Sam Newsome

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

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Let Artistic Freedom Ring!

Artistic freedom isn't just thinking outside of the box, it's being unaware that boxes even exist. I'm not a subscriber to the noble savage syndrome, but I do believe a little bit of ignorance can be healthy to one's creative process. Sometimes being overly informed--or at least not knowing how to turn off the overly analytical part of your brain--can make it too easy to rationalize yourself out of trying something new, or simply just going for it.

For example, only 1% of college basketball players go on to play professionally. If players only focused on this statistic, few would ever even try.  In some cases, you have to put logic and reason aside and just do it. Certainly had I the same understanding of the music business when I was in college that I have now, I may have been drawn to the comfort of pursuing a safer path. 

Here's an example of what would have been my ultimate safe plan: First, instead of moving to New York with my horn, a suitcase and $500 in my pocket (Yes, I was that crazy!), I would have gotten a job teaching in the Boston public school system for a couple of years until I saved up enough money to move to New York. Then, once I moved to New York, I would have gotten certified to teach in the NYC public schools. After I saved up enough money from teaching to purchase my first apartment,  I would have probably had settled down and gotten married and had a kid or two. Eventually, I would have gotten around to starting my career. You can see where I'm going. And this path certainly would have made my mother happy. But being naive and ignorant, coupled with over-ambitiousness, I was able to resist this path of normalcy and traveled one that was very risky but fruitful--thankfully! Had I been preoccupied with the statistics of success probabilities and likelihoods, I never would have bitten the bullet and just gone for it.

Some of my most creative and profound musical moments are born out of this attitude of just going for it--and occasionally, just plain ignorance. Several years ago, suffering a little bit from burn out, I had taken a couple of months off from practicing and I would just pick up my horn and attend jam sessions and play the most "out" and "weirdest" ideas that came to mind. I purposely ignored the chord changes, the form, and sometimes the rhythm, and just played whatever. And you would think that doing something like this would only yield negative responses. Just the opposite. Many expressed that they had never been more impressed. And I can understand why. It was probably one of the few times that people had heard me playing from a space of being totally uninhibited--at least during that stage of my development.

Much of my playing is certainly guided by logical thinking. So my little experiment allowed me to play from a space that others, myself included, were not used to hearing me play from. Again, I was not playing outside of the box. There was no box. 

One creativity exercise I do to put me in this mindset of musical recklessness when I practice is that I pretend that I'm not playing the saxophone and that I'm not really a musician, and I approach playing with the naive curiosity of a small child. I found that this would allow me to venture into sonic areas that would be impossible when thinking within or around the normal paradigm of saxophone playing. Again, I was not thinking outside the box, there was no box during that moment. Just by even creating a box to play outside of, you're already placing limits on yourself. Sometimes it just has to be what it is and nothing else. If it's noise, don't try to make it melodious. And if it's melodious, don't try to turn it into noise. Creativity is not a straight trajectory. Sometimes it makes absolutely no sense. Creativity is random, spontaneous, illogical, and sometimes outside of your control. In fact, part of our job as artists is to get out of the way of creative moments when they're trying to carve out their own unique niche for themselves in our universe. Let them become their own entity.

It reminds me of when we were kids and my grandmother always made us sit quietly on the couch during thunderstorms. We were not allowed to utter a single word. She said we had to "be still" and "hush up" while the lord did his work. Well, in the creative world, we have to "be still"  and "hush up" and let the Lord of Creativity do his work, too.

So the lesson learned: Don't create boxes to ignore, just create.

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