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John Scofield: Funk Finds Its Swing
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John Scofield: Funk Finds Its Swing
John Scofield: Funk Finds Its Swing
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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Guitarist John Scofield developed his jazz chops by playing with the likes of Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan and Charles Mingus. He's often displayed a funky side as a band leader. He's worked on the fringes of jazz-rock and released discs with hipsters Medeski, Martin & Wood, as well as members of Sex Mob and Soul Coughing. John Scofield's previous CD paid tribute to soul man Ray Charles.

His new one, "This Meets That," finds Scofield firmly back in his jazz element. It features what he calls his A-Team trio with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Bill Stewart, plus a four-piece horn section that can blow up a storm.

(Soundbite of music

HANSEN: John Scofield is in our New York bureau.

Hi, John. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN SCOFIELD (Jazz Guitarist): Hi, Liane. Thank you.

HANSEN: You know you spoke about the music on this CD and you said all these tunes swing. I have to agree with you but it's one of those words that people throw around a lot. How do you define swing?

Mr. SCOFIELD: Well I can't define it, you know, but it's a rhythm that has this great feel. That's the root of jazz rhythm from the New Orleans - what they call Dixieland music that carries through until today. So dang, dik-ti-dang(ph), dik-ti-dang, dik-ti-dang is the swing beat.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. SCOFIELD: You know, as reverse to pung-pung-kark(ph), pung-pung-pung-pung-kark(ph) which is the music of our time.

(Soundbite of song "House of the Rising Sun")

Mr. SCOFIELD: We covered some kind of rock tunes and there are other tunes that are kind of funky but I think the swing feel wins out for the majority of the music.

HANSEN: Well you do - let's talk about a cover tune that you do. Okay, "House of the Rising Sun," this swing?

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm. Yes.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Oh yeah. And we brought a little bit more of the swing element to it than the original.

HANSEN: Yeah. Well, I don't recall the animals swinging that much.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Yeah, that's right. There you go.

(Soundbite of song "House of the Rising Sun")

Mr. SCOFIELD: It's one of these anthems that everybody learns when they're learning to play the guitar, and I did in 1960s - whatever - I was six when it came out. And it turns out kids today still learn, you know, that four-chord progression when they're just picking up the guitar.

(Soundbite of song "House of the Rising Sun")

HANSEN: Bill Frisell plays with you on your sessions.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Now, is that one of the first one he learned, too?

Mr. SCOFIELD: It is, yeah. We were talking about that as we recorded it, because I said I wanted to do this, and he said, oh, you've got to be kidding. And then we both realized, you know, that it was almost the first song either of us had learned.

HANSEN: The tune that follows "House of the Rising Sun" is one called "Shoe Dog." And this is where you give it up for the horns.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: It's kind of a call and response, I think, between your guitar and horns. It's not unlike what happens at a jazz funeral, almost, here in New Orleans.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I think it is. I mean a lot of - especially on that tune and other places too, I tried to answer the horns and have the horns answer me.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SCOFIELD: When I write a tune — and it's been like this for many years — I always hear in the back of my head some sort of vague, orchestrated, fully fleshed-out big-band version of the song with other parts going on. And I never really get to get to that very often because I'm usually playing with trios and quartets, you know, on the road for economic reasons, too. And so this project has been great because I -it was the basic trio, the - my favorite guys to play with, the A-Team, and we expanded to include some of those parts that I hear in my head.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: There is funky stuff on this CD.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: As well as the swing but funky. I have to ask about "Heck of a Job," a tribute to a New Orleans institution, The Meters.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Yeah. I want people to understand what it is we're talking about here. We have a little bit of The Meters to play.

(Soundbite of song "Cissy Strut")

Mr. SCOFIELD: When I first heard that song when it was a hit on the radio, it was the late '60s I didn't know they were from New Orleans. I just knew that that was funkiest group I had ever heard, "Cissy Strut," the song you just played.

HANSEN: Yeah.

Mr. SCOFIELD: And then that was about the time that I started to put it all together. That there was this great band called The Meters down there that were making music at that time and that all my favorite old rock 'n' roll records, a lot of them, Little Richard and Rey Charles fast down and we're all recorded in New Orleans with New Orleans musicians. And that Louis Armstrong and jazz came from there. And my mother came from there, she went to high school with Louis Prima.

HANSEN: No.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Yeah. And The Meters I think are the most influential group in our time to come out in New Orleans to change and introduce us all to a way of playing and to a groove and to a level of feel in playing funk-jazz, you know?

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: "Heck of a Job" Brownie.

Mr. SCOFIELD: That's Brownie's tune. This one's for - it's for New Orleans, this song. And that's why the title - we (unintelligible) calling it New Orleans tune and then once at the rehearsal Bill Stewart, the drummer, said, why don't you call it "Heck of a Job" and that was right after Katrina and we kind of laughed uncomfortably, and used the title.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're going to play us out - you have your guitar with you. And in spite everything we've been talking about or in addition to everything we've been talking about you're going to leave us with a country tune, and not one that I would have expected from you, a Charlie Rich tune "Behind Closed Doors." Is it as unexpected a choice as it seems to be?

Mr. SCOFIELD: Well, not to me or to everybody else, because we had such a, you know, everybody thinks country is this, soul music is this, jazz is this, folk music is this, and they all take on these social groups and whatever. But, you know, I just always loved that song, and I always loved kind of roots-country music — people like Charlie Rich. But I never played many of those songs but I always felt - especially as a guitar player, that a lot of the, kind of, more vocal phrasing from the music came through in improvisations that I played, you know, and other - a lot of other people too that are non-associated with country music.

HANSEN: Hmm. Before you play "Behind Closed Doors" let me just tell everyone that your CD is called "This Meets That." And John Scofield, thanks so much for coming in. Good luck with this CD.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Thank you very much, Liane.

(Soundbite of song "Behind Closed Doors")

HANSEN: To hear more studio performances, cuts from "This Meets That" and interviews with John Scofield, visit our new music site npr.org/music.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of song, "Behind Closed Doors")

HANSEN: Heck of a job, Johnny.

Mr. SCOFIELD: Thank you. Thank you, Liane.

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