Really great interview with Scott Henderson by Doug Perkins. Doug and Scott were room mates once and Doug knows a lot from Scott from the early days. Also in the interview there's talk about the HBC album and the latest Tribal Tech Album X, composing and the late great Joe Zawinul.
DP: “Footprints” is probably on of the most commonly called tunes at a jazz jam I can think of, but when Dennis played the opening groove, it was totally fresh. You approach the changes with some really great outside concepts – I know this is a huge question, but are there any devices that you use for re-harmonizing changes in your soloing that you could share?
SH: Well, honestly, I’d have to say that most of the time I don’t know what I’m doing. That sounds like a cop-out answer, but I just grab voicings that I hear, and hopefully they’ll sound good where I choose to play them. Sometimes just the nature of the voicings sound good, even if I play them where they’re not supposed to be. If you move them in parallel or chromatically it can sound great – I just take a lot of liberties and try stuff – I’m not one of these guys that plays a chord substitution because I know it theoretically works. I just don’t have enough training or knowledge about harmony to be able to do that, I’m just led by my ear and I grab these voicings that hopefully work. Sometimes I’ll play the top note of what you would expect to hear with something you don’t expect to hear under it, so that the melody is still there so everything works, except there’s this color below it that doesn’t belong there – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Honestly, I’d have to say that in my case it doesn’t work half the time. (laughs) On the records, when it doesn’t work I’m able to punch in and do it again with something that does work, whereas live I just try to stay positive when I do something that sounds awful.
DP: Yeah, I have found that the top note is like the important thing and then underneath it you can do almost anything you want.
SH: Sure, especially if there’s no keyboard player, you can get away with murder – I get pleasantly surprised when I pull off something that sounds great, even if I had no idea what I was doing. I remember one time hearing Joe Zawinul re-harmonizing a jazz standard and it was just otherworldly. It was blowing me away so I asked him “what are those chords you’re using?” and he said, “You know better than to ask me something like that!” (both laugh)…because it was really obvious that he didn’t know either, you know what I mean? He’s wasn’t coming from “theory” – he was just hearing colors in his head and playing them – in fact, I remember him saying one time “I don’t know what those chords are, but they’re some BAD ASS CHORDS!” (both laughing). So it’s definitely more art than science, and I’m sure most of the musicians that I listen to would agree. I think good players are able to get into a zone where the left-brain is completely shut off. We can transcribe and learn afterwards, but while it’s going down, theory and analytical stuff is out of the picture, at least consciously.