John Scofield

Jump to: navigation, search
John Scofield
John Scofield



John "Sco" Scofield is stated as one of the "Big Three", now living jazz guitar players. Along with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell he has pioneered the sound of modern jazz since the seventies, influented by soul, blues and fusion. Considering himself as a post-modern be-bop player, he states that Joe Henderson is one of his role models. His sound as well as phrasing and bluesy influences, makes him an unmistakeable voice in the art of jazz. After his work with Miles Davis he won the Down Beat 's International Critics Poll in 1986, both matters leading to international fame and recognizion as one of the top players around. John is married to Susan Scofield and they have two children together. He have a "honor Doctor's degree" at Berkeley School of Music and is still doing master classes for his old school.


Childhood and music

John was born December 26, 1951, in Dayton, Ohio but the family moved to Wilton, Connecticut when he was just a baby. His parents, who was not into music at all, said to be worried when John skipped his homework in favour of playing guitar. He received his first guitar at eleven, an acoustic with the brand Stella, and stated in some interviews that he, as the most musicians around at that time, learned from the radio, records and the professional musicians around visiting concerts. He mentioned Beatles as a reason for begin playing, but got quickly into the Blues at 15, and later on pure jazz music. Living just 50 miles from New York, John took the train to clubs in the Big Apple and listened to artists such as Otis Redding and other blues giants.


John Scofield attended Berkeley College of Music in 1970, where he studied for three years. He met guitarist Mick Goodrich, who also became his mentor during this time. Vibraphone player Gary Burton was around in Boston, and used to jam with John and his rythm section. John later replaced Pat Metheny in Gary Burtons band, whom he also got to know during the Berkeley years. In 1971, he made his first recording with Jay Mcshann, whom he also recorded with later in his career. He was also in the same class as saxophone player Joe Lovano, whom he also played with later in his career.

Early career

After John graduated from Berkeley he became a member of Woody Herman/Gerry Mulligan/Chet Bakers band, where he also took part of the highly acclaimed recording "Reunion" from Carnegie Hall. Drummer Billy Cobham, who was a frontman of the fusion movement in the middle of the seventies, heard the talented guitar player and hired him in his band. John stayed with Cobhams band from 1974 to 1980, when he formed his own trio. In 1977 he recorded his first record in his own name entitled "Live" featuring pianist Richie Beirach, bassist George Mraz and drummer Joe LaBarbera. In the late seventies, he was also a member of saxophone player David Liebmans band, and recorded and toured throughout the world with his band. John recorded two more albums in the seventies entitled "Rough House", which is more a modern jazz record and the fusion record "Who's Who". During this years John also played & recorded with many jazz giants such as Ron Carter, Miroslav Vitous, Charles Mingus, Chet Baker among others.

Worth to mention, is that he taped some instruction videos with bass player Jaco Pastorius, whom he got to know through Pat Metheny. In 1978 he married Susan, which he has two boy's together with. Susan is also reported to be responsible for the names of John's tunes, which are sometimes a little strange and kind of word games.

The trio

In 1980 John formed his owned trio together with another mentor from the Berkeley years - Steve Swallow - and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Steve Swallow - who plays electric bass with a pick, contributed to the bands distinctive sound and three highly acclaimed albums were recorded. John had minor success with the band in the U.S, but in Europe he was a main Jazz act and he toured for several years in Europe until he joined Miles Davis band 1983.

1982 he recorded the duo album "Solar" with John Abercrombie, also on guitar. The focus was mainly on jazz standards, but it never made any commercial success. In an interview he stated: "It is possible to play this music for audiences that are not incredibly sophisticated. But let's face it, it's a connoisseur's music"

From the clubs to stardom

Despite that John until 1983 recorded several records and toured all over the world, his recognizion among the jazz audience was fairly low. When he replaced Mike Stern in Miles Davis group, everything changed. Suddenly he was one of the most sought after players and was top-rated both among the critics and the audience. John made three official albums with Miles and contributed both as composer and co-composer. The last album with Miles, "Decoy" established him as one of the most important voices of the electric jazz-guitar sound.

After he left Miles in 1985 - he felt that he should carry on with his own career while the stardom was at top - he formed a new fusion band with Omar Hakim, bassist Daryl Jones, and keyboardist Don Grolnick. The record entitled "Still Warm" was featured in "Guitar Player" Magazine and took his composition style to an ever more heavier level than with Miles. In 1985 he was also featured on bass player Marc Johnson's record "Bass Desires", which also featured another one "the Big Three", Bill Frisell.

The late 80's

After Omar Hakim and Darryl Jones went to tour with pop-ikon Sting, John hired bassist Gary Grainger and drummer Dennis Chambers, which he toured with around the world with. Highlights from this period includes the album "Blue Matter" and live recorded "Pick Hits" from Japan. He also appeared as side-man on several records, and as stated before, he was one of the most sought after guitarists in the jazz/fusion genre. He collaborated with saxophone-player George Adams playing modern be-bop and were performing mostly live in Europe, which also lead to a live album from Montmartre in Copenhagen.

In 1989 he switched from the fusion genre to a more acoustic approach, when he recorded "Time is on my hands" with former class-mate Joe Lovano and jazz-giants Jack de Johnette and Charlie Haden. The record was highly appreciated amongst musicians and critics, and made a landmark in the field of modern jazz.

Towards the Millenium

In 1991 John released the album "Meant to be", which can be seen as a continuum on "Time is on my Hands". The next album "Grace under Pressure", which is solely a studio album focus more on composition/arrangements than core improvisation, even though there are some great improvisations. Guest musicians on this record is Randy Brecker, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden among others. Bill Frisell is playing acoustic on this record, not very often heard. John has a flavour for Bill's guitar style as stated in many interviews, and they also recorded with Marc Johnson's Bass Desires in the eighties. During the nineties he worked a lot on other jazz players records, including Joe Henderson, Jack de Johnette, Toots Thielemans and others.

In 1996 he appeared on Herbie Hancocks album "The New Standard" - which was a success among critics and the audience, since popular songs were interpreted in a jazz manner. He also continued touring in Europe and the U.S as well as making clinics. In 1997, John started a collaboration with the trio Medeski, Martin & Wood on the album "A Go Go". The trio's more souloriented sound with hammond organ seemed to fit John's playing very well, and they were reunited in 2006 for another album.

New times - new ideas

In the beginning of the new century, John began to experiment with breakbeats influented by modern dance music. Like his mentor Miles Davis always did, he seems to picks up elements of modern sounds to color his own music. Based on this concept he made two albums, "Uberjam" and "Up all night" together with Israeli guitarist Avi Bortnick and Adam Deitch on drums. In 2005 he released his tribute to Ray Charles "That's what I say" which was highly acclaimed by the critics and also hit the Billboard list. He continued his collaborations with Steve Swallow and Bill Frisell which resulted in the album "This meets that" in 2007. Besides the albums in his own name he had been appearing as guest soloist on numerous albums as well as played with most of the jazz giants of our time. Unlike many of his fellow musicians in the jazz genre, he has been working by playing all the time, and he's not doing any education except for having a class in ensemble at New York University at Manhattan. John had - as many of his fellow jazz musicians - drug problems in his early career but as he self states "the last call was about a decade ago", he do not drink or uses any drugs anymore.


John Scofield plays with a lightly distorted sound and incoorporates bends, vibratos,slides etc, which is not so common amongst traditional jazz guitar players. He also have a distinctive rythmic approach which separates him from other guitar players. Tonally, he plays a lot of be-bop, but the blues is always present. He uses a tonal approach based on advanced pentatonics and substitutions made famous by modern jazz players like John Coltrane and others. He uses dynamics in a lot of his playing, and uses both the pick and the volume knob to create a wide dynamic space. His style features a lot of legato playing, especially in fast runs.


In his early career, John used a Gibson ES335, but has since the eighties been playing the Ibanez AS-200. He also have a signature model. During the years, he have used a lot of different amps, but seems to prefer Fenders, although it is reported via his homepage that he's now using VOX AC30 and Mesa/Boogie. At some recordings he uses a Leslie to get a sweeping sound. He uses Dunlop 2 mm picks and strings with gauges 0.13, 0.16, 0.22, 0.32, 0.42, 0.52.His pedal setup has grown by the years, since he was a frontman for Pro-Co's well-known "The Rat" -pedal, which in conjunction with a delay was the only pedals used early in his career. Now it consists of: Pro Co Sound RAT Distortion pedal, Ibanez Analog Chorus Pedal, Boss EQ pedal, DIGITECH Whammy/Wah, Boomerang Phrase Sampler, Boss Loop Station, Tuner Green Line 6 (delay), Purple Line 6 (filter), Expression pedal for Line 6 pedals Micro Synth.

Song Samples



As a leader:

John Scofield (1977) - Trio Records

John Scofield Live (1977) - Enja Records

East Meets West (1977) - Black-Hawk Records, Bellophon Records

Rough House (1978) - Enja Records

Who's Who? (1979) - Arista/Novus

Bar Talk (1980) - Jive/Novus

Out Like a Light (1981) - Enja Records

Shinola (1981) - Enja Records

Electric Outlet (1984) - Gramavision

Still Warm (1985) - Gramavision

Blue Matter (1986) - Gramavision

Loud Jazz (1987) - Gramavision

Pick Hits Live (1987) - Gramavision

Flat Out (1988) - Gramavision

Best of John Scofield (1989) - Blue Note

Time on My Hands (1990) - Blue Note

Slo Sco:The Best of the Ballads (1990) - Gramavision

Meant To Be (1991) - Blue Note

Grace Under Pressure (1992) - Blue Note

What We Do (1993) - Blue Note

I Can See Your House From Here (1994) - w/Pat Metheny - Blue Note

Hand Jive (1994) - Blue Note

Liquid Fire: The Best of John Scofield (1994) - Gramavision

Groove Elation (1995) - Blue Note

Quiet (1996) - Verve

A Go Go - Verve

Bump (2000) - Verve

Steady Groovin': The Blue Note Groove Sides (2000) - Blue Note

Works For Me (2001) - Verve

Überjam (2002) - Verve

Oh! (2003) - Blue Note

Up All Night (2003) - Verve

EnRoute: John Scofield Trio LIVE (2004) - Verve

That's What I Say: John Scofield Plays the Music of Ray Charles (2005) - Verve

Saudades (2006) - ECM

Out Louder (2006) - Indirecto

This Meets That (2007) - Emarcy Records

Piety Street (2009) - Emarcy Records

With others:

Teodross Avery: My Generation (1996) - Impulse!

Billy Cobham: A Funky Thide of Sings (1975) - Atlantic Life & Times (1976) - Wounded Bird Records

Larry Coryell: Tributaries (1978) - Arista Novus

Miles Davis: You're Under Arrest (1985) - Columbia Decoy (1984) - Sony Music Star People (1983) - Sony Music

John Ellis: One Foot In The Swamp (2005) - Hyena

David Friesen: Two for the Show (1994) - ITM Pacific

Herbie Hancock: The New Standard (1995) - Verve

Jimmy Haslip A R C (1993) - UMG

Roy Haynes: Love Letters (2003) - Columbia

Joe Henderson: So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles) (1993) - Verve Porgy & Bess (1997) - Verve

Ron Holloway: Struttin' (1995) - Milestone Records

Marc Johnson: Shades of Jade (2005) - ECM Second Sight (1987) - ECM Bass Desires (1986) - ECM

Lee Konitz: Rhapsody II (1993) - Evidence

Manhattan Jazz Quintet: Manhattan Blues (1990) – Sweet Basil

Gary Marks: Gathering (1974) - Arewea Records

Charles Mingus: Three of Four Shades of Blue (1977) - Collectables Records

Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker: Carnegie Hall Concert (1974) - CTI Records

John Patitucci: Now (1998) - Concord Jazz

Phil Lesh and Friends: Live at the Warfield (2006) - Image

Dizzy Gillespie: Rhythmstick (1990)

Harvie Swartz: In a Different Light (1990) - Blue Moon

Tommy Smith: Blue Smith (1999) - Linn Records

Jack DeJohnette: Music for the fifth world (1992) - Capitol


See also

John Scofields homepage