A Conversation with Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood’s John Scofield – HuffPost 10.10.14

Mike Ragogna: John, what was the gang aiming for on the new release Juice?

John Scofield: On this album we decided to use rhythms from the African diaspora. Grooves from Brazil, the Caribbean, Cuba in particular, reflecting how they have surfaced in American music. This was the very general direction and a few of the songs don’t really fit those categories but that’s what happens! We thought that was okay.

MR: What was the composing like considering you’re all known for improvisation?

JS: We are all, and have always been composers. On this record each member brought in songs we composed on our own at home, each guy hammering it out in their own way. We created one composition (Juicy Lucy) in the studio together that’s really a series of riffs that each of us contributed. Although we’re known for improvising, more often than not we strive to compose. We also picked 3 classic rock tunes to maul collectively.

MR: This isn’t the first trip to the soundgarden with these cats. What is it about this configuration that’s either alluring or fulfilling for you?

JS: They’re my favorite improvising band around nowadays. They’re highly developed instrumentalists, fearless when it comes to diving in and taking chances AND they’re super funky. Those elements don’t usually exist together. Seeing as they’re a trio with keys, bass and drums, there’s lots of room for my guitar.

MR: When you compose and record as a unit, does a certain figure or feel start everything rolling with that theme continued for the whole project? Do you guys ever change it up midstream from either fatigue of the initial premise or to add more or an unexpected variance?

JS: It happens as it happens and it isn’t wise to be locked in to one direction or perception. We keep it loose so we maintain spontaneity. One of the great things about MMW is that they have an intuitive sense of when to change course so it doesn’t get boring. I like to play that way too so it’s great. We can play free rather than follow a score although that can fail miserably but with us it usually doesn’t. If we are failing miserably we abandon ship quickly. MR: Do you see any value in coming up with a certain inspiration — let’s say Bach since it’s obvious –and doing an improv-ish project around that composer? Because of the approach, it would be like another collaborator joined in right? Medeski Scofield Martin Wood & Bach? Maybe Hancock or Corea? Davis or Coleman? Should I stop now?

JS: I think that may be what jazz is. As students of the music, we learn the musical styles of our elders, use it and add to it. I’m sure some stuff gets lost along the way and some is incorporated. All the people you mention are among those who have helped develop our musical language, the vocabularies that we all use whenever we improvise.

MR: What was the biggest musical challenge for you and maybe the group on Juice?

JS: Playing up to our potential, playing the music as well as we know it can be and making it better than just good.

MR: What is it that keeps you engaged in music after all these years? Do you still consider what you do “jazz” or have you moved on to a hybrid or a mutated form?

JS: As said before, the challenge of getting it right keeps us on our toes but the prize is worth it — when it clicks. I’m hooked on that feeling you get when the band throws down! I’m not sure this music fits some people’s definition of jazz but… whatever. I know that what we play wouldn’t exist if not for “jazz.” I love music. I love it still and maybe more after all these years.

MR: Do you have a working definition for at least yourself of what “jazz” is?

JS: I read a long time ago that if you define something you limit it. I do know that we have to take chances in order to keep the music fresh otherwise it dies. I don’t want to limit Jazz with a definition.

MR: Are there any young musicians out there that you admire?

JS: Tons, too many to list and I know I’d leave some out. Now that I’m sixty-two many of my favorite young lions have somehow reached middle age.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JS: It sounds like the standard clichéd reply but “practice makes perfect” and you have to keep it loose and fun. That’s when the good music happens.

MR: Is that what you would have told a young John Scofield?

JS: I would have told him to do some sit ups for God’s sake!

MR: [laughs] What advice might you have given to John Medeski, Billy Martin and Chris Wood and do you think they would have listened? Would you have listened to someone advising you?

JS: I always listened to the old guys, I loved them, I wanted to be them, and I still do! I may have given the younger MMW guys examples of what not to do!

MR: What future musical adventures are coming?

JS: I’m recording with my Uberjam band next year for fall release and I have a rather large assortment of cool touring projects coming up in addition to MSMW. I’m one lucky guy!

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