John Scofield Brings ‘Country For Old Men’ To The Holland – Photos, Review And Q&A

Advertisement

Images and Words by: Kelley Lauginiger

John Scofield Quartet :: 10.7.16 :: Holland Theatre :: Bellefontaine, OH

John Scofield has taken jazz-improv in an even more exploratory direction: to the country. Fresh off his September album release, it was a real treat to experience the live showing of Country For Old Men at a venue that fit the tone of the album so perfectly, The Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine, Ohio. With a capacity of 200, and located about an hour northwest of Ohio’s capital city Columbus, the beautiful 1931 Dutch restoration offered an intimate, rural setting for a legendary lineup of jazz talent to play some country songs.

With a Friday show of this caliber satiating a thirst for popular bookings in the area, the crowd was abuzz with excitement, and filled in promptly as the doors opened about an hour before showtime. The open layout and stadium-style seating on the main level provided a great view from every spot, with reserved tables lining the front row, and accessible concessions including local craft beers and movie theater popcorn all the way in the back. The upstairs, balcony-level seating offered premier acoustics and a captivating view of the night-sky mural that swept across the entire ceiling, complete with twinkling lights atop moving windmills that flanked each side of the stage. While the average age was likely over 50 at this showing, a few younger fans peppered the crowd with Phish shirts and Medeski Martin and Wood hats as well.

Accompanied by Steve Swallow on bass, Billy Stewart on drums, and with special guest John Medeski on piano/organ, the John Scofield Quartet did not disappoint. Of the ten tracks they played, only two came from outside the Country For Old Men track listing. They came as bookends of the second set, as they opened with a super-jazzy take on the country classic popularized by Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler,” and closed with what Scofield called one of the great country songs, “The Tennesee Waltz.” It was pretty clear that Scofield loved playing that tune, as his fingers nimbly soared around jazz guitar scales at lightning speed, making it look effortless.

With tributes to country giants such as Dolly Parton, George Jones, Merle Haggard and Hank Williams, the twist of the evening to me was their gorgeous rendition of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.” The most modern tribute on the album, the quartet’s jazz takes romanticized the song into a beautiful instrumental ballad that seemed to lift off into its own, new song altogether. While it stands out from the rest on paper, I found it to do so equally live. Overall, the cover best conveyed the concept of creating something new from a popular hit, and showcased the versatility and talents of the individual members of the band as well.

Charming the crowd between songs with personal anecdotes about each track akin to the old ways of MTV Unplugged, Scofield explained that the late George Jones has always been one of his idols before going into “Bartender’s Blues.” He detailed that James Taylor had written the song for Jones, and attempted to quote the lyrics:

“I need four walls around me to hold my life, to keep me from going astray // And a honky-tonk angel to hold me tight, to keep me from slipping away.”

Somewhere in there, he butchered a word, stopped himself from going on mid-quote, and exclaimed:

“Well would you look at that! One of my favorite songs and I messed up the words. James wrote it perfect, and I screwed it up.”

The entire place erupted in laughter, including the band, who catalyzed the energy into a really deep, serious jam segment. Medeski’s organ bellowed, taking the lead as if to baptize the crowd in the church of patient jamming, eventually bringing the rest of the band back in to the jam and releasing the tension that I had never thought possible in a country song. While for most of the first set Medeski sat at a Yamaha piano, he switched to a more gospel-inspired organ tone for the second half of the show, and really developed the twangy-jazz-sound that Scofield hoped to cultivate throughout this project.

If not just for the music they create together, even simply observing Medeski and Scofield play together remains one of the great gifts of modern jazz. They know each other so well, speak the same language, and even sending a cycle of grins and rock-n-roll-stank-face back and forth to one another when in the middle of a heated improv section that tells you they’re feeling it too.

When I got the chance to ask the band a few questions at set break, I first asked them how Medeski ended up on the lineup for this section of the Midwest shows, but pianist Larry Goldings was playing the rest of the tour. They looked at each other, smiled, and Scofield jokingly responded, “We tried to get the good guy, but he was busy. So we had to settle on Medeski here.” They obviously have a blast playing together, and I hope that they keep playing together forever, no matter the genre of music.

The John Scofield Quartet performed an evening of jazz-takes on country songs and it was nothing short of innovative and engaging. Check out a conversation with Scofield below on his newest project, Country For Old Men.


JamBase: You’ve traditionally played jazz and rock guitar. Have you always wanted to put out a country-inspired album?

John Scofield: As a fan of country music, I’ve always thought some of those songs would work well as jazz vehicles. I suppose I started realizing that a countryish album would work maybe 10 years ago when I tried playing some country songs with my group.

JB: Would you say Country For Old Men is a passion project based on some of your own heroes’ work?

JS: You know, I just took some of the country classic songs that I loved and turned them into jazz tunes. Which, turns out wasn’t so hard to do. It felt natural.

JB: On the same topic, how has producing your own albums allowed you to have more artistic freedom?

JS

: People often ask me if record companies try to force me to do stuff I don’t want to do and I’ve got to say: really the answer is, no, not really. Having an outside producer can be a great help, and that’s been my experience. But a lot of the records I’ve made I just felt like a producer wasn’t necessary, because I knew what I wanted to do and felt that I could do it. Those are the albums that I produced myself, like this one.

JB: Have you needed to prepare differently for this tour, given the different, country sound? Or is it something that’s just been inside you looking to get out all along?

JS: I guess we really haven’t had to prepare any differently than we do for other tours. We’ve just learned the songs and thought about how to put a good set of music together. I pick musicians that are sympathetic to country music but are jazz musicians like myself. We were never trying to play “authentic country music,” but just trying to do our own thing with those songs. There is some twang in there though!

Tour Dates for
John Scofield

  • Jan
    23
    2019
  • Jan
    24
    2019
  • Mar
    7
    2019
  • Mar
    14
    2019
  • Mar
    15
    2019
  • Mar
    20
    2019
  • Mar
    21
    2019
  • Mar
    22
    2019
  • Mar
    23
    2019
  • Mar
    24
    2019
    • 1000 Montage Mountain Rd
    • Scranton, PA 18507
    • United States
    Jul
    25
    2019