Grammy-winning jazz guitarist John Scofield has roots in Louisiana. His mother, a New Orleans native, attended high school with one of the city’s music stars, Louis Prima. At the time, what’s now called traditional jazz was just contemporary music.
“Whenever my mom heard what we called Dixieland jazz,” Scofield said from New York City, “she’d say, ‘Oh, that’s the music they used to play out by the lake.’ I didn’t know what she was talking about, but it turns out early jazz bands played by Lake Pontchartrain. And she talked about the Boswell Sisters all the time. I thought that was corny stuff, but the Boswells were really good.”
During his youth and childhood in Connecticut and Boston, Scofield liked the rhythm-and-blues and funk music from his mother’s hometown when he heard it on the radio.
“But we didn’t know it was from New Orleans,” he said. “And every bar band played The Meters’ ‘Cissy Strut.’ We didn’t know The Meters were from New Orleans either. I said, ‘Those guys are funky like Sly and the Family Stone.’ ”
Scofield and his band, Combo 66, will demonstrate his instinctive synthesis of jazz, R&B, funk, rock and soul at the Manship Theatre on Thursday. The show is the first in this season’s River City Jazz Masters Series.
Although Scofield hasn’t toured Louisiana and the South often through the years, he recorded his 2009 album, “Piety Street,” in New Orleans. The gospel-jazz project features local all-stars George Porter Jr., Jon Cleary, John Boutté and Shannon Powell.
“Piety Street” made another New Orleans connection for Scofield. The album features his arrangements of songs performed by Mahalia Jackson, the Crescent City native who became the 20th century’s most renowned gospel singer.
Following his Grammy wins in 2016 and 2017 for the album “Past Present” and the country classics-filled “Country for Old Men,” Verve Records is releasing Scofield’s new album of original material, “Combo 66,” this week.
“R&B, jazz, country,” he said, “it’s all American music and all related.”
The guitarist’s open-minded approach dates to the 1960s, when he absorbed the gospel- and blues-based soul music and R&B that Motown, Atlantic, Stax and other record labels placed in the Top 40 radio charts.
“All the Southern stuff was top of the pops, so I got into it,” Scofield said. “And then I became a blues purist at 16. I wanted to do music, and I took it seriously. That led me to jazz. But I could never be a complete jazz snob because I always liked the other music.”
Serendipitously, Scofield’s studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston in the ’70s dovetailed with the rise of jazz fusion.
Scofield entered the fusion world in a big way when he joined former Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Billy Cobham in the Billy Cobham-George Duke Band.
“Billy’s band was popular because he came from this huge thing, the Mahavishnu Orchestra,” Scofield said. “It was like I’d joined a rock group because we played pop-music venues.”
Membership in the Cobham-Duke Band allowed the young guitarist to move to New York and become a member of the city’s jazz scene. In 1982, he joined Miles Davis’ band, an impressive credit that boosted his career as a solo act. His dozens of subsequent collaborations include many more jazz greats, gospel star Mavis Staples, Southern-rock jam band Government Mule and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh.
True to form, Scofield’s nearly 50 solo albums range across the musical universe.
“A lot of guitar sounds were developed by Jimi Hendrix and rock ‘n’ roll and the blues guys before that,” he said. “I use that in straight-ahead jazz. The other guys from my generation and after us do that, too. It’s just natural.”
John Scofield's Combo 66
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 4
WHERE: Manship Theatre, 100 Lafayette St.