up there.

RR: Seemed appropriate that you were matched with another groundbreaking artist on the first tune, Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

JS: You know what? It’s funny because I got up there, and the stage manager is on the side when you are sitting in with the Allmans, and they’ve been playing for a while before you get up there, and then, they call you up. I got up there and plugged in, and they’re being nice and saying, “Hey, how are you doin’?” and then, Warren yelled to the road manager: “He wasn’t supposed to come up until the next tune!” (laughter) I wasn’t supposed to play on the Dylan tune. So I was there, and they said, “Ahhh, just play.” But that’s a cool tune, man. I always loved that Dylan tune. It’s a funny little blues.

RR: Another collaboration—you played on Eddie Henderson’s record last year, For All We Know. Of course, Eddie used to play with Herbie Hancock.

JS: I’ve known Eddie for many years. I first met him, probably, in like 1980 and have played with him a little bit here in New York. I remember we were playing at the Village Vanguard—I played there for a week with him—and magic mushrooms were somehow involved. That was a long time ago. Anyway, at, I can admit it. (laughter) I have always just loved his playing, and he asked me to play with it on him, and do a record. I had hired him for some gigs, too. He came out and played with my group. He’s a beautiful trumpet player. I think we made that record in four hours. We got there to do the date, and we were just reading down the tunes (laughs), and it was a great band, but Eddie had problems that day. We’d play the tunes, and he’d say, “I can only play each tune once.” (laughter) Yeah, but he’s the real deal, he’s fantastic, and I love his playing.

RR: Earlier, we spoke about Metropole Orkest. Let’s talk about the composer Vince Mendoza, who leads that project in your collaborations.

JS: Oh, yes, Vince, man. He’s another one of these like-minded individuals that we just seem to have a musical hook up that seems to work together. I feel so lucky to get to ride in his Maserati or something. That’s what it feels like when you’re playing as part of a

Vince Mendoza arrangement because of these incredible, lush orchestral things. I’ve played on a bunch of his records, and we did 54 [2010 release] together with the Metropole Orkest. I keep hearing his songs and thinking that if I could write a song, it would be that one that he’s written, and then, hearing him orchestrate my tunes for the record 54 just works together. We have the same something. Turns out he plays guitar, too. I didn’t even realize that until later on. I knew he was a trumpet player who became an arranger, and then, he plays keyboards to write. But it turns out, he was a guitar player from the beginning.

RR: And, we must touch upon another fine and well-chosen collaboration—recently, you played again with Medeski, Martin & Wood.

JS: The concert started with Bachir Attar [from the Master Musicians of Jajouka] playing with them for about a half hour, and then I got up and we did our thing. But, that was amazing. To hear that music, the Moroccan music, wow, that was unreal. We have the live double CD coming out, MSMW Live: In Case The World Changes Its Mind, which is the title of one of the tunes on there. We recorded it in 2006 and 2007 on tour. It’s pretty excessive, man. I love these guys. There’s a 25-minute tune on there. (laughs)

Hey, man, MMW is my favorite band. They have been since I met them in whatever, ’96. They are so special. They are magic and they want to go to a special place and they allow it to happen. And that’s what jambands are all about—what these guys are doing. To me, they’re the ones who carry the legacy of the Dead, but, also, Miles, and the Art Ensemble [of Chicago], and Sun Ra, and all this stuff. There are so many elements of jazz in there. It is jazz, but the J word is…there’s too many kinds of music to call it anything specific, but they are coming out of the tradition of jazz music, as well as all the offshoots. But, mainly, again, they’re just a band. This is a band that speaks a language to each other, and when they play together, magnificent things happen that are completely improvised.

RR: You are going to hit a milestone on December 26. When you think of yourself, if you think of yourself in a chronological way, is it a particular age?

JS: I don’t think of myself until I look in the mirror and I say, “Oh, wait a minute.” (laughter)

RR: Throw away the mirrors.

JS: Then I’m still 12, or 11. (laughter) Yeah, I feel the same as I’ve always felt. It’s actually more fun and more rewarding as I get older. Hopefully, my body won’t completely disintegrate anytime soon, but it’s great to be part of this whole thing and to keep playing with people and playing music. It’s a people thing that becomes more important than anything after a while, and I’m so lucky that people like the way I play the guitar, and I get to play for people and play with people and be part of this whole thing and talk with you on the phone right now. You’ve got to realize how lucky you are. That
happens as you get older; you count your blessings.

I’m probably getting better. At a certain point, you want to just not disintegrate, but I’ve been able to play enough so that I’ve kept my shit in shape. I stopped drinking 15 years ago, so that’s not hangin’ me up. You know. Yeah, I’m getting to play enough so that, hopefully, I can keep going, keep moving. I just want to improve a little bit gradually and keep what I’ve got like we all do, right? (laughs) I’m lucky because I had some friends that I grew up with that don’t work that much, that don’t get to play. And I do.

Also, my wife and kids have put up with this. It’s really really weird to have your husband gone half the time. And the kids had their father gone half the time, and my wife raised them, and I’ve been really lucky there.

RR: Indeed.

JS: Man, I’m glad you dug those sounds. Keep writing. We need you in music.

RR: All right. I’ll do that, John.

JS: (laughs) Yeah.

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