With dozens of acclaimed albums to his credit and numerous high-profile collaborations, fusion luminary John Scofield has joined the likes of Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell as one of the most respected guitarists in modern jazz. The Ohio native and Berklee College of Music alum has made a name thanks to his nimble fingers and a distinctive, distorted guitar tone that is more muted than piercing. From 1982 to 1985, the guitarist scored his most significant assignment, recording and touring with pioneering jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. Scofield embarked on a solo career thereafter, often collaborating with acts not initially associated with jazz-rock, such as Gov't Mule and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
"I've played amazingly hilarious gigs in my life, back before I was known as a guitarist -- when I was just jobbin' around as they say. ... I was a music student in 1970 in Boston. Me and my friend Dave Samuels (Spyro Gyra), a vibraphonist who is pretty well known in jazz (circles), we were both Berkelee students at Berkelee School of Music. We got a call to play a St. Patrick's Day gig in Chelsea, Massachusetts -- which is an Irish town right outside of Boston -- with some Irish drummer we didn't know. So we're just supposed to show up there.
"We showed up and set up our instruments, and the guy set up his drums, and he was the lead singer, too. So this is a weird instrumentation to begin with: vibes, guitar and a drums/singer. And this guy was Irish, as in from Dublin.
"We're in some Sons of Ireland ... hall in this real working-class place. So we pick up our instruments and people come in, and he says, (in accent) 'Let's start with 'Mrs. O'Flannery's Cow.'
"And we said, 'Well, we don't know that one.'
"Then he starts to run this list of traditional Irish tunes, and we had no idea what he was talking about, of course.
"So he said, 'Just FOLLOW ME.' So he starts to play the drums and sing. And we had no idea what to do. So we started to just play little chords and try to follow what key he was in. And we were fucking up. He's singing, 'And Mrs. Flannery went to town/And then came back in the mornin'.' And he's looking at us, and the audience is starting to look at us like, 'What the fuck? Everybody knows "Mrs. Flannery's Cow."'
"He went from one tune to another. Then the audience started to boo us. He was getting real mad, and said, 'Come on. Play with me. Play with me.'
"The audience is drunk -- they'd been drinking all day. So finally, this little 80-year-old guy says, 'Get the fuck off the stage.' And he pulls out this upright piano and starts to play with the drummer. So we just started to slink in the background, standing there with our instruments as this guy began to take over. Then we just sort of unplugged to go get in the car and leave.
"I can't believe that it happened, but it did."
— John Scofield
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