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John Scofield: Will the Real John Scofield Please Stand Up?

John Scofield (photo: Jimmy Katz)
John Scofield (photo: Jimmy Katz)
John Scofield (photo: Jimmy Katz)

People mean well, but in their haste to ascribe predictable, quantifiable attributes to musicians, they inevitably succumb to the temptation to shoehorn them into neat little bags—all the more convenient to circumscribe, categorize and contract. When it comes to American music—jazz, if you like—one size does not fit all, and oftentimes a musician’s range of interest and evolving sense of self is too wide-ranging to fall into any one category. And so, we sometimes find ourselves debating how many angels can fit onto the head of a pin, instead of focusing on the attributes of each angel as an individual in his or her own right.

Guitarist John Scofield has made a career out of confounding such narrow expectations. From the very first time I heard him play with Gary Burton, Steve Swallow and Joe LaBarbera at a now defunct jazz venue in Brooklyn, circa 1977, right through his most recent releases—the after-hours blues and funk of A Go Go (with Medeski, Martin & Wood), the acid-jazz skank of Bump and his most boppish exposition to date, Works for Me—I’ve felt that John, like Bill Frisell, is a champion of an emerging modern style of electric jazz guitar and a more wide-ranging, inclusionary point of view that nevertheless maintains a rhythmic-melodic-harmonic attitude that is centered in the jazz tradition.

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