World-renowned jazz guitarist John Scofield, 57, lives in Katonah and curates the Katonah Museum of Art’s popular monthly “Shades of Jazz” series. Here’s what Scofield—also a Berklee School of Music grad and a music professor at NYU—had to say about life on the road, life in Westchester, and all that jazz.
Q: You’re widely recognized, together with Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, as one of the “Big Three” jazz guitarists. So how did you get to be one of the “Big Three” anyway?
A: Pat, Bill, and I all started in the seventies so we’ve had time to make our names. It was a fertile time for jazz guitar. It was a time when jazz music was incorporating sounds from blues and rock. Fusion music really happened during the seventies, using rock and pop things and combining jazz. We all had backgrounds in rock and jazz.
Q: Is “smooth jazz” jazz, or is it merely smooth?
A: Boy, if any genre has gotten a bad rap, smooth jazz has. Smooth jazz is just soul music, instrumentally. And any idiom can really suck—you can’t say ‘this kind of music is bad’ and ‘this kind of music is good.’
Q: You rely heavily on improvisation. What happens if you’re up for a solo and nothing comes?
A: Well, it’s not quite like, ‘Okay, what am I gonna play?’ I like to make the analogy between jazz improv and language—I can always say something. It might not be profound, but there are always gonna be words.
Q: You travel all over the world on a regular basis. Do you still look forward to coming back to Katonah?
A: Oh yeah, more than ever. I really love being home. After college, I lived in New York City for twenty years. I never thought I would have been back in the suburbs, because as a kid I couldn’t wait to get away from Fairfield County.
// Carol Caffin
In the August issue, we talked with jazz guitarist John Scofield about his place in the smooth jazz world and the perils of improv. Here, we pick his brain some more.
Q. A legendary guitarist must have a favorite guitar. What’s yours?
A. Ibanez; that’s my brand. I have been playing the same guitar since 1981. I own thirty guitars but I really like this one—it is an extension of me and my sound.
Q. Who are your musical heroes?
A. As a kid, I was a blues freak. I loved B.B. King. I was into rock and blues in the sixties, and by the time I was 16 or 17, the jazz bug bit. If I had to name just a few, it would be Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker—none of whom are guitar players.
Q. What are your three favorite jazz CDs?
A. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, A Love Supreme by John Coltrane, and Monk Underground by Thelonious Monk. If someone were to get those CDs, and they still don’t like jazz, then there’s no hope for them.
Q. You’re a music professor at NYU. How does one teach improv?
A. You can’t teach anybody how to be an artist, but you can show them the tools of your craft. It’s really brass tacks—learning theory, the instrument, how to talk to musicians, and showing by example. So I play a lot in my class.
Q. I hope you’ll forgive me, but this is Westchester, so I have to ask you: how many pairs of shoes are in your closet?
A. Oh, I have lots of shoes! I have all these old shoes, too. The Imelda Marcos of jazz—that’s me!