"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

Thursday, October 9, 2014

What’s the Deal with “Interview Music?”


In an article titled JazzTimes.com Exclusive: A Conversation with Terence Blanchard and Branford Marsalis with Jeff Tamarkin, trumpeter Terence Blanchard and saxophonist Branford Marsalis discussed a wide-range of topics ranging from the problems with jazz education, the importance of learning jazz history, and lessons learned from some of the jazz masters. At one point Terence Blanchard begins talking about the term interview music, which is the focus of this piece. This is what Blanchard had to say:

Along the same lines, there’s a thing we used to call interview music. You know what interview music is? That’s the music that sounds better when motherfuckers are talking about it than when they’re playing it. [Both laugh]

[Then Branford Marsalis chimes in with]: I call that think tank music. When you hear them talk about it, you go, “God damn, I can’t wait to hear that shit. But then…”

Before I address their comments, let me first say that the term interview music is something I’ve been hearing for sometime, first from the late pianist Mulgrew Miller and then from pianist Donald Brown. In a 2005 Downbeat interview with Ted Panken, this is what Miller had to say about interview music:

A lot of people do what a friend of mine calls "interview music," [Miller said]. You do something that's obviously different, and you get the interviews and a certain amount of attention.

Here's my take on  “interview music.”

As stated in the aforementioned examples, the term is used in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways to put down musicians with eclectic and often times non-traditional musical taste. The musicians usually at the receiving end of this criticism are younger musicians and are often accused of not having any musical connection to the history of jazz as well as having little knowledge of it. And to add insult to injury, these “un-informed musical charlatans” invent these weird and crazy concepts that the press finds interesting to the point that they want to interview them; hence the term interview music.

In discussing this topic, I feel a little like a double agent, since I have been on both sides of this aesthetical fence. On numerous occasions, I’ve taken the zero tolerance positions of Blanchard and Marsalis, where I would quickly dismiss music or musical concepts that sounded devoid of any connection to the music’s history and (black) culture from which it comes. Let's face it, when you’re trying to swing, you tend to have very little patience for musicians who are not--and even less patience for those musicians who have absolutely no interest in trying. It’s like when you have a certain perception of what it means to dress for a gig. If what you perceive as gig-appropriate attire is a nice suit, a necktie and freshly shined shoes, then you are going to have little patience for that person in torn jeans, a wrinkled T-shirt, and dingy sneakers. You’ll even give the person who has on a tacky suit, a tie, and worn out shoes, the benefit of the doubt--since they are at least making an effort, as far as you can see.

I’ve also been on the side of those people that Blanchard and Marsalis are making fun. I’ve very proudly played music that some might consider to be “music that sounds better when motherfuckers are talking about it” or “think tank music.” I’m sure there have been numerous giggles behind my back about some of my solo projects. And I’ll take those shots to the chin. It comes with the territory when you think outside the box. Or when you go against the grain for what it acceptable as "hip."

I attribute some of my unique perspective to having applied for a lot of grants, back when I had the time. When writing grants, there is natural tendency to think about music in more conceptual terms than musical ones. After all, it’s more about selling the idea. It’s comparable to working at an advertising firm, where you have to sell the client on the concept long before anything has actually been created. I must say, it’s a very liberating and fun way of thinking about music. Thinking in this way teaches us how to conceptualize a musical vision. And part of having a musical vision is being able to see what’s not there; being able to see what others can’t. Otherwise, the only other option is dealing with music in a very classical way—which means that you take tried and tested methods and try to master them. I do understand the joy and skill sets that can be received from this approach. At a certain period in my former life, this was all that I knew.

One way I feel that both worlds can better understand each other is by understanding that musicians basically fall into two categories with regards to how they approach their music. You have the experimental thinker and the conceptual thinker.

Experimental thinkers tend to work on a musical concept or with a band over an extended period
of time, constantly reworking and perfecting it. Whereas, the conceptual thinker tends to be more project oriented (or interview music oriented), and often brings an idea to fruition very quickly, and typically moves on once the idea is realized.

Branford Marsalis and trumpeter Dave Douglas represent these two types perfectly-- Marsalis being the experimental thinker, and Douglas being the conceptual thinker.

Marsalis, with a brief excursion with his group Buckshot le Funk and his trio recordings, has been honing the same band concept for over 20 years. In fact, even when his pianist Kenny Kirkland tragically died, he replaced him with Joey Calderazzo, who was very much influenced by Kirkland—although he has come into his own thing in more recent years. Even all of his bassists share a very similar approach conceptually: laying down quarter notes and pulling the strings. And even though his new drummer Justin Faulkner is very different from Jeff Watts, they do share a very similar modern jazz drumming aesthetic. It’s not like in the bands of Miles Davis, whose drummers were as radically different as Philly Joe Jones and Jack DeJohnette or Jimmy Cobb and Tony Williams. And if you compare Scenes in the City with Four MFs Playing Music, they’re conceptually very similar. What has changed is that Branford is a much better player. Which is the primary goal for most experimental thinkers: "Let me keep playing this thing until I get it right."

Dave Douglas, on the other hand, might release two or three records in a row with entirely different bands and musical concepts. I feel this is partly due to the fact he's very prolific as a composer and needs many groups to keep up with his creative flow. But I have found Douglas to be working with more of a consistent core of players in recent years. Composers, in general, tend to be conceptual thinkers--since there is a completeness in composing that that doesn't exist in improvised music. And many composers are commissioned to write pieces, which tend to be one-shot deals.

Many conceptual thinkers tend to write for a specific instrumentation and then they find musicians to bring the music to life after it's written. This makes it easier to form numerous groups. Whereas experimental thinkers, tend have a core group of players whom they write for. Think about the 70 recordings that John Coltrane made. He probably didn't use over 20 core musicians--which is very common with experimental thinkers. One thing that they need is a consistent format. Duke Ellington is another. He composed over 1,000 pieces over a 50-year span, with many of the original members still in tact. Talking about a consistent musical canvass. And let me also add that having different projects every year makes it easier for agents to book you year after year—which I will elaborate on in just a moment.

The quintessential conceptual thinker, in my opinion, is Anthony Braxton. Some might say that he is the grandfather of conceptual thinkers. Within Braxton’s very vast catalogue of recordings, one will find a wide array of instrumentations, concepts, and styles. All miraculously sounding like Anthony Braxton at the end of the day. It’s a much different situation than say a John Coltrane or Wayne Shorter, musicians whose careers can easily timetabled by experimental periods using various core band members.  Braxton doesn't make recordings with projects that are particularly tour friendly. My new recording, in fact, The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation certainly falls into this category. I have no idea of how to take this music on the road. Sometimes it is OK to make a recording of something just because you feel it would be an interesting project to record. And frankly, some projects don’t warrant that they be explored and examined over the span of several recordings. Sometimes the one recording is enough. I don’t want to hear Kind of Blue, Vol 5.

And not all jazz artists follow the conceptual and experimental schools of thought so diligently. In fact, many jazz musicians throughout their careers, become practitioners of both. And this is sometimes more financially motivated than musically. First of all, in order to follow any of these two schools of thought religiously, one would have to be pretty well-established in their careers. They both require a sound financial support system to be sustained—particularly the experimental thinker's approach. It would have been difficult for Marsalis to have kept a great band together for such an extended period without the high visibility situations he's had the good fortune of being in: like playing with Sting, being the Tonight Show musical director and being signed to Columbia/Sony records for twenty some odd-years. And even though Douglas has not had the high visibility of Marsalis, he does have a consortium of concert and festival promoters who are very enthusiastic and supportive of his musical projects. And his business savvy-ness is pretty evident.

Now as far as the press is concerned, I think conceptual thinkers get more attention simply because their projects are more interesting to write about. Let's face it, how many times can the press keep getting excited about your piano trio, year after year—regardless of how good it is? And I’m speaking purely from a journalistic perspective—especially if you’re one of those musicians who pride him or herself on having a swinging time feel and playing tasteful lines. And besides, conceptual thinkers, quite frankly, are just more interesting subjects to interview and read about.  They’re more likely to discuss new ideas and give fresh perspectives on music that people like myself find interesting and often inspiring; whereas, experimental thinkers tend to just demand praise for having done the work and having stayed the course.They come from a straight ahead world tends to be more discipline-oriented than idea-oriented. It’s a more competitive environment. Ye who knows the most tunes, has the most vast vocabulary, d rwand is the most instrumentally solid, wins the brass ring.  

In closing, I'd just like to say that getting good press is not something we should be concerned about. Our focus should be on creating music that gets our core audience excited, not writers for Down Beat and Jazz Times. Great press should only be the by-product of producing work that excites our core audience. And if you’re on an experimental musical path, accepting that the press is not always going to be excited about what you’re doing, year after year, comes with the territory—unless your group is breaking new ground, year after year. This is often not the case. I do, however, feel that the followers of both schools of thought can learn a lot from each other. Experimental thinkers can open their minds a little more and embrace non-traditional ways of thinking, and conceptual thinkers can flood the jazz market with less pretentiousness. And just for the record, this does not apply to the aforementioned conceptual thinkers named in this piece.

To quote the late Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along!”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Letters to a Young Soprano Saxophonist: Part 3


Dear Jesse,

Let me begin this email by saying “Welcome!” I’m happy to see that you’ve made the plunge, as they say. Moving to New York is a big decision. I commend you for that alone. It often signifies a moment in ones life at which he or she is about to embark upon a very special journey. Let me add that coming here to go to grad school is a smart and practical way of transitioning from North Carolinian music student to New York jazz musician. Grad school is the perfect conduit: One, it places you in the city; two, you’re here as a student, so much of your time is spent learning and going to school instead of trying to make it; and three, being in school allows you to form a network of personal and musical friends and mentors.  The friends and professors that you play and study with over the next few years or so, will prove to be invaluable resources and a solid support system on whom you can rely for the reminder of your life.

And I do apologize for taking some time to get back to you. As a full time professor, the beginning of September and the end of December are my busiest times of the fall. I’m now in my eighth year and it feels great to have tenure.  When I was your age, I never have imagined having a job for life--which is basically what tenure means. Unless they can prove “gross negligence.” I’d basically have to shoot one if my colleagues or engage in improper conduct with one of my students. Both scenarios are highly unlikely.  My situation is so ironic because when I first moved to New York, I couldn’t even get a sax student, never mind co-running a music program at a university. So I guess this can be a lesson to you: You never know.

In your last email, I sensed that you were having difficulty navigating the turbulent political waters of the New York jazz scene—as they say. Hanging out in New York jazz clubs as the new guy in town can feel as lonely and isolating as being the new kid in junior high. Even if you’re tall, the unfamiliarity with which people see and greet you makes you feel small. Everyone seems to know each other. No one cares that you’re there.  Your life seems like an uphill climb. But it’s OK. It does get easier.

When I first got to New York, musicians who were new in town used to hang out at the Blue Note jazz club in the West Village. During the early nineties, they hosted jam sessions from Tuesday to Sunday from midnight – 3:00 AM. And it was packed. There were hanger-ons from the early show, which featured everybody from Bob James to Herbie Hancock. Established musicians would come there on their nights off or sometimes just to hang out and listen after an earlier gig. And then there were those like me: The green-eyed, wet behind the ear, fresh off the cucumber truck, jazz star wannabes, hoping to find a place in the sea of endless saxophonists known as the New York jazz scene.

When trying to get your feet wet in New York, it helps to approach it with as open a mind with which you play jazz—be prepared for and embrace the unexpected. You have roll with the punches. Have a plan, but understand that you might have to revised that plan in a moments notice--no pun intended. Otherwise you might miss out on an opportunity, simply because you were too blinded by preconceived notions. 

And let me leave you with these last words: Enjoy the process. Enjoy the city.

The bandstand is just where you share your experiences through your instruments. It’s what you do when you’re off the bandstand and away from the club that gives you and your music depth.  Inhale. Now exhale.

Talk to you soon!

- Sam Newsome

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Letters to a Young Soprano Saxophonist: Part 2

Dear Jesse,

I was very excited to read in your last email that you’re planning to move to New York in the fall. Living in New York is an experience unlike anything you can experience anywhere else.  Even though I went to school in Boston, not exactly a small town, I still was not prepared for the daily hustle and bustle that came with being a first-time New Yorker. But it was worth it.

First of all, I made the tragic mistake of coming here with only two months rent and change. Huge mistake! Like I said, I was totally unprepared. Typically I shy away from blaming things on extenuating circumstances, but I’ll make an exception this time.

So here's my explanation for my dearth of cash.

A month or so after I’d graduated from Berklee, I started playing in the band of trumpeter Donald Byrd. Playing with him had looked like it was going to be my ticket to making a name for myself in New York as well paying the bills.  The gig with Byrd seemed to be the answer to the three questions that dominates the thoughts of most college music students about to graduate with a degree in jazz studies: Where will I play? With whom will I play? And how will I make money doing it? Like most curve balls thrown by life, I was not prepared for the unexpected. Many people did not know this, but Donald Byrd was a diabetic and his health was not good. He should not have been on the road, at least not without someone at his side to monitor his health. Long story short, a few weeks after our European tour he was hospitalized due to complications related to diabetes. I didn’t get a chance to see him in the hospital, but it was pretty serious. They didn’t know if was going to pull through. But miraculously he did. He was a pretty strong dude. In fact, a lot of musicians from his era were. Those cats were cut from a different cloth. Needless to say, all of the things we had lined up that fall were cancelled.

And what can I say? So the struggle began!

But I did survive, as most do. As I’m sure you will too.   

You mentioned that you were worried about having to work a day job and not have enough time to practice and play music. And those are legitimate concerns.  During my first year in New York, trying to practice and stay on top of my game proved more difficult than I ever imagined. It was hard. The irony was that I had moved to New York to show people what I could do; however, due to extenuating circumstances,  I was only able to show a poor representation. But I did figure it out. As jazz musicians, just as we’re resourceful with musical language, we eventually learn how to be equally as resourceful in trying to figure out how to survive.

Back to your question.

As far as sustaining yourself financially, while pursuing “the dream,” there are a few ways I’ve seen musicians go about it. One, is to move here with enough savings to hold you over for about a year or so until you get enough things happening musically. Which can be difficult, especially if you’ve just graduated from college. Chances are that most of your and your parent’s resources went into paying for your college education. Two, have a steady gig playing somebody’s band before you get here or soon after. Back in the eighties and early nineties the sought after gigs were with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver, Tony Williams, Art Taylor and Taylor’s Wailers, Nat Adderely, Wynton Marsalis. These were bandleaders who’d had a history of hiring young players on the scene, giving them enough exposure and experience that they were eventually able to start their own bands--and this happened with Wynton Marsalis to a lesser extent.  Consequently, these players would go on hire young players on the scene, who’d eventually step out on their own--thus creating an environment of passing the torch. However, in today’s musical climate, there aren’t that many musicians who have enough steady work where someone could make a living only playing with them. And the third way that aspiring musicians have sustained themselves financially is by getting a day job—which is what I had to do. 

Unfortunately, I had a degree in jazz studies. So that and a Metro-card got me on the subway. Back then it was a subway token. And I would be lying if I said that trying to do both is not extremely difficult. It will challenge you to contemplate whether not this is really what you want to do. And I’ve seen a few to fall by the wayside. My situation was especially rough. One, I was living in Rego Park, Queens, which might as well have been New Jersey; two, I couldn’t practice in the apartment that I was sharing with a friend that I had moved down from Boston with. It was a luxury coop building that his father owned an apartment in. Mostly irritable seniors lived in the building. So they had zero tolerance for musicians making noise; and three, the temp job that I had paid minimum wage, as it should have, being that I had no skill sets on than playing changes--even that was shaky at times.

But I think in some ways, you’re more fortunate, since musicians from your generation tend to be a lot more resourceful.  One, you don’t need to jump through the hoops of an A & R guy to have the opportunity to make a record. I can't begin to count the number of cassette tapes I tried to get into the hands of people who held the title of "gatekeeper."  Two, you can be more entrepreneurial with teaching. You're not confined to doing it out of a music shop. You can teach via SKYPE, sell books, or even form your own collective.  And three,  it’s a lot easier to network and get the know other musicians. We had to pay money to go inside of a jazz club just to be able to meet other players. Unless you were fortunate enough to get on the coveted guest list. Nowadays, you can make a lot of worthwhile connections on Facebook and Twitter.

Jesse, I will say this. If you do end up coming to New York, just make sure you’re equipped with these three things: thick skin, lots of musical ability, and a nice little financial nest egg to nurse on. If you’re deficient in any of these areas, your time here will be very, very difficult. So practice your horn and save your money.

Keep me posted.


Sam Newsome

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Letters to a Young Soprano Player: Part 1


Dear Jesse,

Thanks so much for sending me your CD and the flattering note that accompanied it. I know that as an aspiring young saxophonist, reaching out to older musicians that you’ve never met can be an intimidating thing to do. Actually, when I think about it, it’s probably less frightening of an experience, nowadays, than it used to be. Nowadays, you can just do it over the Internet. When I was your age, the only way we could pick the brains of older musicians was to call them on the phone, go to their gig, or show up at their house. Now that’s what I call frightening.  God forbid you should try that with the wrong person. I recall making a few cold calls to older musicians, only to be greeted with 15 seconds of dead silence, which felt like an hour. One of the reasons I try to be welcoming and encouraging to up and coming players like you is because I do remember so vividly what it was like to be on the other side.

And I do appreciate your kind words about my music. I’ve made many artistic decisions through the years that have made me wonder if anyone would ever like what I do. As an artist, I do want to connect with people on the most basic of levels. But I don’t want to pander to them. I want to play what I hear, not what I think others want to hear. To do this would under-mind the very quality that drew them to my music in the beginning.

When I first switch to the soprano saxophone almost 19 years, I did so not knowing what the future would hold for me. I’ve often likened the process to being like jumping off a cliff and having to grow wings on the way down. Thank goodness I stuck with my guns and didn’t give in to the naysayers. And trust me, there were plenty. All in all it’s a decision that I've never regretted. It has been a life-changing journey that has restored my curiosity and excitement about music. And without a doubt, has strengthened me as a saxophonist, artist and person.

But I do want to honor your request, and give you some constructive feedback on your music—specifically on your soprano playing. And I must say, one of the advantages of seeing yourself as an aspiring jazz musician versus an established one, is that you are open to constructive feedback. Unfortunately, once you graduate from college and start working as a professional, other musicians are usually hesitant to offer feedback--unless you’ve already established a teacher-student dynamic. Otherwise, if they like what you do, they’ll call you back. If they don’t, you won’t hear from them again. That’s the harsh reality of New York. No one is going to say, “Hey, work on these things for six months and give me a call.” They’ll just say, “he plays out of tune,” or “he can’t play changes, or “he doesn’t know any tunes,” or ”he can’t keep good time.”  And that will become your label, at least until they hear you again and you’re able to remove all doubt through your progress.

Now keep in mind that I’m just hearing you on three tunes from a recording, which is lot different from hearing someone live.  The first thing that struck me was that your approach had very little to do with the soprano. It sounded like you were just playing all of the things you'd probably play on tenor, up an octave—which is common. Saxophonists rarely deal with the soprano as though it’s deserving of special treatment different than what’s given to the other saxophones.  The soprano lends itself to a more sound-centered approach to improvisation, versus the idea-centered approach favored by most. 

 Let me clarify how these things differ.

First, let’s start with idea-centered playing. This is when you first realize the idea, and the sound produced is a by-product of implementing the idea. In other words, you think of something to play, and your sound is what’s heard as a result of trying to play it. There are a few advantages this approach. One, you are playing something that’s well rehearsed, so the execution of the idea is often precise and accurate. Two, you have the comfort of knowing that the idea will serve a particular function melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically.

One of the cons, however, is that the idea might sound forced. It might work melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically, but not musically. While I was a student at the Berklee of College of Music, I attended numerous jam-sessions, knowing what lick I was going to play, on which tune and chord. Like many developing players, I figured why practice it if you’re not going to play it--even if the situation doesn’t call for it.

Frankly, approaching music this way can sound uncommunicative, isolated, and technical. And by technical I mean playing ideas that sound calculated and premeditated rather than inspired. Technique in this instance is not a means to an end. It is the means. Just as a side note: If you notice someone’s technique apart from their music, it means they haven’t figured out how to integrate with their music. This is one of the inspiring things about Thelonious Monk. Even though he had a great command of the piano, he never used technique to play a lot of notes. Instead, he used it to play each note with great depth and beauty.

Let me explain sound-centered playing: This is when the primary focus is on sound production, and the ideas heard are mere by-products of the various ways in which you manipulate the sound. One advantage to this approach is that now that you are maximizing each note, which, on the soprano, fully allows you exploring its timbre and textural possibilities before moving on to the next note. Your ideas now take on a more vocal-like quality, which plays to the inherent expressive nature of the instrument. Not to mention, with your sound at the forefront, listeners can now tune into its subtleties—which, by the way, is how listeners will ultimately come to recognize you. 

Jesse, keep in mind that many of these things that I’m mentioning regarding sound should be applied to any instrument that you play. But I am speaking to the soprano, specifically, because this is what I do.

But on a more positive note, I do find your intonation to be pretty accurate. Which is no small feat, especially for someone who hasn’t been playing it that long. I remember when I had just graduated from college, I could barely two consecutive notes in tune. So you’re much further along than I was. But if you’re really serious about getting your soprano chops together, you can’t be satisfied with just being able to play in tune. Maybe 30 – 40 years ago when all sopranos were horrible, maybe you could rest your hat on just being able to play in tune. But nowadays you need to bring much more than that to the table. Nowadays, you need think about developing a voice. And the only way to do that is by thoroughly investigating into the way sound is produced on the instrument and all of its nuances.

So my advice to you is listen, practice and play. And when finish doing that, listen, practice and play some more.  Thanks again for sharing with me your music.  And I hope that you’ll find some of the things I’ve said here useful. If not now, hopefully, in the future.

Take care,
Sam Newsome

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Steve Lacy and the Legacy He Left Behind

In the Peter L. Bull documentary Lift the Bandstand, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy said that in 1960, that he and John Coltrane were the only modern jazz soprano saxophonists. Today, Mr. Lacy would be very happy to know that this is no longer the case. 

Since that time, the soprano has found it's way into the hands of many.  And I think Wayne Shorter summed it up best when he said that "Anyone who plays soprano orientates himself on Steve Lacy." And of course, there was a lot done with the soprano that I'm sure Lacy would not want to take credit for--or at least he would not want to have it blamed on him. But all in all, it has been a positive journey for this enigmatic instrument that Lacy affectionately calls "the difficult child" of the saxophone family.  

Now the focus of this article was to highlight saxophonists who identify themselves as soprano specialists. I say this because many saxophonists who are actually great soprano players have been left off this list: Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Roscoe Mitchell, John Butcher, Evan Parker, just to name of few. But I felt in order to truly commemorate Lacy's legacy, it would be most fitting to highlight soprano specialists, being that we are the ones who are doing as he did, which is to forge a path in jazz that's solely centered around the soprano and all of its many sonic possibilities.  

I'm sure if you were to compare my list with that of the 62 Annual Downbeat Critics Poll (the Soprano Saxophone and the Soprano Saxophone Rising Star categories) there would be little overlap--which is an article all to itself.  In addition to aforementioned reason,  I'm keeping the scope of this list very narrow because (1) to name all of the saxophonists who double and dabble on the soprano would be too exhaustive, and (2) players who specialize on the soprano are often overlooked by the popular jazz press, such as Downbeat, Jazz Times, Jazz Improv, etc. So this is an opportunity bring some attention to players whom jazz audiences should know, but don't, simply because of the instrument that they play as well as having a musical aesthetic that is not in alliance with popular trends in contemporary jazz. And as an aside, many of soprano players listed actually had the opportunity to study with and play alongside Lacy. One cannot help but to envy that. 

The players are not listed in any order of importance. It's simply what felt right at that moment. And if I left anyone off this list, it was not intentional.  It's only because I was not aware of what you do. So please reach out to me, I'd love to hear from you.

David Liebman (Stroudsburg, PA)

Sam Newsome (New York NY)

Jasmine Lovell Smith (Wellington, New Zealand)

 Gilles Laheurte (New York, NY) 1946 - 2014

Kayla Milmine (Montreal, Canada)

Harri Sjöström (Turku, Finland)

Michel Doneda (Toulouse, France)

Petras Vysniauskas (Plunge, Lithuania)


Gene Coleman (New York, NY)

Gianni Mimmo (Pavia, Italy)

Heath Watts (Philadelphia, Penn)

Jane Bunnett (Toronto, CN)

Nikolas Skordas (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Jane Ira Bloom (New York, NY)

Lol Coxhill (London, UK) 1932 - 2012



Joe Giardullo (Stone Ridge, NY)

Andrew Raffo Dewar (Tucaloosa, AL)

Yanni Hat (Athens, Greece)

Bhob Rainey (Boston, Mass)

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lacy. And thank you for the legacy you've left behind.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Remembering Soprano Saxophonist Gilles Laheurte

I was saddened to hear that we had lost one of our brothers of the straight horn, soprano saxophonist Gilles Laheurte. Gilles had been battling pancreatic cancer--probably one of the most difficult fights that one could have.

I first met Gilles back in 2003, while playing at the Jazz Standard with Jean Michel Pilc’s group Cardinal Points. Gilles came up to me during the break and jokingly said to me that it sounds like I like to listen to Steve Lacy. I guess it was pretty obvious, even back then. At the time, I didn’t know that he played the soprano, nor that he had worked beside and studied with Lacy for several years.  He was pretty humble about sharing that information. Many would have led with that upon the introduction—which gives some testament to his humility. And playing the soprano was just one of his many talents. He was a Renaissance man in the truest sense. In All About Jazz, he describes himself as an “architect / planner, an artist, a writer, a poet, a stage actor, a photographer and an [amateur jazz] musician."

Gilles had brought with him that night a relatively new solo recording of Lacy’s titled 10 of Dukes + 6 Originals (2002) that was released on the Senator’s record label, which he was heavily involved with as an associate producer--a label that was devoted solely to the music of Steve Lacy. He graciously gave me a copy of the CD, which, by the way, stayed in high rotation in my CD player for months. In fact, it was a big inspiration to the way that I sequenced the tunes on many of my CDs. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

After my encounter with him that night, I only recently connected with Gilles again in Feburary of 2014, via Facebook; he was a part of the Facebook group called the Soprano Sax Fellowship, created by soprano saxophonist Yanni Hat.  It was then that I sent him a digital download of my new recording, The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome Plays Monk and Ellington. Afterwards, he graciously sent me a very moving and thoughtful letter expressing his admiration for my CD as well as explaining the details of his illness.

Here are some of the brave and inspirational words that he shared with me in his letter. I’ve omitted details about his illness as well as the things he said about my CD.

My philosophy is that we all have to go some day. We come to this planet like Broadway actors going on stage, playing their roles, removing their make-up and going home when the show is over…Despite the shocking news, I remain serene, fearless, and determined to enjoy whatever time is left, which is totally unpredictable. Enjoying the moment, the present moment…which is eternal since it’s always here, is all that matters. We all have to cross the inevitable finish line at some point. I often think of the magnificent Korean movie: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring…still so totally inspiring some 12 years after I saw it the first time…but I do believe that the power of the mind is stronger and is what can REALLY and CONCRETELY make the difference. Like Albert Ayler said it so well: “Music is the healing for of the universe.” I believe in this, I believe in its power, and am determined to live till age 104 (it feels like a good number to me!) and to keep on playing soprano and sopranino!!! Time will tell…

As you can imagine, I was pretty moved by his words. When someone is having to go through chemotherapy, numerous trips to the doctor, and an overwhelming regimen of medications and supplements, just to exist is extremely challenging. So the fact that he took the time write me a letter and to share his music with me, is a true testament to his kindness, bravery, and passion for life and people.

Along with this letter, he included a copy of his CD, Wings of Light, which features him on soprano sax and percussion. And I was happy to see that The New York Jazz Record had reviewed it in their June, 2014 issue, along with my mine and Steve Lacy’s. I’m sure it must have brought him great joy to see his CD reviewed alongside his longtime friend and mentor.

 This track is called "Moon Zen Twilight Zen New Moon." I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And we thank you Gilles for leaving us with such inspirational words, friendship, and beautiful music. RIP

Here are some words of appreciation about Gilles' music from his Soprano Sax Fellowship:

"...a palette of sounds that I think really captures his genius." - Adrien Varachaud, soprano saxophonist

"...is like poetry, small sentences of wisdom that you need to listen to carefully to get the meaning of it."
- Yanni Hat, soprano saxophonist

"Deeply moving..." - Guillaume Tarche, writer and soprano saxophonist

"Quiet playing of the man who let many drink the wine of the gods and almost touch New York skies."  - Stefano Scippa, soprano saxophonist

"Gilles has beautifully distilled the wisdom of Steve Lacy in his playing and made it his own." - Paul Bennett, soprano saxophonist

"He is one of the fe soprano players who really seem to have figured out how to approach Lacy's sound." - Paul Shambles, soprano saxophonist

"The music is light, deep, calm, and assertive, dramatic and embracing. And Japanese - definitely" - Gianni Mimmo, soprano saxophonist

"Gilles is a prince, a poet, a friend to everyone who is looking for something real. I am blessed a hundred times to know him." - Joe Giardullo, soprano saxophonist

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Soprano Summit/Steve Lacy Tribute

For all of you who were not able to make the Soprano Summit/Steve Lacy Tribute at Michiko studios last night, you can check it out here. I'm not sure how long it will be available, so I suggest watching it sooner and than later. There was a lot of inspired music that night.

I had a great time playing with Dave Liebman, soprano sax; Heath Watts, soprano sax; Matt Engle, bass; and Michael Szekely, drums. And kudos to Patrick McGhee for sitting in on soprano.  One of Dave's "best students."

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