Jazzman John Scofield on jamming with Medeski, Martin & Wood
With 1998's A Go Go, guitarist John Scofield tapped into a whole new demographic by enlisting Medeski, Martin & Wood to play on the disc. While Scofield, who played with Miles Davis, was a respected jazz artist and had delved into fusion previously, with A Go Go he fully embraced the jazz-funk idiom. When he teamed up with Medeski, Martin & Wood, it proved to be a successful collaboration on both ends, and the players went on to record 2009's Out Louder and last year's live album In Case The World Changes Its Mind. We spoke with Scofield about how he first got into MMW, how his fan base has changed and his plans for going to into the studio next month to record a new album that's along the same lines as 2002's Überjam.
Westword: What's happening today?
John Scofield: Well, I'm working on music down in studio and trying to get it together as usual, and working on some tunes and getting ready to come to Colorado.
Since you'll be playing with Medeski, Martin & Wood this weekend, I was curious how you first discovered them and how the collaboration with them on A Go Go came to be?
I had been aware of Medeski, Martin & Wood. I had met Billy Martin years before that. I heard their records on Gramavision Records -- their very first stuff because I was on that label too back in the '90s. So I said, "Well, these guys are really happening and they're keyboard, bass and drums, and they don't have a guitar player. Maybe it'd be great to play with them." I was a really a fan of the Shack-Man record, especially because I'd seen them come up for the first couple of records, and then they make Shack-Man. I said, "This stuff is totally happening."
So I called them and said, "Hey, you want to get together?" And that's when we made A Go Go. I just sought them out. But the funny thing is -- and this has been documented before -- the only number I could get was this fan line number. This was before websites almost, I guess. They had this phone number you would call and leave them a message if you were a fan of theirs.
So I left this message, and they listened to it, and they didn't believe it was me. They thought it was somebody joking that it was me. They thought it was one of their friends, like, "Right, he's going to call the fan line." And they didn't call me back for about a month. And then they finally said, "Is this really you?" I said, "Yeah, let's do it." And then we got together and tried playing together, and then we made the A Go Go CD.
How was that initial meeting when you first jammed together?
I think it just clicked immediately, musically, and I knew it would because I think we play well together. I could just tell from hearing them that it would work. I love their musicianship because it's a lot more playing this music to really make it special. There's a lot more than just playing good. You have to listen and allow things to evolve, and they really do that when they improvise.
It seemed like when you first collaborated you were exploring territories that you each hadn't explored before.
It also seemed to introduce you to each other's fan bases, as well.
Well, for me, it was their fan base because they were big in the jam band world, which I wasn't in at all. But see, now, musically, that's a different story because when I heard those guys I heard them playing kind of with some old R&B roots with a jazz mentality, and that's something that I've always done. So I knew musically it would work. But they were out there playing for these kids, and I was in the jazz world and playing mainly in Europe, which I still do mostly. So, yeah, at that point, their fan base got to know about me through them, really.
Was it weird at first when you guys gigged and you'd see hippies out in the crowd?
It was great. But see, I'm a hippie, and there were hippies before there were these hippies in the '90s. I went to Woodstock, man.
It was a little weird for me since I'd see you play at Yoshi's in Oakland in the early '90s with Joe Lovano, Bill Stewart and Dennis Irwin and then seeing you in Boulder after I moved back here...
All the sudden playing for the hippies. It's weird. Yoshi's and Lovano -- that's about as jazzy as you can get. I'm still trying to figure out what I am. What the hell am I?
You have to mix it up from time to time.
Well, you know, I've always liked doing that. I've always been curious to seek out certain things because I thought it would work for me. You can mix up and it doesn't work, but there all these mixes that do work, and they inspire you. Actually, I'm hooked on mixing it up.
Would you say that A Go Go maybe paved the way for records like Überjam?
You said earlier that you're working on some new material.
It's also with the Überjam guys. We're going to go in the studio at the very beginning of January, and that's what I'm working on right now, at this moment. It was Avi Bortnick, an incredible Afro-beat piece that he wrote, that we're collaborating on. I'm working on that. So it's Avi, Adam Deitch, Andy Hess on bass, who is like the second bass player in the band, and then another drummer, too, who is really great, Louis Cato. So I'm working with those guys. And actually Medeski's going to play on a few tunes on that too.
Is going to be along the same lines as Überjam?
Yeah, I think so because I think we've sort of established a way we play and we're going to be using electronics like we did with Überjam. But there's also kind of R&B stuff, old school stuff that is creeping in, some stuff I wrote.
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