Walking with giants: Guitarist honed his craft touring with jazz icons

Legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield’s show Saturday is the highlight of BGSU’s 2017 Orchard Guitar Festival.



Legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield is performing a free concert at 8 p.m. Saturday inside Bowling Green State University’s Kobacker Hall.

The show is the highlight of BGSU’s 2017 Orchard Guitar Festival, which begins Friday. Scofield will perform with BGSU faculty members. He also will be a part of the festival workshops geared toward BGSU faculty and students.

A master at improvisation, Scofield has been influential on the jazz scene since the 1970s. Early in his career, he recorded with one of the true pioneers of the West Coast cool jazz genre, trumpeter Chet Baker. He also has played with or recorded with icons such as Gerry Mulligan, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Billy Cobham, George Duke, and Gary Burton.

One of the most influential periods of his career were the three years, from 1982 to 1985, he toured and recorded with trumpeter Miles Davis, who more than 25 years after his death remains one of the greatest symbols of jazz innovation.

“I was so lucky to have been around when the giants walked the Earth,” Scofield said in a telephone interview. “The elders are the way we learn about music. Jazz is music you get better at when you play with people better than you. I feel like I got everything from those guys.”

Scofield’s work runs the gamut from straight ahead jazz to bebop, funk, modern jazz, and rhythm & blues. While in Bowling Green, he expects to play a variety of music, from jazz standards to funk.

He lives along a scenic stretch of the Hudson River valley, a part of the country used for the title of his latest album, Hudson, a collaboration between himself and three other high-profile Hudson River valley jazz artists: drummer Jack DeJohnette, bassist Larry Grenadier, and keyboardist John Medeski,

All have performed at the Woodstock Jazz Festival, and their album includes influences of Woodstock’s most famous festival, such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Band, and Joni Mitchell.

Scofield said he still loves the jazz tradition and the freedom of expression it promotes through improvisation.

“I’m a total jazz nut,” Scofield said.

But Scofield also said he’s not sure where the future of jazz lies, and said it’s important that musicians do not become “enslaved by the past.”

“Everything must change. Change is essential,” Scofield said. “I’m not sure what direction jazz is headed in. They might not even call it jazz in the future.”

Scofield, 65, was born in Dayton, but moved to Connecticut at age 4. He began playing guitar at age 11, inspired equally by jazz, rock, and blues. He is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

He began his career as a bandleader and recording artist in 1978, and has recorded more than 30 albums as a bandleader. They include collaborations with musicians such as Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau, Mavis Staples, and others.

Scofield tours about 200 days a year with his own groups. He also steps out with performers such as famed New Orleans-based pianist Jon Cleary, a native of England who went on to become part of the Crescent City’s rich tradition in jazz pianists.

Scofield also is a New York University adjunct professor of music.

Guitarist John Scofield performs a free concert at 8 p.m. Saturday inside Bowling Green State University’s Kobacker Hall. The show is the highlight of BGSU’s 2017 Orchard Guitar Festival, which begins Friday. No tickets are required.

Contact Tom Henry at thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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