John Scofield appeared at The Jerusalem Theatre in Jerusalem, Israel, on June 4, 2012 with his quartet. I had a chance to catch up with him backstage.
Scott Krane: We’re here in Jerusalem, the symbolic home of the three monotheistic religions. Now, Piety Street, is a gospel project. Let’s talk spirituality…On your website you say this hasn’t been done before. I was wondering if you remember the record The Word with Robert Randolph and John Medeski?
Oh, I guess it had been done before. Did I say on my website that it hadn’t been done before?
Well, you said something to that effect.
I was trying to be humorous, but, actually the word is a great example of what we tried to do on Piety Street.
That is an example?
That is an example.
So you weren’t necessarily trying anything new?
Well, the whole thing of jazz and gospel is that they are very related and jazz music and gospel have always been that way. So Piety Street is not new at all in that way.
Well, it’s a great album.
Thank you. You’re mentioning Steve Berger on your site. Do you still have Doug Proper work on your guitars?
Well, Doug Proper has done some work for me and Steve Berger too, and I have another guy who I really like, who works on my Ibanez. It’s a company called Imai Guitars. So I use a lot of guys to fix my guitars.
Who are you playing with tonight?
Tonight is a quartet with Bill Stewart on drums, Ben Street on bass and Mike Eckroth on piano. I’ve been playing with these guys a while. This is the same group that you can hear on a live DVD that we put out last year called Live in Paris. It’s a really nice quartet. I’ve been playing with Bill Stewart for over twenty years and Ben Street is one of the really good bass players on the scene in New York. And Mike I met when he was a student as NYU and I was teaching there.
Are you still teaching at NYU?
Yeah, I do it seven days a semester.
Are you teaching guitar, or jazz theory?
Guitar. Well, I do two things. I am teaching a guitar class which is really like a combo. And then I do an ensemble where we play my music.
Now, changing gears. You know, Chuck Brown just died last month.
Bustin’ Loose! Chuck Brown. Bustin’ Loose! I love that stuff. When I first learned about Go-Go music it was from Dennis Chambers the drummer. He’s from Baltimore. There is a lot of Go-Go music in Baltimore as well as Washington D.C. This was back in the early ’80s. I had a tune that we were rehearsing and he put a Go-Go beat on it. That tune was “Blue Matter.” So, Dennis got me into Go-Go, and Chuck Brown, he was the king.
Can you talk about upcoming projects?
I don’t even know what my next record’s going to be. I put out a record called A Moment’s Peace, that’s all ballads. That is me and Larry Goldings on all his different keyboards. Some original, some standards. Brian Blade played drums, Scott Colley played bass. I got to make a new record now but I don’t know what the concept is going to be. I have like ten concepts floating around. I’ve got to choose.
Is that it for you? Are you a strictly conceptual player and writer? How do we look at Scofield in the jazz canon?
Well, I like fusion and I like funk and I like jazz bebop. And I like playing free music sometimes. I don’t have any one style. I guess the way I play is my sound, and I try to make that work in different ways that are fun.
But there is no pressure to be a straight ahead player?
Actually, I love straight-ahead. Tonight we’ll be playing bebop tunes because I love listening to that music.
Do you have a set list?
Yeah. You wanna see it? It may get tweaked a little. “Steeplechase,” the Charlie Parker tune. “Green Tea,” I did that with Medeski Martin and Wood on A Go Go. “Season Creek,” the third tune, it will be a world premiere tonight. I just wrote it; we just rehearsed it. “Slinky,” that’s a tune I’ve been doing with these guys a while, you can hear on that live DVD I was talking about.
How long have you been playing with this quartet?
Two years. Then, “Still Water,” we’re going to play that, that’s a real old one of mine, then, “Woody’n you,” that’s a Dizzy Gillespie jazz classic. “I Want to Talk About You,” that’s from my new record, and Coltrane played that.
You know what that means. That means you have to do the five minute…
Are you allowed to do that?
I am allowed to. I don’t know if I could do it. [laughs]