If you want to find Matt Schofield, follow the bend in the musical road.
“When you bend a note on the guitar, you’re going to the in-between places. That creates the emotional resonance in people,” said Schofield, who will headline at the fourth annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival on Aug. 16, 2014.
Those places have resonated with the British guitarist ever since his dad introduced him to recordings by B.B. King, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters and other epic bluesmen.
Yet Schofield’s journey has been anything but blue, as he plans to demonstrate on the historic Morristown Green.
“It makes me feel good,” he said of the blues. “There’s a common misconception that the blues are about feeling down, that the blues are a miserable kind of music. It’s all about sharing experience, getting something off your chest. It’s uplifting. It’s about lifting yourself out of it.
“It’s the language of the soul,” he said.
The Manchester native, ranked among England’s 10 greatest blues guitarists by Guitar and Bass magazine, will cap a day of free music that starts at noon with the hot Brazilian ensemble, Trio Da Paz.
At 2 pm, the legendary Bucky Pizarelli–who has accompanied everyone from Benny Goodman to Paul McCartney–leads a “Guitar Summit” with Frank Vignola, Vinny Raniolo and Ed Laub. Popular drummer Winard Harper and Jeli Posse follow at 4 pm. Harmonica wizard Mikey Junior and his band are next at 6 pm.
When Schofield takes the stage at 8 pm, it will be his first Jersey gig–a surprising fact, given a heavy touring schedule that the 36-year-old performer measures in hotel stays.
“I sleep in about 120 different beds a year,” he quipped.
Backing him on Saturday will be drummer Ronnie Smith, from Oakland, California; and an old school chum, organist Jonny Henderson, who supplies the bass lines from his keyboard.
“It’s a big-sounding trio, more colorful than just straight bass-drums-guitar,” said Schofield, who’s been touring since age 18.
“The organ fills in the cracks in a cool way. It gives us a broad palette, harmonically, and gives me a big bed to play on top of.”
Schofield’s guitar heroes start with B.B. King (“simplicity is the highest form of sophistication”) and include Stevie Ray Vaughan (“he is the guitar”), Jimi Hendrix, ZZ Tops’ Billy Gibbons and Robben Ford, who headlined at the Morristown festival in 2012.
The Green and Great Britain share some history–a fellow named Washington tarried on the square while settling a few grievances with the mother country back in the day.
Schofield said he’s heard something about this local history. But he’s not about to let a little Revolution stand between him and a musical conversation with a few thousand former colonists.
“Fortunately, we’ve all moved on from that,” he said with a laugh.
With a few bends on his fretboard, Matt Schofield should have everyone speaking the same language.
GUITAR TALK WITH MATT SCHOFIELD:
New strings? “Every gig. It’s like starting with a blank slate.”
Scales? “I never practiced scales. Everything is chords to me… if you can build chords, you know scales anyway. Everything fits together, like a jigsaw.”
Favorite gear? “The only piece of equipment you really need is your ears. If you practice, the gear is not that important. You can sound great anywhere.”
Secret to guitar success? “There are no shortcuts. I practice in my head all day.”
Rankings and rivalries? “I have no concern about that at all. You have to have confidence. But ego is the enemy of great music. I’ll play with anyone. I’m confident in who I am. There will always be someone who knows something different than me. Nothing is more exciting than playing with different musicians, who know different stuff. I want to be the best Matt Schofield I can be.”
Styles: “You can make great music with a very small vocabulary, you can make something really engaging. Some people can say more with a couple of licks than anyone else. Sometimes, limitations are your greatest asset.”
Exploration: “I listen to [late jazz pianist] Oscar Peterson. I’m trying to translate his piano on guitar.”
Most recent album: Far As I Can See, released in February by the Provogue label.