An original guitar player who got his start listening to horn solos
New York — Jazz guitarist John Scofield, who appeared last week with his band at the JVC Jazz Festival here, is a busy man these days. Enjoying the success of his latest album, ``Blue Matter,'' Mr. Scofield has been traveling all over the United States this spring and summer and will leave soon for Canada and Europe. After that - more US touring. It may have been Scofield's three years with Miles Davis's band that really put him on the map, but the guitarist has been developing his own individuality on the instrument for some time. A truly original improvisor and writer in the jazz/fusion style, Scofield says he owes his sound not to other guitar players but to horn players.
``I couldn't play like the guitar players I wanted to play like. ... I couldn't copy them well enough,'' said Scofield in a recent interview. Although he started out wanting to play like B.B. King and other great blues guitarists, Scofield soon decided he wanted to learn about jazz. ``When I went to Berklee [College of Music] in 1970, I was listening to the Miles Davis Quintet, the John Coltrane Quartet, and that stuff, and there were no guitar players in those groups. So I got into playing bop and post-bop horn stuff on the guitar. Now I feel like I do have my own style, although you can trace everything I play back to somebody else.''
In his performances, Scofield is full of surprises - his improvisations never go quite where you would expect, and he's able to combine driving, funky jazz/rock fusion with shimmering lyricism, even throwing in some country blues licks, somehow making it all fit together.
But the guitarist says, ``I think in a way I'm conservative. I always liked guys like Miles because I play basically tonal music. I've always been fascinated with guys that could play in and out - play on standard things, but play notes that sounded different and had dissonance. But I like the standard forms, the tried and true, whether I'm playing funk or jazz or whatever.''
What about his experience in the Miles Davis band?
``It was great, because when that man wants to, he can summon up the spirits. The great thing about jazz players is their sound and their scope of feeling. Miles is so beyond the practice-your-scales-and-get-real-fast showoff stage - it's nice to play with someone that's real mature like that. He's a difficult person at times - he's been a superstar since he was a young man. But all that is completely superseded by his musicianship.... For me he's a beautiful, beautiful voice.''
Scofield recalled an incident that happened when he was in Davis's band, when they recorded a blues tune that never made it onto a record:
``Miles took this really long, great trumpet solo, and I took a guitar solo afterwards. He played one of those classic Miles blues solos - a real sophisticated blues, and to me it's one of the greatest things he does. Then I played my solo with some weird notes, and when I heard the tape, I thought `I sound like an amateur next to this guy.'
``But he said, `boy, I wish I'd taken a solo like you.' I said, `Miles, that's really crazy, why would you want to do that?' And he said, `because I've played the solo I played before.' And I thought, `this guy wants to change so much that he'd rather sound bad than sound formulated.' I don't think I'll ever be like that - I'm not that bold.''
And Scofield added, with characterictic humility, ``Now I just want to get on this music so I don't mess up so much, get a little more consistent, get the guitar in tune - just the basic stuff about playing an instrument. I'm really into this band and seeing how that goes. I think that collaboration is the essence of great jazz.''