Saturday, November 22, 2014


Photo of Matt Schofield courtesy of

A couple things about this article make it a good introduction to new Jazz (Jazzers Jazzing) contributor, Jon Hendrickson, and his writing. First is that he describes the intensity of connecting with a musician’s live performance in the intimacy of a small club, an experience that was utterly new for him. Though this experience is something many of us are familiar with, very few have ever written about it. Second, the artist he saw was the very talented British blues guitarist/singer/composer, Matt Schofield, who is doing something that I haven’t witnessed in years—he plays a blues guitar so inventive and fresh that he blows right past comparisons to Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan, or anyone else. – CLH    


By Jon Hendrickson

I live in a backwater of civilization in the southeast corner of El Dorado County, California, known as Fair Play.  The origin of the name is a matter of local debate, but is no doubt rooted in the gold rush which began about 30 miles from here and made California rich and famous.  A burgeoning wine industry has found a toehold here amid the oak- and pine-forested Sierra Nevada foothills, but those who have discovered the delights of Fair Play have done so only as the result of deliberate exploratory intention. 

Fair Play is not on the way to anywhere else, and it is about as far from anywhere as you can get and still be somewhere.  Most of the relatively few people who live here came from somewhere else and brought with them a vast array of backgrounds, skills and interests.  They like living here, I suspect, for a lot of the same reasons I do.  Life here is more unhurried and less crowded.  And the circle of acquaintance is not so large as to dilute the sense of wonder when confronted with yet another revelation you get by paying attention to something or someone you might otherwise overlook, except for the fact that there are fewer of them to pay attention to.

There are discoveries that are more momentous than others, but you get used to them coming regularly enough, to the point that they’re no longer remarkable.  For example, I distinctly remember becoming aware of air entering and exiting my mouth and nose, and the day or so I spent exploring the limits of my ability to breathe faster, slower or not at all.  Such are the discoveries of earliest childhood.  Later discoveries, like figuring out you can balance on two wheels or float on water, come less frequently and less remarkably until, after several decades, it seems that you even forget what discovery is all about.

I have a very good, long-term friend, Carl Hager, who I have known as “Cully” for the last 47 years or so because his father was also a “Carl.”  We wrote a satire column for our high school newspaper during our senior year under the byline, “The Dipertni Bros.”  In more recent years, he has been doing his best to get me to appreciate his favorite music, jazz.  And he’s not one with merely a casual appreciation of the genre.  He can wax eloquent for hours on the finest minutiae of the evolution of jazz before Miles Davis and from Miles Davis forward.  And this knowledge is a tool he puts to good use plying the trade of writer, commentator, critic.  He has dedicated years of focused study of the music, its practitioners, their roots and inspirations and relationships with other musicians and their peculiar styles of music.  He has cultivated acquaintances and friendships among jazz musicians and other enthusiasts and was asked by a very critically acclaimed artist to write the liner notes for one of her new albums.  He has set a very high bar for comparison.  So high, in fact, that long ago I decided a bar is just a hurdle and I’m more of a lawn darts kind of guy.  So, while Carl has inspired me to take up the pen again, I am no more a music critic than Helen Keller.  However, Carl has also reminded me not to be deterred by fear of my ignorance.  Besides, Carl lives a hard five-hour drive away and the opportunities to absorb his passion firsthand are few and far between.  And this essay is actually about an influence almost as strong, but much closer at hand.

My friend Ian Schofield, the prodigious proprietor of the Pub at Fair Play, is an even more prodigious aficionado of THE BLUES.  It seems that he holds THE BLUES in such biblical reverence that he could be expected to capitalize the personal pronouns referring to Stevie Ray Vaughan, B. B. King and Albert Collins.  Ian is very much like my friend Carl, not only in his enthusiasm for his favorite musical genre, but also in the extent to which the arcana of his favorite musical genre is a complete mystery to me.       

My musical aptitude is the same as my aptitude at math, which is virtually nil.  That’s why I relate to and describe my world with words and pictures, not numbers.  In other words, I’m the kind of guy who causes people like Ian and Carl to roll their eyes when I attempt to join their conversations with their other, more attuned, acquaintances.  Fortunately for me, I’m not sure there are that many people in Fair Play who are as attuned to THE BLUES as Ian is and, because he’s my friend and takes pity on me, he allows me to hang around—occasionally some glimmer of understanding breaks through and I get a little closer to “getting it.”  “A little closer” would be about an inch further along Fairplay Road where “getting it” would be a half hour up the road.

This story is really about how my acquaintance with Ian led me to one of those discoveries that may not be as revelatory as discovering your breath, but it’s close.  Ian’s son, Matt, lives in his native Manchester, England, and he plays the guitar and sings.  But he doesn’t just play and sing.  He can REALLY play and sing.  He is very well known among aficionados of THE BLUES in England and Europe and is acquiring a following in this country—he toured various venues and festivals in the east part of the country and Canada earlier this year, including a pass through the west coast, and is currently touring the UK.  Ian had previously turned me on to Matt’s playing by showing me a couple DVDs and I had whetted my enthusiasm for Matt’s music by watching some of his performances on YouTube.  When Ian told me Matt was coming to Harlow’s in Sacramento for a single show on Friday, July 18, I jumped on the opportunity to score a couple tickets as soon as they were available and made reservations for a table.

Listening to CDs or watching DVDs is not anything like live music.  This is especially true when you’re seated ten feet from the stage, and Harlow’s is a tremendous venue for this kind of performance.  If I had been paying attention, as I have now started to do, to B. B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan, I would have seen the inspiration for what I was hearing, but I don’t think it would have really prepared me for the depth and intensity of what I was experiencing.  As he was warming up, I became more and more keenly aware of how much of himself Matt was putting into his playing, how his guitar was really an extension not just of his arms and fingers, but of his psyche, all of his emotional and mental energy permeating the entire room.  And the communion of guitar, keyboard (longtime collaborator Jonny Henderson) and drums (a remarkable performance by San Francisco’s Ronnie Smith in his first performance with the band) transformed my experience of this music into something not too far short of euphoric, pervading every sense of my being, although my senses of smell and taste are still a little confused.  If pressed, I would have to say THE BLUES smells and tastes pretty much like beer.

Shortly after the intermission, Matt brought Mick Martin onto the stage.  Mick is a local legend of THE BLUES.  He has had his own band for something like 40 years or more, laying down some of the most incredible blues harmonica anywhere on local audiences.  He also hosts a local public radio program on Saturday mornings featuring THE BLUES and was the first person to play Matt Schofield’s music on the radio anywhere on the planet.  So, Matt not only is very grateful to Mick for what he’s done for his career, he genuinely enjoys playing with the man when he can.

When the two-hour concert ended, I felt like I had run a marathon, or at least what I imagine I would have felt like if I ever had run a marathon.  I had been wrapped in a kind of sound I had never heard before, especially live and so close that it felt like I was right next to the band, because I was.  On further reflection, I think what I thought would be a good introduction to THE BLUES was much more a perfect performance of perfect music that transcended cubby-hole labels.  The lyrics were bluesy (I think THE BLUES has a rule that the first line of every stanza has to end with “baby”), but I had also heard some of the best rock guitar I have ever heard in my life, and the jazziness was pleasantly energetic, making much more sense to me than anything I’ve heard of Miles Davis.

I managed to find my way to the front of the club to purchase a CD of Matt’s latest album and get him to sign it for me.  I think he would have signed it for me even if I didn’t know his dad; he seems like that nice a kid.  But I have always stood in awe of the kind of talent that I had seen and felt and heard that night, so it was hard for me to just make light conversation. 

On the way home that night a few thoughts occurred to me.  First, percussion of the rhythm and intensity sustained as it was for about two hours does, in fact, act as something of a laxative. 

Second, while there were a few other people there whom I know from the Pub at Fair Play and the local south county area, the room was mostly filled with enthusiasts of THE BLUES from all over the Sacramento area, and probably some who had come from even further away than we had. 

And finally, yet again I was struck with the richness of experience I have encountered because of what the people I’ve met have chosen to share with me, in and near the place I call home.  


Patti said...

Wonderful writer and great company. Great concert.

Carl L. Hager said...

Patti, I quite agree that Jon is a wonderful writer. I'm looking forward to publishing more of his writing in the future. His "Discovery" article is the first by several excellent writers I have invited to contribute to Jazz (Jazzers Jazzing), so stay tuned!