Going into the studio on his own to record a solo album had never appealed to John Scofield. From his flat in New York, Scofield spoke to Belgian writer Jean-Pierre Goffin about how his first solo album – entitled “John Scofield” and now out on ECM – came about This interview has appeared in French on the Jazzmania site :
Jean-Pierre Goffin: After dozens and dozens of recordings, this is your first solo album: would it have happened without lockdown?
JS: No! You know I really started to make solo gigs where I used my loops and pedals to back myself up a little bit. And that made me enjoy that, but when I thought making a record, well it meant going to a studio just by myself and maybe I would feel too self-conscious, and I also had a lot of other projects. But with Covid, I decided to record myself at home because I had nothing else to do.
J-PG: Did you have to acquire any new equipment to make the recording?
JS: Yes, but the technology makes it so easy to do it by yourself; I bought this universal audio OX that allows you to get a great guitar sound through virtual stuff. Without a microphone it is really easy, but it sounds great to me. Some of the old virtual amps didn’t sound good, but this is a real amp but with a virtual speaker, and it is much better than what I heard in the past.”
J-PG: Did you ever think adding other instruments like Gilad Hekselman did for his new album?
JS: I have already done this kind of stuff before, it is called overdubbing. I would prefer to play with other musicians in real time, where the response is possible. The loops I was playing with were responding, but it is not the same when using drums. You got to have a dialogue, that’s what I do with jazz; for other kinds of music it’s fine.
J-PG: Did you choose the repertoire in advance?
JS: Actually, I decided the repertoire before the pandemics, I was already playing these gigs, I played maybe ten solo gigs over two years, and I had already the repertoire, it changed a little bit because in solo you can choose one or two standards , or old songs, there is a lot of possibilities.
J-PG: Most of the tunes on the album seem to track your career. “There Will Never Be Another You” for instance is on your first ever recording live at Carnegie Hall in 1975 with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker...
JS: Well, I have a great memory of that night, you know. I was very young and I hadn’t done very much. I was at Berklee School of Music and I was living in Boston. Alan Dawson the drummer referred me to Gerry, he said this guy could play. I played just one week with Gerry, that’s all I had done, in Boston at the Jazz Workshop. And then , a month later, I didn’t know but Gerry was calling me again and I got a call to do the Carnegie Hall concert. I was very excited to play with Gerry and Chet. Actually, I was very nervous because it was playing in Carnegie Hall, the concert was recorded , Creed Taylor from CTI Records was there, Ron Carter what a hell was there, and Bob James, Harvey Mason… I didn’t know Chet and I was amazed I could really hold my pick, you know… And that night, Chet did a beautiful version of “There Will Never Be Another You”. I have always loved that song, and I play it ever since.
J-PG: “Not Fade Away” is there too. Have you harboured rock’n roll guitar playing dreams?
JS: A rock star, oh yeah! Sure I love rock’n roll. I played a lot of rock’n roll when I was a kid. I have always loved rock, soul, rhythm’n blues… I have never thought being a rock musician because to be a rock star you have to be a good singer. But jazz was so interesting to me and that’s the only thing I can do very well. Of course you can hear rock elements in my music, that’s part of it. But I have never thought to be Eric Clapton.
J-PG: When you play with “Govn’t Mule” or “Medeski, Martin Wood”, there is a lot of rock stuff.
JS: Absolutely, and jazz works with this kind of music.
J-PG: There is another piece influenced by the blues called “Elder Dance”
JS: Again that’s how I started. Maybe you remember at the end of the sixties this blues explosion. For everybody interested in guitar Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Junior Wells, especially BB King , and Otis Rush, I love them. And of course there is Hendrix, Clapton and Jeff Beck… There were a lot of people at that time who knew about the blues and I was really into that.
J-PG: There are also other tunes from older records like “Honest I Do” and “Mrs Scofield’s Waltz”. I’ve read that a lot of the titles of your compositions have been created by your wife.
JS: Yes! Crazy, isn’t it? I think she is smarter than me, she is good with words. I let her know what my compositions let me think of. And she usually has some words that describe it better than I do. Actually on this record “Honest I Do” is from her, a kind of love song. And another song called “Since You Were Asked” is the kind of title I don’t how it came to her mind. She is good at that. Bur now she is sometimes tired with doing that.”
J-PG: When you play standards, do you think of the words?
JS: Well I’m not sure. But when I play a melody, I play it differently if I don’t know the words, because there are some songs that if I don’t know the words I rewrite the melody. If I do know the words, it seems it gives a kind of realism, it really helps me mainly with great songs.
J-PG: Fred Hersch once told me he couldn’t play songs with silly words like “Polka Dots and Moonbeans”…
JS: Oh yes, these are too corny words. I can play that song without the words! I love the changes and the melody, but the words are too corny.”
J-PG: You will be touring Europe in July with a new group called “Yankee Go Home”…
JS: Well I called it “Yankee go Home”, I suppose it is a kind of joke. A lot of people in South America and sometimes in Europe demonstrated again American intervention in some countries. And I thought: would American playing in Europe go home? We play so much in Europe, we are so lucky that we have such a great audience. So this band plays songs from the babyboomers years that I rearranged: we play version of rock’n roll songs in a jazzy style, like Grateful Dead “Standing on the Moon”, “The Creator has a Master Plan”, Burt Bacharach’s “Alfie”, , “Hey Joe” by Jimi Hendrix….
J-PG: Are you going to play it with you teeth then?
JS: You never know… (laughs)
J-PG: You have played in so many different groups, duo, trio, quartet, large orchestra, “Gov’nt Mule”, “Medeski, Martin, Wood”… What’s left (or rather left-field) for John Scofield?
JS: Well I don’t have any crazy exciting ideas, I just want to make a good record where the jazz is good. I have just had a great tour with Bill Stewart on drums and Vincente Archer on bass. The communication is so great that I want to do more with them. I’d also like to record with “Yankee go Home” and our duo with Dave Holland. Next year I’m going to play a duo concert with Gerald Clayton.
With thanks to Jean-Pierre Goffin