Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Scofield, John

Guitarist John Scofield's originality and signature tone have enabled him to sound at home with artists ranging from Chet Baker, Charles Mingus and Miles Davis to George Duke. His ability to play jazz, funk and rock with equal fluency has made him one of the most influential guitar players of his generation.

John Scofield was born on December 26th, 1951 in Dayton Ohio. The Scofield family moved to Wilton, Connecticut while John was still a toddler. Wilton is a small town located very close to Stamford, Connecticut and White Plains, New York. He started taking guitar lessons at age eleven, and his first acoustic guitar was a Stella. Growing up, Scofield took in a wide range of musical influences, from the Beatles to Ricky Nelson. As a teenager he began to explore the music of B.B. King, which eventually led him to jazz.

Scofield attended the Berklee School of Music in Boston from 1970 to 1973, where he was a classmate of tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano. Bassist Steve Swallow, whom Scofield later played with, took an interest in the young guitarist and encouraged his career.

Scofield left Berklee to play with Woody Herman and Chet Baker. His first appearance on record is with Herman and Baker from Carnegie Hall on the album Reunion. Following his appearances with Baker, he joined the band led by keyboardist George Duke and drummer Billy Cobham. He played with this band for about two years. With Duke and Cobham, Scofield played for the first time in his career for a predominant rock audience in concert halls and festivals all over the world.

In 1977, Scofield appeared on bassist Charles Mingus’ last album, 3 or 4 Shades of Blue. He later recorded with Jay McShann on 1977’s Last of the Blue Devils and with bassist Ron Carter. In 1978, Scofield appeared on Larry Coryell’s album Tributaries, which was an album with Joe Beck on guitar. The album featured the song “Zimbabwe.” He also branched out as a leader in 1978 and formed his first band with bassist and saxophonist George Mraz, and released his first album entitled John Scofield Live. In 1980, Scofield formed a trio with his mentor, Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum. This group recorded several well-received albums.

During the 1980s, Scofield became one of the busier guitar players in jazz. He appeared on albums with saxophonist Dave Liebman, drummer Bob Moses, drummer Bill Goodwin, and bassist Peter Warren all before the year 1982. Scofield joined the group of trumpeter Miles Davis from 1982 to 1985. Scofield appears on the Davis albums Star People, Decoy, and You’re Under Arrest. This particular incarnation of Davis's band featured guitarist Mike Stern alongside Scofield until 1983, when Stern left the band. This group also featured Marcus Miller on bass, Al Foster on drums, and Branford Marsalis on saxophone.

In 1988, Scofield released the solo album Flat Out for Gramavision Records. This album featured the band, which included Terry Lynn Carrington on drums and Anthony Cox on bass, interpreting jazz standards like“All the Things You Are.” In 1989, Scofield released Time On My Hands for Blue Note, which contained the song “Let’s Say We Did” with Charlie Haden on bass and Joe Lovano on tenor saxophone.

In 1992, Scofield released the album Grace Under Pressure, which featured“You Bet.” The following year Scofield released the album Hand Jive, which showcased the guitarist with tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris and drummer Bill Stewart on the song “I’ll Take Les.”

In the early 1990s, Scofield appeared on albums by saxophonist Joe Henderson, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and Dennis Chambers. In 1994, Scofield appeared on harmonica player Toots Theilemans’ album East Coast West Coast, which featured a band of Christian McBride on bass, Joshua Redman on saxophone, and Lyle Mays on piano, playing John Coltrane’s “Naima.” In 1996, Scofield teamed up with Gary Burton for his release Departure along with bassist John Patitucci and drummer Peter Erskine. This album featured the song “September Song.”

That same year he recorded with jazz master Herbie Hancock for his release The New Standard. This album featured Dave Holland on bass, Jack DeJohnette on drums, and Michael Brecker on tenor saxophone. The band covered a wide assortment of pop songs, from the Beatles “Norwegian Wood” to Don Henley’s “New York Minute.”

In 1998, Medeski, Martin, and Wood recorded with Scofield for the album A Go Go, which was released on Verve. This album featured the group jamming away on such songs as “Hottentot” and “Chank.” This was one of Scofield’s best-received albums, as his angular, bluesy tone was matched perfectly by the rhythm section of MMW. In 2006, MMW and Scofield collaborated again on the album Out Louder, which featured the song ““In Case the World Changes Its Mind.”

The year 2002 saw Scofield release his techno, break-beat influenced album Uberjam with Adam Deitch on drums and Israeli guitarist Avi Bortnick. In 2007, Scofield released This Meets That for the Emarcy label. It featured Steve Swallow on bass and guitarist Bill Frisell. The group can be heard on the songs “Shoe Dog” and “The Low Road.” In 2003, Scofield followed up with Up All Night, which compositionally was very similar to Uberjam; as it featured many drum and bass, break-beat inspired tracks.

John Scofield struggled with drug problems early in has career, but has been clean since the 1990s. Scofield has two sons with his wife Susan. His eldest son, Jean, was born in 1981 and works in the music business as a producer. His younger son Evan, is a writer. John Scofield endorses Ibanez guitars and uses an odd assortment of effect pedals to achieve his signature tone. He is also a part time ensemble instructor at NYU in Greenwich Village in Manhattan.

A quick glance through Scofield's discography reveals he has been one of the most active musicians in jazz over the last thirty years, and with good reason, and the range and scope of his talents.

Select Discography

As John Scofield

John Scofield Live (Enja, 1977)

Roughhouse (Enja, 1978)

Bar Talk (Novus, 1980)

Electric Outlet (Gramavision, 1984)

Time On My Hands (Blue Note, 1989)

Grace Under Pressure (Blue Note, 1991)

A Go Go (Verve, 1998)

Uberjam (Verve, 2002)

Up All Night (Verve, 2003)

With Miles Davis

Star People (Columbia, 1983)

Decoy (Sony, 1983)

You’re Under Arrest (Columbia, 1985)

With Gary Burton

Times Like These (GRP, 1988)

Six Pack (GRP, 1992)

With Larry Coryell

Tributaries (1978)

With Charles Mingus

3 or 4 Shades of Blue (1977)

With McCoy Tyner

Things Ain’t What They Used To Be (Blue Note, 1989)

With Medeski, Martin and Wood

Out Louder (Indirecto, 2006)

Contributor: Jared Pauley