John Scofield is a legendary guitarist. His latest release is Juice, with Medeski, Martin & Wood. John recently discussed how Juice came together, inspiration he learned from Miles Davis and his creative process. For more info on John Scofield, check out http://www.johnscofield.com/
Juice is awesome man. This record is ridiculous.
Oh, thank you so much.
How did the album get started for you?
I played with them for a while in different albums and stuff. Right?
We worked together as a quartet, frequently over the years. They called me and said, “We want to do another album with you.” I said, “Great, let’s get back together again.” The last one we did was called, Out Louder. Then we had an album called In Case the World Changes its Mind, which were live tracks from the tour that came after Out Louder. It had been a few years and they wanted to do a record together. I said, “Yeah, let’s do it.” They also had the idea that record could be kind of Afro-Cuban slash Brazilian slash boogaloo-ish. Originally, we had said it was gonna be Afro-Cuban, brazilian boogaloo-ish.
Then we ended up doing some other tunes that aren’t at all like that. The original idea was that African diaspora kind of grooves. Then we ended up just trying a couple of other tunes that don’t really fit in to that, like “Light My Fire.”
The way we did that. That’s pretty rocked out, you know.
Absolutely. Do you guys try to record the tracks as live as possible? It’s got a really live feel to it.
Yeah. We were going for just the way we play, and we didn’t over-dub stuff, except for on one tune. We decided to do “Sunshine of Your Love,” kind of like a dub thing, with a real drawn out thing. We ended up putting some effects on there that were a little over-dubbed, but other than that, everything is just as played.
Wow, that’s awesome. It’s cool, because you always have so many different creative projects going on. You just never stop, do you? You’re just all over the map.
I’m lucky, because I’ve had an outlet to do that. Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of things going. Things like the MMW thing is stuff that we’ve done over the years. You know, go back and forth, play with them, and then we’ll do a tour and an album. Then we won’t play together for a few years and then we get back together. It’s been fun to revisit stuff too.
To be able to tap back into that.
How did everything start for you? What got you into guitar playing?
I’m from that generation that, when I was 12 years old, the Beatles came on TV. It was a big deal for music in America and for guitar in the early 60’s. If you were a suburban kid, there was nothing else to do but either play guitar and be a rock and roller, or do sports.
Those were the two ways to be cool. I went for guitar. Folk music also was popular at the time and that was very guitar-oriented. Right after the Beatles, I got in to blues and rhythm and blues, and stuff that was on the radio that was like that. So, that just pretty much took over my life.
Yeah. Once you get into blues and R&B, it just never stops.
Yeah, and jazz.
I got into jazz when I was probably like 16, I first sort of heard about jazz. “Wow there’s this music that’s related to blues and rock and roll.” People say, “Well, that’s the blues and rock and roll are coming out of jazz.” I heard about it when I was 16. I started to check it out, buy records and try and learn jazz on the guitar. I had a guitar teacher who was a young, wannabe, bebopper himself, in about the second half of the 60s. I used to go take lessons from him, that was great. I got into it.
Absolutely. It’s interesting because you being into so many different styles, you have so many different ways to express yourself.
Yeah, it’s a lot of it’s guitar music. There’s Indian and country kinds of sounds that people make on the strings. Even though I don’t really know about Indian music, I just sort of have been influenced by Middle Eastern music and all that. When you play a stringed instrument and bend notes, that’s coming out of blues for me. It’s also what a string can do.
You hear that in oud music, and sitar and you hear it in vocalizations from Eastern music and from blues. It’s all so related, so I don’t see myself as playing that many diverse kinds of music. It’s just recognizing the similarities in all these different musics that we have.
Having that viewpoint always keeps you interested in anything you’re doing.
Yeah, to have different projects has really helped me because you don’t have time to get bored with anything. Each one informs the other, you know?
I work with so many different people. You’re always pushing yourself forward creatively, which is really important. You can’t lie back on your laurels, because everything changes. Everything has to be in a state of change, it turns out, in order to be sort of happening. I don’t know, it’s weird. I’d rather for everything just stay the same, but that’s just not the way the world is.
Everything’s moving in so many different directions. I guess that’s part of the fun, trying to keep up with that creatively.
Yeah, you’ve got to embrace it.
You’ve worked with so many people over the years. From working with Miles Davis, what do you feel are the biggest things you learned from him?
Well, the only music that was successful to him was the stuff that was really spontaneous. When things became worked out, he knew for himself anyway, that didn’t feel right. He couldn’t lie back on his laurels and he had to get in that thing where he was doing newer stuff. Just in order to make it be the stuff that he thought was fresh. He thought a lot and talked to us a lot about creativity. What it was and that was really great.
Then there’s the music, that’s just beyond words. I just would hear him play and hear him feel it. Feeling the music with somebody when you’re playing with them is great.
To be able to tap into that unspoken thing.
Yeah that’s what music is, it’s an unspoken thing.
It’s not language, it’s another language.
Yeah, absolutely. With Miles, how did it come about, come about you?
There’s this New York music scene, and the jazz scene in New York, that I always wanted to be part of. I grew up in the ‘burbs, but would come into New York City and hear music. Not just jazz but, go to the Filmore East and go to concerts and hear Hendrix and hear blues. I always wanted to be part of that. I went to Berklee for a couple years, but then I moved to New York City. I just got to know the musicians that were around. I was like doing jam sessions and meeting the cats and being on the scene. My name would come up, I was in line to get gigs as a young jazz guitar player with promise. Jazz guitar in the early 70’s, there was like fusion music happening. It wasn’t just like tours through our old style jazz, you know. I was just here in New York wanting to be on the scene. That’s how Miles heard about me.
He hired me.
Nice. It’s that drive of wanting to create music with so many other people. It just opens doors.
You know for me, it was wanting to be on the scene. I was such an actual music fan. I just wanted to be around it, get to go hear other people. Just be able to meet those guys and practice and try and be able to do that on my guitar.
Yeah, absolutely. The more people you see, the more it can influence your own creativity.
Yeah. I wanted to be part of that world, as well as play good. You know?
Yeah, absolutely. And I don’t know. It’s so interesting seeing your outlook. Live, you kill it. I saw you a few months back, here in Kansas City. Do you change up what you’re playing every night?
I’ve got my vocabulary like everybody.
If I do kill it live, it’s because of the tradition really of being around these guys. It wasn’t even as much about records and all that as it was about this daily thing of laying it down, of really saying something. I’ve been around that, and so I try to do that because that’s what I try and emulate. It’s more than the notes or anything. Just the thing of, like you called it, killing it. You know, really trying to say something that night. Whatever it takes, you know?
Yeah. Do you create set lists before the show?
Yeah, we’ll have a set list and sometimes we won’t follow it. We’ll change up midstream.
All the bands that I’m playing in, MSMW, my band, Uberjam, my trio, we have a set list and we have a repertoire. We’ll we adding and subtracting songs as we go along. I will be different every night, so we know enough songs where we can change up. With MMW, we made a bunch of albums. We have old tunes that we don’t play so much anymore that we can bring out when we need them.
And then we play free, with Medeski, Martin and Wood especially. We’ll play like a ten minute jam that has absolutely no rehearsed element in it at all. We’d just say, “Well, let’s just see what happens.”
It’s got to be fun having newer tunes to work with, to really be able to dig into them.
Yeah, that’s where playing with people that are really good and intuitive musicians comes in. It becomes a group thing. Even more than just playing your part, you know. Your part becomes this thing where your listening and building with everyone and there’s no feeling like that in the world, when a band starts to play freely together.
And that’s what MMW are real masters of, that’s what they do. They play together.
It’s not just what each guy plays, even though that’s hip too. It’s how they make it work together. That’s what I draw from it, each member making it work together.
Yeah, that’s the perfect goal playing off each other and and connecting with each other. It’s amazing the way that you’re never sitting back, you’re always taking risks. It’s something a lot of artists could learn.
You might fail sometimes, but if it’s just pre-worked out, it dies really quick. I can’t do that, maybe other people can. There has to be that improvisation element in it for me to make it work. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but then when it does that’s on a different level than the stuff that you could think of. If the subconscious comes out, a lot of times that’s already good. You don’t have to work with it, just let it come out.