I might touch on a few unpopular opinions in this video, but Scofield NEVER fails to impress me, even when he is just jamming a well-known Jazz standard, and it is surprising how traditional his approach is while he still manages to add his own sound to it, isn’t that what it is all about?
One of the beautiful things about Jazz is that you don’t only play your own music, you also interpret Jazz Standards that make up a big part of the repertoire. And it is always interesting to hear how the people you admire interpret songs, it feels a little like you are playing with them at a jam session.
The video I am talking about also gives me a chance to be a bit patriotic since Scofield is playing with the Danish-Vietnamese bass player Chris Minh Doky and it appears to be a recording for Danish TV (Patriotic b-roll)
The song is Alone Together, certainly one of the most common Jam session standards in the book, and let’s start with how he plays the theme, because that may be sort of an unpopular opinion, and later I will also talk about why I think Scofield is probably one of the first Jazz guitarists to be really important for the entire style, which might be another hot take, so grab your pitchforks and check this out!!
Interpreting A Melody (without being a Robot)
Since they are playing in a duo then Scofield is adding chords to the melody, but the way he does this is really effective and probably also my preferred approach, mainly because it gives you room to really phrase the melody and let that shine.
What he does is, of course, to play the melody and then add chords around it, instead of playing the melody inside chords all the time which removes some of the possibilities for more vocal-like phrasing. A great example of the “other” approach would be something like this Joe Pass playing Misbehavin’
Of course, here Joe Pass is also playing solo guitar so he needs to cover more of the groove as well, and actually, I also think that the instrument and sound matter a bit here, but if start talking about that then the comment section blows up. Later, in the video, you’ll also see some examples of how Scofields playing is pretty traditional, which is at least not what I really think of when I think of his style.
The Melody of Alone Together lends itself very well to this because the structure is often a pick-up and then a long note on beat 1 which leaves room for adding chords:
Like he does in this section:
So first you get the melody just adding a 5th under it and then a complete Eø(9) and A7.
Same thing on the Aø D7, and then you get this really nice open 3-part harmonization on the Gm7.
Another thing that stands out to me is how Scofield often adds voice movement with suspensions under the maj7 chord. First some octaves and then a nice Maj7(#5) that resolves:
So there is also some reharmonization or embellishment of the harmony going on. You also want to notice that he very often plays E7 A7 instead of Eø A7
It is a small detail to add in there but he really uses it incredibly well in the solo too, which really gives the song some personality and changes the overall sound.
Expression is Mostly In The Right Hand
I always found it so impressive even if it is subtle, that Scofield is able to do so much with the sound, picking some notes close to the bridge to get a different sound, using pick and fingers or just fingers for some parts, he really changes that very often throughout the song.
Check out how he is really using where he picks the string to get different sounds:
Two things to learn from this: First, notice how the first bar is picked with a more mellow sound and he moved closer to the bridge to make the 2nd bar more nasal.
The second thing connects to how I talked about some more traditional aspects of his playing, and here is one of them: He is not playing Eø A7 in that line, it is all A7 altered, so like Joe Pass or Barry Harris, he does not play the II chord all the time. And this really connects to how he starts his solo as well.
Scofield Knows His Bebop
I think it was one of the times that I saw him live with the trio with Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow when he talked about how he loved to practice bebop tunes and check out Charlie Parker, so it isn’t really a surprise to me that he knows that part of it as well even if I didn’t really recognize that in the first things I heard from him which had a lot of New Orleans and Blues influence. I’ll talk a bit more about that later as well. Let’s first listen to the first part of the solo:
The next phrase he plays also shows that he doesn’t only rely on bebop lines, but has a very wide vocabulary of rhythms as well:
The next part really lets the E7 sound shine!
So you get the B and the G# and then the counter movement with the melody going up and the 2nd voice moving down from G# to G to F.
I’ll show you another really great example of this later.
Again he is not playing the II chord on Aø D7 but goes straight for the D7.
Open Strings and Open Sounds
This is super typical for Scofield, but also really one of the things that I love about his playing: Harmony and Melody are really melting together.
The first part is a chromatic run, which I suspect is actually a Parker lick, but it’s hard to tell. Using a LOT of legato like this is also a very typical part of John Scofields sound or phrasing.
Then you hear the Eø to A7 which is a really simple scale run spelling out the harmony,
But the part that I really like here is the resolution to the 3rd interval, and then adding the melody over the sustained F# starting with the open string.
He did something similar in the theme with the open E. That is such a beautiful sound and again a way of making the best possible use of what is practical on the instrument.
From there you hear a short Lydian maj7 lick before going to the 2nd A, so he is again messing with the sound on the Dmaj7 similar to what he did in the theme.
When Guitar Ruled Jazz
Few guitarists have had as big an impact on Jazz as a genre as John Scofield. Having worked with everyone from Miles Davis to Joe Henderson and Chris Potter his music and take on Jazz guitar is a huge influence maybe more on Jazz in general than on Jazz guitar, which also just tells you how fantastic a musician he is. My introduction to Jazz was marked by discovering John Scofield and Charlie Parker at the same time, both being really strong in playing Blues which was probably what I could recognize or relate to.
As Jazz guitarists then we often live in a bubble where we focus the most on the guitarists in the genre, but in most of Jazz history then the guitar players were not what shaped the style. Mostly this was left to horn players like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, or piano players like Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock. Before the comment section explodes — let me explain what I mean. Kenny Burrell or even Wes or Joe Pass did not really start a new direction in Jazz, it wasn’t so that all the musicians that are not guitarists bought their albums, so there are no “kind of blue” or “giant steps” albums in there. That doesn’t make them lesser musicians so keep in mind that it is not a criticism of their playing or ability in any way, I am just looking a bit beyond what albums were game-changing for Jazz Guitarists, and widening the scope to Jazz in general.
I think that Scofield and Metheny probably did have that type of genre-defining impact on Jazz as a style. When I studied then everyone had Scofield Quartet albums, especially “Meant To Be” because they were sort of the “Workin'” Steamin'” and “Relaxin'” albums of that period. You hear it pop up in other albums where the connection is very clear, and I think that was the first time that the influence of a guitarist really went across the entire style and didn’t stay with guitar players. For Scofield, it was probably a lot about groove and pulling in new influences to Jazz, especially New Orleans grooves but also some more acoustic-sounding funk.
I think it is worthwhile giving Scofield that credit and it is really nice to be able to reference his music when talking to other musicians on gigs if you want to play a song in a Ponciana groove or something using second-line. That the guitar became a more defining instrument in Jazz so late probably also has something to do with the instrument evolving and being very dominant in pop and rock music.
This is really great, again more open rhythmical phrases and not Bebop lines but he is using the E7 again, and going into it in a really nice way using 6th intervals
It’s almost like a minor II V in Am. The real counterpoint is the next phrase which is Bach meets Blues:
It’s only a few notes but it sounds really great with the B moving up to the C before going into another variation of the E7 A7 that he used earlier.
Genius of Intervals and Counter Melodies!
The way Scofied uses intervals and sparse voicings to make the individual voices more clear is really effective and is a great way to get the melody across, both in solos and when playing chord melody. Developing this in your playing can really open up some beatiful sounds and add another dimension to your playing. If you want to explore that further then a Contemporary of Scofield, Bill Frisell is who you should check out, and I go over how his take on Days Of Wine and Rose which is incredibly beautiful and a great intro to this type of playing.
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