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Encyclopedia of Popular Music: An Excerpt
John Scofield

Most people, including me, loathe Mondays, but since we have started doing the Encyclopedia of Popular Music posts, Monday has become my favorite day on the OUPblog. Today we have excerpted a brief entry from the EPM about John Scofield. Why Scofield? Because I love his music, and I’m in charge around here!

Scofield, John b. 26 December 1951, Dayton, Ohio, USA. From an early background of playing with local R&B groups in Connecticut where he was raised, guitarist Scofield attended the renowned Berklee College Of Music in Boston during the early 70s. He recorded with Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker and eventually received an invitation to join Billy Cobham as replacement for John Abercrombie. Following a two-year stint he played with Charles Mingus, Gary Burton, and Dave Liebman. His early solo work built slowly and steadily into a style that became uniquely personal. 1981’s live recording Shinola was a mellow album, bordering on the lethargic, and featured the bass playing of Scofield’s acknowledged mentor, Steve Swallow.

Between 1983 and 1985 Scofield was an integral part of Miles Davis’ band, playing on a number of recordings including Decoy and You’re Under Arrest. Following this exposure, Scofield had accumulated a considerable following. During the mid-80s he played with McCoy Tyner, Marc Johnson and the French National Orchestra. Electric Outlet showed that Scofield had now created his own uniquely rich and creamy sound. Still Warm capitalized on this burst of creativity and became the first of a series of outstanding albums on Gramavision. Great excitement preceded its release, following a give-away record in Guitar Player magazine. The album became a big seller and was a flawless work.

Scofield continued in a similar funky, though less jazzy, vein for Blue Matter (1987) and Loud Jazz (1988), the former featuring some impressive drum work from Dennis Chambers. Flat Out featured diverse and interesting arrangements of standards such as Sammy Fain/Paul Francis Webster’s ‘Secret Love’ and Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II’s ‘All The Things You Are’. A live offering, Pick Hits, brilliantly encapsulated the best of Scofield’s most recent work, and demonstrated his growing importance as a class player. Time On My Hands was a critics’ favourite and another strong seller. For many, it was the jazz album of 1990.

Scofield’s playing had now reached a point where he was regarded as one of the world’s top guitarists. His compositional skills continued to blossom; his interplay with Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette was imaginative and uplifting. Maintaining an extraordinarily prolific musical peak, he delivered another exciting record in the shape of Meant To Be and toured with the Mike Gibbs Orchestra during 1991, where his accessible and rich jazz guitar blended harmoniously with Gibbs’ innovative compositions. Grace Under Pressure (1992) and What We Do (1993) continued Scofield’s run of first-rate and highly popular albums, showing the guitarist to be full of fresh ideas. Hand Jive (1994) was his return to funk and soul/jazz with some excellent contributions from the saxophone of Eddie Harris. Groove Elation (1995) continued that theme and featured Idris Muhammad, Don Alias, Steve Turre and Randy Brecker.

Following his work on Herbie Hancock’s The New Standard, Scofield released his Verve Records’ debut, Quiet, which was his unplugged album (using an amplified nylon string guitar). It reached breathtaking heights, mixing subtle orchestration with guitar. A Go Go (1998) featured Medeski, Martin And Wood while the commercial überjam utilized Avi Bortnick’s samples together with Adam Deitch (drums) and Jesse Murphy (bass). In 2002, Scofield formed the loose collective known as ScoLoHoFo with Joe Lovano, Dave Holland and Al Foster. He also continues to run his jazz funk unit with Bortnick, Deitch and Andy Hess (bass) and his magnificent trio with Swallow and Bill Stewart. Scofield’s Ray Charles tribute That’s What I Say (2005) was an unusual departure. He featured a number of guest vocalist/musicians including Dr. John, Warren Haynes and Mavis Staples. The most satisfying collaboration was ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ with John Mayer on vocals and sharing lead guitar with Scofield.

Jim Ferguson, writing in Guitar Player, perceptively stated that Scofield’s solos are ‘like the chase scene in The French Connection—incredibly exciting, intense and constantly flirting with disaster, but rarely out of control’. Scofield is unquestionably one of the world’s most original and finest jazz guitarists currently playing.


Want to learn more about the EPM? Check out what albums Colin Larkin, editor of the EPM, hates, and the pop-music quiz parts one, two and three. Or read Larkin’s take on CD cover design.

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