Sam Newsome

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

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)


  1. Since Sidney Bechet’s / Sam Newsom is the exclusive innovator in the soprano saxophone ....
    Hear his amazing sonic conceptual direction in Rare Metal / AfroHORN / Francisco Mora-Catlett

  2. Very interesting article, thank you! I've been working on the baritone saxophone for over 30 years now. I've sent all of my recordings (8 so far, only original music) in double copy to Down Beat, since 2001. No reactions yet :)
    Every year I see half of the bari list populated by fellow saxophonists (all deserving) who nevertheless mostly double on the big horn. The professional aspects you list are enlightening in describing how the situation is, for most of us. Congratulations for being on the list!


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