Hush now

John Scofield has gone quiet. He's swapped his electric jazz guitar for a nylon-stringed acoustic. With mellow, Gil-ish results. By Phil Johnson

John Scofield's guitar normally burrs with the sound of raw electricity running along bare wires, the strings crackling and popping as if charged with a particularly primitive power source, and the current further distressed through what he calls his "cheap and nasty" choice of foot pedals. It's a sound that, allied to a peerless technique and a talent as a composer of contrastingly delicate tunes, has made Scofield the most celebrated jazz guitarist of his generation (he's 45). His album Time On My Hands for Blue Note in 1991 remains one of the best jazz records of the decade, and he has since gone on to work in a variety of contexts, from funky jazz with Herbie Hancock to classical crossovers with Mike Gibbs and Mark Anthony Turnage. Essentially, he plays jazz guitar with a rock sound, and has done since he saw Jimi Hendrix as a student at Berklee at Boston in the late Sixties. And while Scofield's sound is unapologetically electric (especially when compared to the semi-acoustic school that for years dominated jazz guitar playing), he plays real jazz and not jazz-fusion, in spite of his post-Berklee experience as a sideman with You're Under Arrest-era Miles Davis and Tony Williams.

Now, for Quiet, the first album of his new Verve contract; Scofield has temporarily abandoned the electric guitar for a nylon-stringed acoustic, and written a set of mellow orchestral arrangements for his own tunes, complete with French horn parts, that recall the tonal textures of the late Gil Evans, the most abiding jazz influence for both Gibbs and Turnage.

Though the change in style is at first quite shocking, the album is, appropriately, quietly effective, demonstrating Scofield's prowess as a composer as much as a soloist. "I guess I was looking for something different," he says. "Especially for an album which is more romantic; I hate the word romantic but it's not quite ballads as some of the tunes have a tempo to them. I'd had a nylon-stringed guitar lying around since someone gave my daughter one years ago, and I would always pick it up; and when I played with Miles Davis he would have me play his own Ovation with nylon strings. He would say, 'That's your sound', so I thought it's something I should use. There's lots of things I can't get on it, like volume and power and sustain, but for melodic playing it inspires me."

The music of Gil Evans has been particularly close to Scofield since he first heard the classic arrangements for Miles Davis on the orchestral Columbia albums (now collected in a six-CD boxed-set by Sony), and he once lived in the same apartment building as the arranger. "He never gave me a music lesson, but just from checking him out with Miles and playing in his band at Sweet Basil's on Monday nights, I got a lot from him. I never thought to copy Gil, but for the album I picked the instrumentation he brought to jazz, using the French horns, the flugelhorn and the flutes for that lush, mellow sound. I just grew up with his sound and it came out sort of Gil-ish, but, you know, how couldn't it?"

After arranging the music on Quiet for a small orchestra, Scofield would like the opportunity of scoring for a real big band, but finding time to do the orchestrations for the album while continually away on tour proved difficult. "It took me so long to write the arrangements that I felt I came through a war," he says. "I can see how arrangers go crazy. I used to see Gerry Mulligan and he always used to complain about having to orchestrate; he said that when he had a deadline he would become physically ill, and real arrangers like him are good at all the technical stuff. There are stories about arrangers in the old big band days who would do all the parts without even writing out a score - they would keep the whole thing in their heads. I'm just a guitar player, but also I compose. But hey, it would be nice to be a composer, then I could stay home instead of being out there whacking away all the time!"n

'Quiet' by John Scofield is available on Verve CD. As part of the Oris London Jazz Festival, Scofield and his quintet play the RFH, London SE1, 14 Nov in a double-bill with the Michael Brecker Quartet. Booking: 0171- 960 4242

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition