INTERVIEW: John Scofield and Joe Lovano (simultaneous publication in 3 languages)

John Scofield and Joe Lovano at the Village Vanguard


John Scofield and Joe Lovano  were recently on an extensive European tour in the quartet with Bill Stewart and Ben Street (Larry Grenadier on the recent record). They were at the Hnita Hoeve club in Heist-Op-Den-Berg in Belgium, a familiar haunt for both of the co-leaders. Jean-Pierre Goffin interviewed them there. In a wide-ranging conversation, they talk about audiences, aulochromes, Berklee, Dinant, Dave Liebman, Jack DeJohnette,  and a new Scofield unit with Steve Swallow and Bill Stewart.

This interview is a simultaneous co-publication by Citizen Jazz in France,  Jazzaround (French) and JazzHalo (Flemish) in Belgium, and ourselves:


Jean-Pierre Goffin: Hello John, I think the last time you were on stage with Joe was in Dinant for the encore of your concert at the festival.

John Scofield: Yes indeed, I played with Mulgrew Miller, Bill Stewart and Scott Colley. I love playing with Joe, he gives me so much energy and ideas, I like to make records with him, but we also have both our own careers .

Joe Lovano: Dinant! How can I forget that! I was so proud to be the godfather of such a great festival. Yes, John played there and I sat in with him. We have collaborated so many times: I played in John’s quartet from 1989 until 1993 and we recorded some cds together. Since that time we had our own groups and we met again round 1999 for another two years with the “Scolohofo” project, it was with Al Foster and Dave Holland, but at that time we had separate gigs, Dave and John had their own band, I had mine… We toured a lot, I remember a concert at the North Sea which was really electric. Then we had a large tour in Asia, John, Matt Penman, Mat Wilson and me, we played in Singapore, New Zealand, Bangkok, Corea, Manilla, an amazing tour, we played in places where we had never played before, it was in 2003 or 2004. Then we met again in Dinant .


Joe Lovano with the Francois Louis aulochrome (left)  


Are you going to play the aulochrome tonight?

Joe Lovano: François Louis is bringing me the aulochrome tonight for the concert. This year was Adolphe Sax’ 200th birth anniversary so I brought the horn for a presentation last summer in Brussels at the MIM Museum, we also were in Paris and presented it at Selmer and then I gave it back to François and I think it has been in the museum for the last months on display. I have had the instrument for five or six years now and I recorded first with it with my nonet on Gunther Schuller’s arrangements, then I recorded with “Us Five” and other groups and I hope I can get the horn again to study further because it is such an amazing instrument with so many possibilities, it is the first saxophone you can harmonize with. Everyone has to know this instrument. The first time I played the aulochrome with John was during our Asian tour, something happened, I learned to play different things with John’s guitar on the frontline. I played that horn in trio or with a piano, but it was very different with the guitar. We had a great way to communicate with the aulochrome.

Don’t you feel a bit frustrated to give the instrument back?

Joe Lovano: It’s frustrating but it is the only one, François has to show it and find a company, because this incredible instrument doesn’t have to be displayed in a museum, it has to be played, it needs to vibrate on. I have a lot of friends who want to touch it, James Carter wants to play that horn, but he is not the only one, Dave Liebman, also Steve Coleman has already played with it… Everyone can develop his own way of playing with the aulochrome because there is no rulebook, you know. If you have the mind and the time to explore the instrument it can develop in everyone’s hands. I am very happy that I can contribute to the awareness of this instrument. We will see how the future goes with it but François Louis is really a genius and the way he made that horn is beautiful and you can actually play it. It is not just a novelty, it is the real next new saxophone.

When did you meet Joe/ John for the first time? How do you see your evolution together since then?

John Scofield: We met at Berklee and I don’t remember exactly how. I think I was playing in a club with my friends for no money in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Joe was there with his horn and he asked to sit in, in 1972 I think. In a way I think I am just playing the way I did, but much better! I have worked a lot and I have just improved. Of course a lot of things have changed but it is quite difficult to know how they are; I think my music has become broader, but so much of your ideas come from the things you were listening to. I really just improved… It’s hard to compose, but it’s a thing I can do well for this group. Also I simplified the music compared to what I used to do, you get rid of the bullshit and you just care for what essential is.

Joe Lovano: John and I met for the first time in Berklee in 1971 or 72, Bill Frisell was there too, Joey Baron, Kenny Werner, Billy Pierce,… Your evolution as a musician and improviser grows every day , every gig is part of your history, and when you build on that, things happen . From that moment until now, if you look at all the people I have played with , all these guys, Jack McDuff, Woody Herman’s band, Mel Lewis and Thad Jones, Paul Motian (Bill Frisell and I played with Paul from 1981 till he passed, thirty years with Paul and we recorded at least 20 different cds!)… At the same time I had my own groups, and John played with Miles Davis and so many famous bands….and it is still developing today, playing with Hank Jones was something special, too, I think in 2003 or 2004 , I was at his 90th birthday celebration . It was a blessing to play and record with him and it is always a blessing to play in a multicultural and a multi-generation world. My passion has always been to play with these musicians I listened to on the first place, I was in their audience…

John, did you write special stuff for Joe on your new cd “Past Present”?

John Scofield: It’ s funny, I wrote these tunes some years ago and I wanted to write more acoustic jazz, other things than the ones I was writing for my other group Uberjam which was more electric . I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with those compositions and one day, I thought about a horn, so I could play the chords behind the horn, and I thought Joe was my favorite guy, it was perfect for him.

Joe Lovano: After Dinant, we talked about doing something together and John called me for his first Impulse record “Past Present” and we decided to make a tour with a band called “Scofield and Lovano Quartet”, but as he composed all the stuff, the cd was with John’s name only. We are touring now and we will have a lot concerts next year, in the USA, in New York at the Blue Note, in Detroit...

Bill Stewart is also a long time partner...

John Scofield: One thing is that he is a great musician, not only a drummer, he plays the piano, he understands music and the harmonies, he knows what we are doing… Jack DeJohnette can do that, too. Bill understands what you are doing when he plays, he is able to create, play in harmony, he can do himself what you are doing so he understands the music, sometimes he is the best soloist in the band, that’s one thing. Number two: he swings like crazy and his time is perfect, I don’t have perfect time, I wish I did, I’d like to dig it with him, you know. Some drummers are sometimes wrong but he never is, he makes me able to play . When we play my compositions, he understands the songs immediately, some drummers say “Oh I have to find the beat”, but Bill finds immediately the way to play a song , sometimes I didn’t know the way to play something, but Bill knows… I think he is one of the greatest ever on drums.

Do you have special links with Belgian musicians?

John Scofield: I remember when we came with Dave Liebman in Liège, Jacques Pelzer was there, too, I think it was in the seventies. We had some days off and we played in Liège with Jacques, he also came to play with us in a club in Aachen. Köln, I think, is the place where I had the only solo gig I ever had, and I was so nervous, but Jacques came and told me it was great and also “You remind me of René!

Joe Lovano: Yes, when I first met François Louis, it was in 1991 during a tour with Bill and Paul, I used his mouthpieces for the first time … I get in touch with a lot of Belgian musicians, Eric Legnini who lives in Paris now, and Félix Simtaine , I played last summer in the South of France with Dré Pallemaerts, there are very creative musicians in Belgium and I am really in tunes with these musicians… Michel Herr, too: my very first studio recording was with Michel, “Solid Steps” with Bert Joris, Heyn Van De Geyn, Dré who was only nineteen , I am very proud of that very recording.

John, could explain the meaning of “Past Present”?

John Scofield: Well, jazz comes from the past, all goof music comes from the past, but it is also part of the present , being in the present through the past things; you don’t have to recite the past but recreate on it. The thing about time is strange… And also I made this record when my son was ill, he died from cancer you know , and I keep thinking how can it be, how can he be gone , he is a part of me.

I discovered a few months ago another facet of your music with “Sco’Mule”.

John Scofield: Sco Mule is pure rock’ n roll, it’s fun to play with “Govt Mule”, and I am from the rock generation, too!... Even if I am a jazz musician… But these worlds are not so different, rock and jazz, even if we think about tough rockers and intellectual jazzfans, but music is just music. All musics share something, classical music, jazz, rock, indie music… for me it is one, especially for a string player. My next project is with Bill Stewart and Steve Swallow, jazz version of western folk music… and I have a project of tour with Brad Mehldau for next year…

You tour a lot through the whole world, do you feel the audience is different from country to country?

John Scofield: In different countries, yes, I mean there are different national public characters, personalities. In some places people are crazy and in other clubs they clap politely, it doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy the music; Scandinavians are very serious people but they like the music. In Belgium you feel a great response, people feel the music. Feeling response makes you feel so good. But the way I feel it now is that when the people come, it is good!

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