Backstage at the Blue Note: Chick, Eddie Gomez, John Scofield

Let’s just say I asked you to make a list of the ten greatest artists of modern jazz. Who would you place on that list? Well, for me, Chick Corea and John Scofield would most certainly be on that list and at, or near, the very top.

Well, when Bill Rooney, Chick’s great manager, invited me to attend one of the nights of the 2-week run by Chick at the Blue Note here in New York, and record and interview with him, I was of course interested. When I learned it was Chick’s investigation of the music of the great pianist Bill Evans I was more interested. Then when I discovered that the rhythm section that worked with Evans for over a decade, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Paul Motian, would be joining him, I was intrigued. My interest was further piqued when I saw that some special guests like Hubert Laws, Joe Lovano and Greg Osby would be coming in for a few nights.

Here’s the interview:

THEN, when I saw that John Scofield was a special guest for Wednesday the 12th of May I knew which night I wanted to attend! More about that performance in a bit, but first I must say that the fact that these two great masters had never actually been on stage together was somewhat of a surprise to me. You know they know and have worked with a lot of the same guys like Pat Metheny, Miles Davis, Larry Coryell, Billy Cobham and any number of others and they MUST have crossed paths often, right? Well, after the set I learned that indeed they had “played” together, in the same session in the studio though not at the same time, but never in a live situation. What a treat this was going to be. And it was.

Before the first set began I barged into the dressing room area—as I am known to do—with recording equipment in hand. Hey, a guy’s gotta do what a guy’s gotta do, right? If I want to take you behind the scenes to get the real skinny on what the greats of MOJA are all about I’ve got to be there and for the most part I never get much friction from the artists because they know me and my intent, and they’re happy to tell their stories. Christian McBride calls me “The Howard Cosell of Jazz,” in reference to the famous sports guy who was always there at the important moment, sticking his microphone in the face of Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath or some other athlete, getting “up close and personal.” I’ll take that comparison, though unlike Cosell I do still have my own hair.

Backstage at the Blue Note, this night found Chick smiling and jolly as ever and ready to roll, Eddie Gomez heading to the stage to get comfortable, Paul Motian out of site somewhere and John Scofield flipping through a pile of leadsheets that contained the music that would be played that evening. Only a pro like Sco could pick up tunes he didn’t know and play from sheet music at a level high enough to match the performance of a master like Chick Corea and two guys who knew Bill Evans as well as anyone ever did!

If there was any apprehension on anyone’s part you’d have never known it—but one certainly would have had the chance to know, since there is no hiding in the tight confines of the tiny Blue Note. I sat two seats from the stage just below Chick Corea and as he placed his fingers on the keys of the piano—this was an all-acoustic gig for Chick—I wondered what goes through his mind at that moment of anticipation. Is it the specific piece and notes he’s about to play, is it a personal peace he feels as he’s about to do something he does so well and apparently without much effort? Is it some kind of automatic response based on years of doing this, or something else? It’s a question I’ll have to remember to ask him sometime. On the opposite of the stage stood John Scofield, tall and steady with the familiar pose of guitar in hand, ready to go.

Since the theme of the show was “Further Explorations of Bill Evans,” the show was a collection of mostly standards that either Evans had written or played himself and a few others by masters like Thelonious Monk. In essence this was a night of bebop and standards but with the added treat of John Scofield’s electric guitar giving it a different slant. After all, when John plays any style of music—and he’s done it all from the hardest and funkiest to swing with a big band or small group—he’s going to bring his unique sound to the show. At times John stuck to cleaner lines, possibly to fit the style in which the music was originally played and with three acoustic instruments as well. But occasionally his signature buzz sprang from his guitar to create electric bebop with delightful results.

Eddie Gomez was fantastic, too, and not only did his masterful playing thrill, including some delightful bowing of the bass, but his improvised scat vocal that accompanies his playing added a playful spark as well. Paul Motian stuck mostly to the brushes and presented a lighter side of his playing until the last few songs of the set when he featured more force and dynamics, which especially inspired Sco and the whole band to reach deeper and higher and with more energy. You could tell that Chick and John were really enjoying themselves as their constant eye contact and musical dialogue were obviously as much a delight for them as it was for the audience.

Having witnessed this performance, and having gathered interviews with Chick, Sco and Eddie Gomez which I’ll be featuring soon on MOJA Radio and my Voice of America show Jazz America, I walked home through Greenwich Village thinking about what possibilities might lie ahead for these two great masters and MOJA favorites to play together again. They obviously enjoyed playing with one another and have lots of common ground. The restrictions of the repertoire being as they were, I wondered what fun, more modern, electric projects might they come up with in the future. I can dream, can’t I?