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Interview: John Scofield - Taking It Slow

Interview: John Scofield - Taking It Slow

So, the real secret to playing slow is playing slow.

[Laughs]. Yeah, playing slow. Actually you’re just getting ready for something that isn't going to end up being fast. The secret to playing slow is playing slow and just calming down. Try to pretend your nervous system is that of a really relaxed old guy, rather than the nervous people that we are inside.

This album has a very loose feel. Did you rehearse much before the sessions or did you just figure it out in the studio?

We had one rehearsal. I had obsessed about the material for months. Then, when we got this group together, I could really visualize in my ear who was going to be there and I could start to think about the arrangements and how we were going to approach it. All that pre-production can go on, you know, just on your own without ever playing a note. Then we got together and did one long rehearsal and went into the studio the next day and started recording. Although most of us used headphones, we had visual contact and we were all in the same room. It was pretty nice that way, rather then everyone being in separate booths with headphones, which gets antiseptic sometimes.

How set are the arrangements when you go into the studio?

We tweaked it as we went along. I think about mainly tempo, feel, and keys to make sure that every tune is a little bit different than the others. That way, after the recording is done you can sequence it. I also think about who is going to solo first so that it's not always the guitar soloing first. The keyboards could come in with a featured part, or the bass, or even the drums. I was just thinking about variety and I had made a list of how that’s going to be ahead of time, I always do that.

You and [keyboardist] Larry Goldings have played together a lot over the years. What did he bring to the session?

He is my favorite. To tell you the truth, as a guitar player, I have a hard time playing with piano players. I think we all do because it sounds too thick to have the doubling of chords going on, but that's why he is one of the great accompanists in music today. He has huge ears and always thinks orchestrally and doesn't just go on automatic pilot and plays all the thick voicings he knows, like some piano players do. His main gig is playing with James Taylor. That's a big thing, to play behind a really great singer like that. It's something else, man.

How did you choose the rhythm section?

I had played with Brian [Blade, drummer] once. I am a huge fan of his and I knew he was great but I didn't know he was as great as he is. Turns out he’s a magician. The stuff gets so sensitive when you are doing this real interactive, quiet music. He lives in a creative place and I loved it. I have played with Scott [Colley, bassist] since he first came to New York and I always dug playing with him. They had done a bunch of records together and Brian suggested him. They're a unit. They work well together.

Your solo on “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You” is especially bluesy. I imagine B.B. King was quite an influence on you?

I love the blues, man. The thing about that tune is that if you look at the chords it sounds like the same old thing. But it's kind of in two keys. It starts in the key of C, but then all of a sudden it's in the key of E flat. There are a lot of different ways to treat it, but the blues works all the way through it. I love blues. I find myself getting more and more into it. It's like what we were talking about before when you want to phrase like a singer. Pat Metheny once said to me, the stuff that he and I play on the guitar—all those notes and licks—is not really what the guitar does best. He said he thought the guitar did two things really well, big open-string chords and the blues. Everyone plays the blues, but you need the vibrato. I remember there were certain guys that had a vibrato that just killed me when I was younger.

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