Con­tin­u­ing his se­ries on the jazz gui­tar greats John Wheatcroft looks at a con­tem­po­rary gi­ant of the genre, the amaz­ing John Scofield.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

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

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