Sam Newsome

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

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The 60th Annual Downbeat Critics Poll: A Soprano Perspective


Branford Marsalis
The 60th Annual Downbeat Critics Poll has been posted in the August edition of Downbeat. Branford Marsalis obtained the top spot in the Soprano Saxophone category and Marcus Strickland in the Rising Star Soprano Saxophone category.

Marcus Strickland
I was glad to see that the winners are two very adept straight-hornists. Marsalis, who like Wayne Shorter, divides his time evenly between the tenor and soprano, without a doubt has one of the most distinctive modern voices on the instrument, and Strickland has also been doing some great work in his own right for several years now. And as happy as I am for my two comrads, it would be nice to see more soprano saxophone specialists included.  In general, I feel the category for the soprano is taken less seriously than the ones for the other members of the saxophone family. Meaning that people are voted for without much thought given to the significance of their work with regards to the instrument, excluding the aforementioned winners, of course.

Imagine if alto saxophonist Phil Woods decided he was going to play the tenor on a couple of tunes on his new recording, and because the recording itself became popular he was named Tenor Saxophonist of the Year, solely from name recognition. If this happened, I imagine most tenor players would feel slighted, for a couple of reasons: One, because of his inexperience on the instrument, he wouldn't have a real voice on the tenor. And two, it would feel like a slap in the face to players who have devoted their livelihood exploring the ins and outs of the instrument.

But I guess I shouldn't be surprised, since the soprano often functions more as a doubling-instrument, much the same as the flute and clarinet. For this reason, critics feel less compelled to seek out specialists to include in these polls. Consequently, they tend to vote for whomever is playing the soprano on the most popular recordings of the year, no matter how well they play the instrument. Usually

 they're just voting for people they've heard of, which would explain why the same names often appear, year after year.  

I hope that in the future the soprano will enjoy the same level of respect and consideration as the other members of the saxophone family in these types of polls.  I am optimistic that as younger players become inspired in finding an exclusive soprano voice, and as more blog sites like "Soprano Sax Talk" and Joe Giardullo's "SopranoPlanet" bring awareness to the instrument and practitioners thereof, things will change, given us little guys our day in the sun, too.

The following categories includes players and number of votes received from the participating critics.

Category 1: Soprano Saxophone

Branford Marsalis, 202
Jane Ira Bloom, 167
Dave Liebman, 163
Wayne Shorter, 160
Anat Cohen, 136
Evan Parker, 101
Joshua Redman, 85
Jane Bunnett, 72
Chris Potter, 67
Joe Lovano, 63
Kenny Garrett, .57
Sam Rivers, 46
John Surman, 42
Sam Newsome, 41
Steve Wilson, 37
James Carter, 38
Marcus Strickland, 33
Ted Nash, 32
Roscoe Mitchell, 27
Ravi Coltrane, 26
Sonny Fortune, 24
Tony Malaby, 22

Category 2: Rising Star Soprano Saxophone
Marcus Strickland, 243
Donny McCaslin, 234
Steve Wilson, 220
Ted Nash, 115
Tineke Postma, 100
Vinny Golia, 80
Steve Potts, 64
Jimmy Greene, 62
John Butcher, 43
Sam Newsome, 22
Bruce Ackley, 21
Aurora Nealand, 20

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