John Scofield and Lettuce Funk It Up Together At SFJAZZ

Lettuce and John Scofield
SF Jazz Miner Auditorium
April 28, 2024

Photos by Paul Piazza

Legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield teamed up with funk marvels Lettuce at SFJAZZ recently for an epic weekend run of shows. The 72 years-young maestro Scofield is considered a musical titan in the world of jazz and groove and beyond. The trio of shows he played with Lettuce were the culmination of a six-day Scofield residency at the beloved San Francisco venue, which has become a West Coast destination for the giants of jazz and explorers of other universally profound musical idioms.

John Scofield

Scofield had spent the first three shows of his residency with his trio of bassist Vincente Archer (Robert Glasper, Nicholas Payton) and drummer Nasheet Waits (Christian McBride New Jawn, Jason Moran’s Bandwagon) deep diving into tunes from Scofield’s recent album Uncle John’s Band, which is an excellent work of interpretations influenced by musical standards, then concluded the stand with a trio of shows with funk powerhouse Lettuce.

Erick Jesus Coomes

Scofield’s incredible musical journey spans beyond five decades. Early on, he worked alongside and recorded with the likes of Miles Davis, Billy Cobham, Chet Baker,  Charles Mingus, and Dizzy Gillespie. The guitarist/composer has also collaborated with countless others outside of the jazz sphere including Gov’t Mule and Phil Lesh. His own astounding catalogue includes dozens of notable works including stints with guitarist Pat Metheney, drummer Dennis Chambers, and the effervescent trio Medeski, Martin and Wood.

Adam Deitch

In 1986, Scofield teamed with Chambers and his Baltimore bass brother Gary Grainger on Blue Matter, which was a high water mark in a format where the trio employs an amazing deftness at blending sophisticated jazz ideas with powerhouse R&B and funk. For his part, Chambers had emerged straight out of a seven year stint with Funkadelic when he joined and brought the chops honed in this experience to create some unique, sophisticated funk in these proceedings.

Ryan Zoidis and Eric Benny Bloom of Lettuce

A little over a decade later in 1998,  Scofield teamed with Medeski, Martin and Wood on the acclaimed A Go Go. This jubilant record showed the guitarist yielding plenty of space to Medeski’s vintage keyboard sounds, Martin’s funky drum breaks, and Wood’s unorthodox bass fills while refining his guitar technique to a slightly less processed more piercing sound that wove across the fretboard with joy.  It was with this trio in the late 90s that Scofield began gaining broader recognition beyond the jazz world and into the funk and jam communities around the world.

John Scofield

So, it was only logical that later in his musical journey Scofield would be joined by his younger peers in Lettuce for a smoldering night of jazz-hued funk. They all first played together at SFJAZZ in 2019, but, in fact, the musicians  had joined forces early on in Lettuce’s career when Scofield played on a couple of tunes for the group’s Outta Here after being impressed by drummer Adam Deitch, who had played on his funk fusion powered Uberjam record earlier that year.

Nigel Hall of Lettuce

Deitch later joined his early 2003’s quartet Up all Night.  Deitch also recorded with Scofield, with a more expanded role on Uberjam Deux.  In between this, Deitch has recorded, written, and produced with a swath of artists including 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, Matisyahu, and Pretty Lights. But his main project has always been Lettuce.

John Scofield and Adam Smirnoff

As time had turned, Lettuce had spent years growing and grooving hard all over the planet. The six piece groove salad got their start when members met at Berkelee School of Music in 1992 with shared influences of Tower of Power (whom they recently toured with) and Herbie Hancock, among others.  It’s kind of crazy to consider that Lettuce has been a band for over thirty years at this point. Over that span of time, they have developed from coming out of the gates with ninja-level funk chops to becoming highly respected, proficient members of the jazz and r&b universe. But don’t kid yourself, they always come at you with the funk as was evidenced by the dancing patrons on the packed floor of the sold out show at SFJAZZ’s Miner Hall.

Adam Smirnoff

On this particular night, which was the finale of the Scofield residency, things began with just Lettuce coming out for a pair of songs to begin the evening. The sextet, which in addition to Deitch also features Nigel Hall on keyboards/vocals, Adam Smirnoff-on guitar, Eric “Jesus” Coomes-on bass, Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet, and Ryan Zoidis on saxophone. The band kicked things off by getting the stage sizzling with “Get Greasy,” followed by Hall’s exhorting vocals pacing “Ready to Live.”

John Scofield and Lettuce

Scofield entered the pitch for the third tune and the band launched into his “Pick hits,” which featured some masterful horns from Zoidis and Bloom. This was followed by “Jungle Fiction” from Uberjam, which Deitch launched into with buoyant flair. Next up came the familiar theme of the Dramatics “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get,” which had been recorded as another Scofield/Deitch collaboration, on the the record Up all Night. Naturally, the band stretched it out with some nice improvisation. Next up was “Filibuster,” which as its name suggests, allowed each band member to state their piece at length. Finally things wrapped up with “The Flu,” an early Lettuce composition from Outta Here, which featured Scofield as a guest on the original recording. Things revved up between Scofield and Smirnoff as they traded stinging solos to put a crescendo on this one and to the evening itself.

When all was said and done, the humility of the musicians revealed itself all night with Lettuce, who Scofield at one point referred to as “these kids I met about 20 years ago who already really knew” how to bring it. Things have only gotten better and better for everyone involved since then and all of the musicians verified that by repeatedly fusing their chemistry together for an evening loaded with musical highs that had everyone walking out the door into a cool San Francisco night satisfied.


John Scofield