Film review

‘Inside John Scofield’ (film by Joerg Steineck)

Inside John Scofield

(Joerg Steineck / Director. Film 87 mins (145 min with DVD extras). Film review by Denny Ilett)

Less of a traditional biography and more of a slice-of-life portrait of a self-described ‘Road Dog’, Inside John Scofield is an intimate and personal glimpse into what makes the man tick, and continue ticking, as we follow him tour with his latest quartet Combo 66.

For touring musicians, so much of this movie will resonate. The intense bond that develops between touring partners, the fun times, logistical issues, the loneliness that can come from the seemingly endless travelling and, of course, the music.

For fans of John Scofield it’s a reminder of what makes him a truly unique and vitally important musician; one who’s sole aim is to exchange ideas with other musicians and share those ideas with an audience.

Along the way we hear from many of John’s longtime friends and associates including Joe Lovano, Steve Swallow, Jon Cleary, Bill Evans and Dave Holland as well as fellow guitarists Mike Stern, Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell. The scenes with Lovano are especially touching as the two old friends chat and reminisce in a local café. Metheny’s comment that “there’s a truth in his playing” couldn’t sum up Scofield better.

All this is interspersed with footage of John’s quartet on trains, in cars, at rehearsal, soundcheck and in performance and, what a quartet! Bill Stewart (drums), Gerald Clayton (keys) and Vicente Archer (bass) represent yet another example of just what a great and generous bandleader Scofield is and always has been. That rare ability to surround himself with musicians that allow him complete freedom of expression whilst, at the same time, being a true band with each getting ample space to shine in their own right. As he says “It’s my band but, once we start to play, I’m just another member of the band.”

Scofield’s approach to bandleading reminds one of his former boss Miles Davis who consistently found new ways to frame his trumpet with handpicked combinations of musicians that kept him energised and inspired. Scofield has always done the same with that happy by-product of introducing new and exciting young jazz musicians to a wider audience.

John narrates the movie with the style and pace of an old sage around a campfire. He talks about everything from his early inspirations to the trials and tribulations of maintaining a 40-year career in a fast-changing world. He talks philosophically of music and his lifelong relationship with it. He talks of how Covid impacted him and those around him. He talks openly and honestly, just as he does when he plays his guitar.

He sounds animated when talking about his new quartet and he sounds sad when talking about the fact that many of the clubs he grew up in no longer exist. He’s keen to namecheck and give the spotlight to those around him that help and support him while on tour. One gets to end feeling as though they’ve had a private conversation with him in a quiet after hours bar.

The most striking element, however, is found in the musical passages which prove, yet again, that this 70-year-old Road Dog is playing better than ever. The John Scofield of today seems, more than ever, clearly and completely comfortable with his musical voice. A voice developed over many years that now displays a truly masterful quality. Those sinewy, snakelike post-bop lines laced with blues and full of surprise make Scofield one of the most instantly recognisable jazz voices in history. Inside John Scofield is a vital addition to his story and an important document for those of us that want to get to know the maestro a little better.

Public screenings are currently planned for Dortmund (German premiere)and Portland, Oregon. DETAILS.

LINKS: Inside Scofield homepage

Pre-order Vimeo / Video on Demand

Pre-order DVD (Limited Edition)

LJN Interview with Joerg Steineck from May 2020

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