Continuing his series on the jazz guitar greats John Wheatcroft looks at a contemporary giant of the genre, the amazing John Scofield.
John Wheatcroft gets down and bluesy with one of jazz-fusion’s greatest exponents, the scarily good John Scofield.
John Scofield’s style continues to evolve, encapsulating the best elements from jazz, rock, blues, funk and soul to create a sound that’s unmistakably ‘him’. ‘Sco’ picked up his first guitar aged 11 and learned the hits of the day. In his early teens he developed a keen interest in rock and blues guitarists such as Hendrix, Clapton and BB King, influences that can still be clearly heard in his playing. By the time he reached 16 he was a fully-fledged jazzer with a small but intelligent record collection including George Benson and Pat Martino, along with classic jazzers Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
Scofield attended Berklee College of Music and, by his own admission, had to work hard to make the grade. This determination has remained throughout his career, with a drive to remain fresh, current and cutting edge. After graduating, John came to the attention of drummer Billy Cobham, with a band including both Michael and Randy Brecker. This led to work with notable artists such as George Duke, Stan Getz and Chet Baker.
Sco’s big break came when saxophonist Bill Evans suggested him to trumpeter Miles Davis, working alongside the equally amazing Mike Stern on the road and performing on the albums Star People, You’re Under Arrest and Decoy. It was inevitable that John would go solo and for the last 30 years he has enjoyed a remarkable career as leader and composer, with an extensive portfolio of releases in a wide variety of styles and contexts.
John’s note selection is impeccable; with intelligent melodic choices his lines weave effortlessly through even the most complex changes. Articulation is a big part of his sound, utilising bends, slurs, slides, volume swells and much besides, achieving an almost vocal singing tone. He also has a remarkable sense of balance, blending stable ‘inside’ notes with ‘outside’ chromatic tensions and in a convincing and compelling way.
There are nine Scofield phrases presented here, illustrating the kinds of ideas that he might draw from his extensive vocabulary. We’re looking predominantly at how he might approach playing over one chord.
There is so much to hear in his playing that you need to listen with close attention to detail. It’s rather like an actor, attempting to pick up the subtle nuances of a regional dialect without actually hearing a native speaker in full flow. You need to hear him first hand to pick up on the dynamic and timbral diversity, along with the subtle ebb and flow of his much lauded sense of time and feel.
John Scofield plays his Ibanez signature model