OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS Q&A with Tommy Halferty

The next in Improvised Music Company’s Icons of Jazz takes on the music of genre-blending guitar genius John Scofield. Derry-born Tommy Halferty, the great elder statesman of the Irish jazz guitar, is the perfect musical match to take on Scofield’s music. Like Scofield, Halferty has blended a wide range of styles over the course of his career, from his early days as a student of Louis Stewart.

We chatted to Tommy about his perception of Scofield’s music, what it means to the jazz guitar world, and how he has approached bringing his own style to Scofield’s music.

Tickets are now on sale HERE, please join us on Saturday 21st November 8pm to celebrate this fantastic music!

Do you have any memories of your first encounters with Scofield’s music?

When I first came to Dublin from the North I was attending lessons with a guitarist called Louis Stewart. That was really learning how to play bebop - I got 4 or 5 lessons with Louis, and thought ‘that’s great’! But I just realised that the great players playing bebop were spending 30/40 years trying to master it. 

But then I was coming up under the influence of people in fusion music, like Jimi Hendrix and soul music that I heard in Derry in my native town. 

That was a kind of combination I was looking for, and that’s what I found in the style of Scofield. That style was that kind of combination - he’s playing bebop lines, but he’s got that fusion as well, he’s got that tone - he calls it ‘benign distortion’, and he listened a lot to people like BB King for the blues, and early soul music like James Brown. So he managed to get this new style that’s a concoction of all this, and I was interested, so I started listening to John Scofield as opposed to the more mainstream players like Wes Montgomery, Louis Stewart etc. 

Approaching his music as a guitarist, would you say there are particular elements to his style of guitar playing that make Scofield distinctive? 

There’s an album that I used in this ‘Icons of Jazz’ concert - I can see your house from here - which came out in the early 90s, with another guitar player, Pat Metheny. In this concert I play 2 tunes from that period ‘You speak my language’, and ‘Everybody’s party’. You’ve got that soul fusion from Scofield and that much softer legato style from Pat Metheny, I’d be favouring Scofield’s style more, but I’ve kept those tunes in my repertoire for a long time. 

How would you say you’re bringing your own style to Scofield’s music? 

I can align myself with Scofield’s style really. I still play bebop, maybe not as much soul, but fusion’s always been there in my playing, maybe rock-style fusion. 

I don’t get the same sound as Scofield. We do use the same model guitar - the TG5. He uses pedals a lot, I don’t use that many pedals. Getting technical, he’d use pedal distortions - not the sort of distortion where all you can hear is the distortion, but this ‘benign distortion’, getting the note to sustain more.

I’m keeping to the tunes he writes - one of the tunes in this concert is ‘Not you again’, and in that he uses Brad Mehldau and people like that - it’s a bit more straight ahead bebop, and he’s got a different sound for that again

For this concert, we’re focusing more on the early stuff. There’s a live album from 1977, with pianist Richie Beirach, the first time I heard him live. Here he uses exactly the line-up I have - a 335 Gibson guitar, and also an old Polytone amp. His sound at that time was almost exactly my sound, but he changed later on with the use of pedals and that, where I’ve tended to stay with my sound.

I’ve brought some of my own ideas stylistically. You can never totally imitate someone, and I wouldn’t be interested in it. You’d take his style and obviously in some ways do what you think would do a service to it, but respect what he’s done, and still play his music. 

In a broader view, do you think Scofield has had an influence on jazz guitar playing generally? 

Absolutely, no question about that. 

Because of that combination, that fusion, not only does he get the jazz guitarists, but crosses over to people who are playing fusion, rock, anything. I’d have students who wouldn’t know who Wes Montgomery was, but they would know John Scofield. He’s definitely crossing boundaries, bringing together fusion, and soul with jazz music. 

Recently with lockdown and having more time, I’ve been watching a lot of videos around style, and so many guitar teachers - who are generally sort of fusion guys - are talking about Scofield. He cuts across more than strictly jazz guitarists, influencing young musicians in blues, soul, as well as jazz guitarist. 

He works with John Medeski, there’s a group called Überjam, and they set up rock grooves and improvise over them - with them he’s actually showing that he’s interested in that kind of music too, anything with good players. 

What do you think the audience should be aware of for this concert? 

When we use the word jazz, unfortunately it has so many connotations and turns, especially within the last 20 years. Even Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie were arguing over ‘should we still use the word jazz?’ For them maybe it also originally had a sexual overtone in New Orleans and that. So people started using ‘improvised’ instead - and even our jazz course in DCU now, although jazz is in the title, it’s very much improvised music. 

The way our contemporaries are playing now is definitely a hybrid of all these styles coming together, and Scofield was one of the first or one of the main people to do it on the guitar. 

We’re all trying to keep this kind of ‘improvised’ jazz moving and surviving, so you have to find different ways to attract and communicate with different people. There’s always this question around how do you keep it surviving, how do you keep it interesting for people, bringing different kinds of flavours and colours to it. 

As I get older I think it’s even truer, you listen back to your earlier stuff and it’s a bit one dimensional. And because of the accessibility of so much music now, certainly young guitarists are much more influenced by different styles, or are collecting different styles to bring them together. 


Thanks Tommy!

Grab your tickets NOW to hear the Tommy Halferty Quartet, with drummer Kevin Brady, bassist Dave Redmond and organist Scott Flanigan performing music written and inspired by John Scofield.

Saturday 21st November, 8pm
Streamed online for you to enjoy safely from home
Tickets: €8

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