John Scofield reinterprets Ray Charles, live in Seoul

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John Scofield reinterprets Ray Charles, live in Seoul

The late Ray Charles played the piano wearing dark sunglasses, singing soul music. He won eight awards at the Grammys last year for his final album, “Genius Loves Company,” after his death in 2004 at the age of 73.
John Scofield, a top jazz guitarist, is on a world tour with “That’s What I Say ― John Scofield Plays The Music Of Ray Charles,” his latest album on which he reinterpreted Charles’ music. The tour with Dean Bowman (vocals), Steve Hass (drums), Ruben Rodriguez (bass and conga) and Gary Versace (keyboards) will end in Seoul on March 3.
Jeon Je-duk, one of Korea’s leading harmonica players, and his band will be on stage as Scofield’s opening guest. Jeon lost his sight at a very young age like Charles. He learned music from playing with a traditional Korean samulnori percussion ensemble.
The JoongAng Ilbo had Jeon ask Scofield questions via email. Their exchange is transcribed below.

Jeon: It is rare for a famous artist like you to make an album and do concerts themed on another artist (in this case, Ray Charles, one of my favorites). Your arrangement of his music sounds very traditional and very creative.
Scofield: Arranging the Ray Charles songs was very inspiring. They are all great tunes and are relatively simple songs so you could really rearrange them in a creative way. I had a lot of fun making that record. [Charles’ music] is all very nostalgic for me too and holds a lot of memories reminding me of my early musical life. Plus, Ray performed a lot of different musical styles in his career so making a record with the music he made famous still allowed us to go in many musical directions. In that way I think Ray and I had something in common. We both have an affinity for a wide variety of musical styles.

You’re famous for natural and flowing playing. I heard that you always have a “first take only” policy when recording. Is it true?
I think often the first take is the best and most natural, but I often try second and third takes, even fourth sometimes. I value most actually playing live in the studio ― all the musicians together at once. That makes it the most natural. The Ray Charles record is totally live except the vocals on “What’d I Say.”

Among your early music, you played “Monk’s Mood” by T. Monk with pianist Hall Galper. Comparing the time you recorded the song to now with your current band, how have you changed?
Hal is great, isn’t he? So is Monk! I don’t listen back to my old records very often but I feel like I’m basically trying to do the same things now that I was trying to do back then. But I am just doing a better job of it nowadays ― I hope. I also have several musical projects still going on for the last five or so years that would qualify as my “current band.” I think each of those endeavors brings out different aspects of my playing. I wasn’t quite as expansive when I was younger.
I started harmonica after being attracted by Toots Thielemans. Why did you select the guitar as your lifelong instrument?
When I was young, guitar was the most popular instrument in music, as it is in a way today. Pop music was the main reason I started guitar when I was 11 years old. The early 1960’s was full of music everywhere ― the car, the house, in restaurants and stores and I really liked it.
My mother rented me a guitar for six months because she didn’t think that I would stay with it and didn’t want to buy one. Shortly after I got the guitar, I changed my mind and asked for drums instead. Mom said I had to play the guitar until the rental period was over ― so I stayed with it after all.

I look forward to meeting you in the Seoul concert. It is an honor to be your opening guest. Unlike my album, which is tightly organized, I also pursue an active and free performance style on stage. Have you heard my music, and if so, can you give me some advice on my music?
Thank you, but the pleasure is all mine. I really enjoy your music, Jeon. You have such a nice feel on the harmonica and I’m hoping that we can jam together for a song during our concert. I tried to learn harmonica. My wife bought me a harmonica and I took a few lessons. The teacher was disappointed. He thought since I am a musician that I would have a natural affinity for it. Sadly, I did not. I cannot offer you advice for your music but I am certain that you could give me advice for playing the harmonica.

John Scofield will perform at Sejong Center for the Performing Arts on March 3 at 8 p.m.
Tickets cost from 40,000 won ($41) to 120,000 won. For tickets, call 1588-7890 or visit Before the concert, Scofield is scheduled to give a guitar clinic to Korean fans. For more information, call (02) 563-0595.

by Lee Kyong-hee, Park Sung-ha
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