Sam Newsome

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


Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Downbeat Critics Poll

Here are the results of the 59th Annual Downbeat Critics Poll:

Category: Soprano Saxophone

1. Dave Liebman
2. Jane Ira Bloom
3. Wayne Shorter
4. Branford Marsalis
5. Steve Wilson
6. Joe Lovano
7. Evan Parker
8. Chris Potter
9. James Carter
10. Sam Newsome
11. Anat Cohen
12. Joshua Redman
13. Kenny Garrett
14. Roscoe Mitchell
15. Jane Burnett

I'm happy to have made a decent placing this year. I remember a time when I wasn't even in the consciousness of the critics. Even though I was one of the few saxophonists of my generation playing the instrument exclusively (at least that I knew of, anyway), I was still never really taken seriously.

And it's understandable.

Many knew me as a tenor player. And when people have one perception of you, it takes a while for them to accept a different side of you--especially when you aim re-event yourself. For example, I like comedian Dave Chappelle. But if he decided to become a Shakespearean actor, it would take me a few years to get used to.

But it did teach me that if you want something, you have to work hard for it. You don't always get it by default. Or just because you feel you deserve it. Besides, anybody can cry "unfairness," or the infamous Spike Lee quote: "We wuz robbed."

I found that real and significant change only happens when you accept responsibility for your own fate. If your music doesn't get the type of response you feel it deserves, you have to either improve it, target a different audience, or learn to market it better. Finger-pointing only leaves you frustrated and bitter. And most of all, in the same predicament.

Even though it's an ego boost when critics say nice things about you, at the end of the day, you have to take these things with a grain of salt. The focus has to be on your body of work and what you want your musical legacy to be--not settling for becoming another flavor of the month. I've seen many of them come and go. So many, actually, that they're becoming easily recognizable.

Dave Liebman placed as the number one soprano saxophonist in this year's poll. But this climb to the top took 38 years. Believe it or not, it's true. If this isn't a lesson in being patient and staying focused, I don't what is.

Like they say, "It ain't over till the fat lady sings!"


  1. Well, I guess you're not the only one that's out of place (misunderstood) on that list. I'd be interested to see how many people equate Chris Potter, Josh Redman or Kenny Garrett with the soprano also!

    Shame Ralph Bowen (to name just one) didn't make the list, I seem to remember that he takes the soprano pretty seriously. And of course apart from Evan Parker the list is very USA centred (what's new), shame but a sad truth - considering the talent in the Old Countries. John Butcher, Louis Sclavis, Michel Portal and Lol Coxhill could of least had honorary mentions (among others).

    Keep blogging - Joe

    Whoops, nearly forgot John Surman and Garbarek ..... and the list goes on.

  2. Back with another quick comment. It's interesting to have a look at this list :

    A lot of extra straight horn players maybe worth looking through.

  3. Hi Joe,
    You're correct. These lists tend to be US centered. Which is further evidence that they are to be taken with a grain of salt. Coxhill and Butcher should definitely be at the top of the list.

    I appreciate your thoughts!

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