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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome Plays Monk and Ellington (The EPK)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sound Composition: Mixing and Matching Sonic Sources

We're often told how we should develop  our sound from a technical standpoint: long tones, breathing, correct embouchure, etc. However, we're rarely instructed on how we should work on our sound from a conceptual standpoint.  And by conceptual,  I'm referring to the aspect of our sound that reveals a personality or voice. For clarification, "personality" and "voice" doesn't have to necessarily have to mean original.  

How do we compose a sound?

Typically when we think of composition, when think of composing with notes, chords, and rhythms. However, with sound composition,  you're  creating something by combining different types of sound concepts.  And symbolically speaking, a sound concept could be thought of as a color.  

My sound composition is made up of the sound concepts of Wayne Shorter, Steve Lacy, Keith Jarrett, and a dash of  Sidney Bechet. And let me add that in no way do I try to clone them. But  I do, however, use their sounds as  strong points of reference. This consequently helps me to establish sonic clarity. The more defined our points of sonic reference, the more depth and clarity we hear in our sound's character. 

Skeptics feel this poses the danger of us sounding like a clone. And yes, it is true that many who have been very singular in their approach to sound composition do, in fact, sound like clones. And this kind of thing results for two reasons. One, the player is only drawing from one or two sources, and two, they've failed to take the most important step, which is to interpret these sound influences in a personal way. 

If it's originality that you're looking for, it should come from the way you put together different sound concepts in an original way, not from trying to create something from thin air.

Often times when we think we have something original, what we actually have  is something very bland. In fact,  unskilled players are probably the most original sounding people I've heard--especially if you equate originality with playing things that are unrecognizable. 

When it comes to sound composition, there are in fact two types of originality. There's the type originality that comes from cleverly interweaving notes and sounds from disparate sources. And there's the originality that comes from having few or no points of reference.

Sounding like someone else is not as easily accomplished as we are lead to believe. It's rare the somebody's casually doing their thing musically and wake up one day to find that they gave become a clone. Becoming a copy of someone is a very deliberate and conscious effort.It's not something that happens casually.

 So don't let the fear of losing yourself keep you from studying and fully embracing the sound concepts of others.  You probably couldn't do it if you tried.

Monday, February 10, 2014

PRESS RELEASE:The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome Plays Monk and Ellington (Live at the UNCG New Music Festival)

Soprano saxophonist Sam Newsome has released his first live recording as a digital download single. It’s an 18 minute solo saxophone performance recorded at the 10th Annual UNCG New Music Festival. “I had thought about selling each of the four tracks separately,” says Newsome, “ but I realized that doing so would take away from the whole listening experience, which is why I decided to sell the entire performance as one track."

On this “energizing and beautiful” performance, Newsome plays a program of Monk and Ellington pieces (Sophisticated Lady, Misterioso, Ask Me Now, and In a Sentimental Mood), intertwined with multi-phonics, slap tonguing and circular breathing—many of the things that have become staples of Newsome’s sonic vocabulary. “Even though I've composed several pieces for solo saxophone through the years,” says Newsome, “applying my concept to standards is still one of my favorite things to do. I feel like I'm able to forge ahead while still paying tribute to music and players from the past.”

This is Newsome’s fourth solo saxophone recording since his 2007 release, Monk Abstractions, chosen by All About Jazz –New York as one best tribute recordings of the year. According to Newsome, this recording began as a video that I was going to be posted on Youtube. “When Mark Engebretson, the founder of the festival, sent me the video, I found myself just listening to the audio, since the lighting in the video wasn’t very good. That’s when I got the idea to get the audio mastered and release it as a digital download. And selling this recording as a $0.99 digital download is a great way to make it accessible to the public, not to mention, economical for me as the artist.”

Please look out for The Art of the Soprano, Vol. II: The Straight Horn of Africa, scheduled for release September 1, 2014

Sam Newsome: The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome Plays Monk and Ellington (Live)

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Words of Wisdom for the Self-Promotionally Challenged

There's not a musician alive who hasn't had some club owner give them a hard time about them not packing their venue with people.  Some places even penalize you if you don't draw a certain amount of people. It's beyond pay to play. It's play, pack or be punished. 

I understand that venues need money to operate, and a plentiful audience often means that revenue is being generated, either through ticket sales, drinks or both. That part Iunderstand. It's when they place the responsibility solely on the performer  and to make them feel bad for not being a draw. This is when I feel the relationship has become exploitive and almost abusive. I equate it with being like hiring a chef to cook for your restaurant and then blame him if there's no dinner crowd.  And no one would fought the chef if he took the position of  "you want me to cook the food and bring in the clientele?" But for some reason the musician isn't afforded that same type of singular approach to what he or she does. And I realize that this is the age of the DYI musician and performing many roles is just a part of our job description. 

I typically stay away from situations like door gigs where it's on me to bring in all the people. And I know some people are great at it. But unfortunately I'm not one of them. And frankly, many of the people that I know who do well in door gig situations, do so because of the strength of their music or name recognition, not because they demonstrate  extra-ordinary promotional or pr skills. 

 My expertise lies more in promoting my music than my concerts. There is a distinct difference. I think of promoting a concert as being solely about selling tickets. Your purpose is to fill up the seats. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your music. People attend live performances for all sorts of reasons: they might attend just to see the venue, they could be there for the food, they could have been the winners of a ticket give-a-way, or  maybe they're just there as a part of a group tour.  The bottom line is that people are there to hear some music, not necessarily to hear you. 

Promoting music, by the way, can be about selling tickets, but it's a means to an end. Ultimately it's about sharing ideas. And this can be done in a variety of ways. You can send people your CDs, you can provide lead sheets to your tunes, blog about what you do, or just by simply playing or teaching. The bottom is this. It's all about communicating your passion for what you do, which, consequently, will often make others curious to see what you're so passionate about. It's the same premise as when people see a crowd of people making a commotion over something, then all of the sudden you too are wondering what all the fuss is about.

Career-wise I've  been more successful thinking like an artist than like a concert promoter. l've much better at engaging people with what I'm working on than where I'm playing. And I'll admit that sometimes it's more fun honing it than performing it in front of a live audience. I equate myself with the visual artist who enjoys the creation of the work much more than the exhibition. 

And besides, I'm not sure there are many people that are that  interested in what I do to want and come to hear me live. As a matter fact,  whenever I do play a door-gig as a sideman, if there are more than three people to see me specifically, it's a good night.  I feel there's more of a CD recording buying audience for what I do, than a concert-going audience--which is OK by me. As long as somebody's listening. 

But all in all, I do feel fortunate to get called to perform what I call the triple bonus gigs: these are gigs that guarantee money, have a built in audience, and people come there to listen. We all know that those places are few and far between--especially in New York.  But when it does happen, it reminds me of why I became a musician.

At the end of the day, I guess I just like playing music, not selling it.

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's Ok to be Selfish: It's Your Artistic Right

A few years back, I remember watching an interview with a  famous actor (whose name escapes me at the moment) and he was talking about Martin Scorcese.  He said that Martin selfish. But selfish in best possible way. He said that he was selfish in that everything that you see in his movies is exactly what he wants to see, with little regard to what anyone thinks.

When I first heard this, I thought this is what it's like to be an artist.

All too often we squander our artistic right to be selfish. We spend  too much time trying to appease other people and not enough time trying to make ourselves happy. I'm amazed at how many musicians are do quick to say. " I like it, but I don't think the audience going to like it." Or. " This sounds cool, but the critics will probably trash  it." 

Fortunately I don't  subscribed to that way of thinking--at least not in my mature years. Being totally selfish is half the fun of being an artist. As an adult, there's not another area of my life where being selfish is acceptable, and won't result other's suffering. As a professor, it's a constant give and
take between my colleagues and administration, and the same holds true being a husband and father. So when it comes to time to creating music, particularly my solo stuff, it's all about me--which is how it should be.

In terms of recordings, I feel that musicians still approach making CDs as though they have to be accountable to record companies or A & R guys. Or thinking that somehow making it radio friendly is actually doing anybody any good. Many people that I have recorded with were afraid to put the
tracks that were pushing the envelope at the beginning of the CD with the fear that it would turn off the critics and result in a bad review. This is what I call self-imposed economic slavery.

This is when you become a slave to a particular way of doing something because of your fear of the economical ramifications of not doing it that way .  And since there are no record executives telling you to do this, it's all self-imposed.  We have an unlimited amount of artistic freedom in this DYI era
that we live in, yet,  we voluntarily   choose the path of artistic bondage because of the possibility of financial gain or critical praise.

When you're creating art , this is your time to be as selfish and self-centered as a three old. Three year olds view the world through me-centric lenses.  They do things with little regard to what others think. If they want to wear the brown sock with the red one, they'll do so without the fear of being judged.

And I do realize that imitating a three year can have detrimental consequences. This is one area, however, where following their lead is a good thing.

As artists it's ok to be selfish brats, especially if it means having your work be the way you want it to be. If you have to kick and scream to get it to that  place of content, go ahead. After all, it is your show!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Michel Doneda: Soprano Saxophonist and Sound Artist

I've been a fan of soprano saxophonist Michel Doneda since discovering his music around five to six years ago.  Michel and fellow soprano player Bhob Rainey are two players whom I view as being beyond just free jazz soprano saxophonists; these guys are sound artists.

Michel, who hails from Toulouse, in the south of France, has been a pillar on the European improvised music scene since the early 1980s. Some of his closest collaborators over the last thirty years include singer Beñat Achiary, percussionist Lê Quan Ninh, hurdy-gurdy player Dominique Regef, and bassist Barre Phillips.

Michel is one of my go-to guys for extended techniques. I'm particularly interested in his use of sound clusters, playing two to three extended techniques once, creating these really unique clusters of sound.

Here are just a few that I've discovered:

1) multi-phonics played with the flutter tongue
2) air sounds with key clicks 
3) playing in the altissimo with a flutter tongue and throat growl. 
4) swaying the horn from side to side while playing multiphonics
5) playing kissing sounds with reeds squeaks

And he's also known for his economical use of space. He might improvise for a good 10 minutes before playing any line or conventional melody.

This video features him in a trio with guitarist John Russell and drummer Roger Turner during a 2011 performance at London's Vortex Jazz Club, which has been the city's foremost presenter of contemporary and free jazz since 1987.

Here you can hear his extraordinary control of air sounds (and it's not easy to play them with such velocity and at different dynamic levels) as well as his extensive use of the flutter tongue.

This is just one of the series of soprano players I'll be featuring over the next few months.

Friday, November 29, 2013

78th Annual-Readers Poll (The Soprano Saxophone Category)

I was happy to see that I had made the 78th Annual-Readers Poll in Downbeat magazine. I'm always grateful for any kind of public acknowledgment. It took almost 15 years just for people to start calling me a soprano saxophonist. So for me to appear in any poll in the soprano saxophone category is a milestone as far as I'm concerned. That being said, I always hoping see more people listed in the soprano saxophone category who actually play the instrument.

And I do understand why soprano specialists are often overlooked. One reason is that polls such as this are more about name recognition, than that person's contribution on  his or her instrument. An alto or tenor player on Blue Note or Concord Records, who doubles on the soprano will get many more votes than some idiosyncratic DIY soprano player, just from name recognition--regardless of the significance of their work.

Also, soprano players rarely get a chance to piggyback the success of others. If you're a tenor saxophonist, you could gain notoriety by performing in the band of some high profile trumpet or piano player. I call it GBA (Great by Association). Soprano players don't typically get hired to play in other people groups; we have to path our own way--which is often a more difficult and slower route. I probably get hired to play in other people's groups than most soprano-specialists, but it's pale in comparison to sax players who play the alto, tenor, and baritone saxophones.

But I'm fortunate to have found all my fellow straight-hornists whom I've connected with from around the world. When I first switched to the soprano 18 years ago, the only living soprano-specialists I knew about were Steve Lacy and Jane Ira Bloom. Today, that list has grown significantly: Gianni Mimmo, Harri Sjostrom, Bhob Rainey, Heath Watts, Jane Bunnett,  Joe Giardullo, Kayla Milmine, Lol Coxhill (RIP), Michel Doneda, Nikolas Skordas, Petras Vysniauskas, Stefano Scippa, and Michael Veal. And the list is steadily growing.

But I feel very positive about the future of the "problem child" of the saxophone family --a soprano sobriquet used by Steve Lacy. As more and more soprano-specialists emerge, and continue to document great work showcasing the beauty and uniqueness of the instrument, we'll see fewer and fewer doublelers flooding these polls. In the meanwhile we have to stay ubiquitous and document our work. And, hopefully, in the process, we'll catch the critics and general jazz public up to speed.

In closing, congratulations Mr. Shorter. Well-deserved!

78th Annual Reader's Polls (Soprano Saxophone Category)

WAYNE SHORTER (3,501 votes)
Branford Marsalis (1,872 votes)
Dave Liebman (1,167 votes)
Joshua Redman (879 votes)
Chris Potter  (874 votes)
Kenny    Garrett (735 votes)
Ravi Coltrane (684 votes)
Anat Cohen (657 votes)
Joe Lovano (611 votes)
Steve Wilson (498 votes)
Evan Parker (408 votes)
Jimmy Greene (396 votes)
Jane Ira Bloom (384 votes)
Lee Konitz (372 votes)
James Carter (369 votes)
Roscoe Mitchell (297 votes)
Sam Newsome (288 votes)
Jane Bunnett (255 votes)
Donny McCaslin (222 votes)
Tony Malaby (210 votes)

Soprano Sax Talk Followers

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