John Scofield with SNJO : Loud Jazz & Electric Miles
When Miles Davis hired John Scofield in 1982 he was adding a guitarist with real blues feeling as well great jazz chops to a band that was wowing audiences world-wide with at least one of the tunes you are going to hear tonight, Jean Pierre, whose simple melody and structure are ripe for exploration and expansion.
For Scofield, this was the most prestigious staging post to date in a career that had already included work with jazz legends Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Gary Burton and it was the gig that would establish him, alongside Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, as one of the three most distinctive-sounding and influential jazz guitarists of their generation.
Scofield had come to jazz as Davis’s embracing of rock and funk rhythms in the late 1960s grew into an electric storm that drew listeners previously unaware of jazz into the music in varying degrees. Some concentrated on the development of fusion into the 1970s and onwards. Others like Scofield, however, who had taken up guitar at high school in Connecticut, inspired by rhythm and blues and soul music, delved into the history of jazz and quickly became immersed in the music’s mainstream while continuing to find excitement in improvising on blues and jazz scales over a rock and funk pulse.
Having studied at Berklee College of Music in Massachusetts and played around the Boston area, he recorded a live album with Mulligan and Baker – at Carnegie Hall, New York, no less – and joined the group in which he made his first big impression internationally, the Billy Cobham-George Duke Band.
Here among a repertoire that featured heavy duty riffing, scarily accomplished ensemble playing and nutty, irreverent humour that Duke had carried over from his years with Frank Zappa, Scofield attracted fans through his direct and exhilarating soloing. It’s a style he has focused on many times in the thirty-five years since then, notably in his band with drum sensation Dennis Chambers and on albums such as Time on My Hands and Meant to Be, which between them produced Wabash the Third, Since You Asked, and Go Blow, all of which have been specially arranged for tonight’s concert.
What makes Scofield particularly appealing, however, is the breadth of his work and his ability to approach, with the same depth of feeling, the pastoral beauty of his Gil Evans-like album Quiet; the return to his R&B roots of Green Tea, whose dancing New Orleans groove the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra’s drummer, Alyn Cosker, is just going to love laying down here; his engagement with loops and street rhythms on Up All Night; his adventures into soul-jazz with Eddie Harris; and his appreciation of straightahead values that informed his 1990s recordings with saxophonist Joe Henderson.
There is one other very significant strand in Scofield’s musical character that goes back to his return to acoustic jazz after the Cobham-Duke band when he formed a partnership with bass guitarist Steve Swallow that has continued through a full and very diverse career that now runs to thirty-five years and counting.
Scofield’s trio work with Swallow, beginning with the album Shinola and carrying on through the delightfully punning Bar Talk, highlight a vocal quality in his guitar playing that Miles Davis must have appreciated as much as his blues feeling and that makes the man they call “Sco” the perfect voice to feature as soloist on the song-like, latter day Miles classics Tutu, Splatch and that French nursery rhyme that you may well leave the hall singing, Jean Pierre.