John Scofield loves his little animals. Doug and Janet are the guitarist's miniature dachshunds, and Annabel and Betty are his twin turtles. "I'm way into them," says the 51-year-old jazz-and-jam guitarist. But since Scofield is touring half of the time, and his daughter, Jeannie, is away at college, his wife, Susan, and their 16-year-old son, Evan, watch the critters in their three-story house, which towers charmingly over a dirt road in Katonah, N.Y., an hour outside of Manhattan.
"John's had Martha [Stewart] sightings," Susan says of the house-and-home guru who lives in the area. "She's even made fun of our fat dog. We've also run into Ralph Lauren, who lives in the area, and Bill Clinton, who lives nearby."
"My daughter met [Clinton] once," John says. "He said to her, 'Your dad's John Scofield? I love his playing. Is he a Democrat?' And she said, 'Yes, he is.'" Scofield is well-versed in party politics, laughingly vowing to become "mayor of Katonah or die trying."
The guitarist isn't giving up his jazz career just yet. He got into the music as a kid in Connecticut and later studied at Berklee College of Music in the early 1970s. Scofield recorded with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan shortly thereafter and eventually found stage time with McCoy Tyner, Charles Mingus and, in the 1980's, Miles Davis. "Miles was great, but I'd like to be something more than a guy who played with a legend," Scofield says.
While jazz-guitar aficionados have been long Sco-obsessed, he grabbed the ears of jam-band fans in 1997 with A Go Go, a grits-and-gravy album with plenty of funk-jazz appeal, which he cut with Medeski Martin and Wood. "Godamnit, I'm proud to wear the jam-band banner," Scofield says. "But Katonah's not the jam center of the world, so I usually rent rehearsal spaces in the city."
But Katonah is home, and the Scofields' house is also an office for the business, of which Susan is the manager. "Susan's pragmatic, centered and smart," her hubby says. "It's kind of a jazz tradition to keep it in the family." The rest of the house is for the family. The home's wooden floors are covered in Persian rugs, and the décor is fitted with country furniture;
pastel drawings are on the walls. Naturally, the guitarist's favorite space is the practice studio.
A typical Scofield day at home goes like this: "I'm buzzing at 6 a.m. to get Evan ready for school. Then I'll noodle around, practice downstairs, walk the dogs and pick Evan up. I like carting him around, dragging him to his jujitsu classes. He's down there now, kicking butt and getting his butt kicked." Evan composes poetry, and Jeannie's creative, too, having just graduated with a music degree from New York University. She's interned at Verve and Warner Bros., and her father says, "We'll see if she's the next Clive Davis."
You might think that because he's been accepted so willingly by jam-band audiences that Scofield enjoys elevating to those "higher planes" that many of his fans undoubtly do. Not anymore. "I don't drink, but I used to be way into it. And I used to smoke pot, but I stopped getting high five years ago because it was messing me up. The whole idea that we need to alter our consciousness to be creative is just a myth. I liked getting high, but creativity lives inside us."