Sam Newsome

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

The SN Trio live at Corlears Hook Park (2017)

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"This music is exquisite..." Bruce Gallanter, DMG

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

2017 Downtown Music Gallery Reviews - Bruce Gallanter


Featuring Sam Newsome on soprano sax and Jean-Michel Pilc on piano. After five discs of solo soprano sax (!?!), Sam Newsome decided to try something different so he organized a duo session with French ex-pat pianist Jean-Michel Pilc. It turns out that Mr. Newsome and Mr. Pilc have been collaborating for a while with Newsome being a member of Pilc’s quartet (CD on Dreyfus). The duo cover seven well-known standards (Ellington, Monk & Coltrane) but do them in a unique way. Most of the songs are first (and only) takes, hence they sound fresh. “Autumn Leaves” has been covered by just about everyone, but I must admit that I dig this version since the duo seem to jump in and out of the stream, leaving space for the listener to add his or her own central current/flow (ongoing melody or structure). The music is exquisite, without too much embellishment or too many notes when a few will do. After concentrating on playing soprano sax exclusively for a number of years, Mr. Newsome has a wealth of ways to play and alter his approach, coming up with novel sounds for his special sax. He often bends and stretches his notes out, notes expanding and contracting in completely distinctive ways. Their version of Ellington, “In a Sentimental Mood” is sparse and filled with suspense, using as few notes as possible yet somehow most effective. Mr. Pilc spins a thick web of lines on “Giant Steps” when it begins while Mr. Newsome softly adds spiraling notes on top, the tempo increasing as it evolves. Pilc mutes a few of the strings, giving them a slightly bent yet playful quality on “In a Mellow Tone”. At times it sounds as if the duo are heading in opposite directions yet end up back together when we least expect it, especially the two pieces which are freely improvised and move in odd directions. Even when the duo play a bebop standard like “Out of Nowhere”, they seem to spin it in their own way. Mr. Plic does a marvelous job of playing two separate themes with each hand while Mr. Newsome plays those twisted notes on top. Considering that this discs features merely a duo, these two master musicians have found ways to reinvent the many different ways that they can work together in a fascinating, surprising dialogue. Excellent! - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

SAM NEWSOME - Sopranoville: New Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Saxophone

Featuring Sam Newsome on prepared and unprepared soprano saxes. One saxist Sam Newsome sold his tenor sax and picked up the soprano, he became a man on a mission to explore the depths of playing solo soprano sax. This is Mr. Newsome’s fifth disc of solo soprano sax and one might think that he is running out of ideas but this is far from the case. Actually, Mr. Newsome has gone even further this time by experimenting on several levels: overdubbing numerous soprano saxes and altering the sopranos with varied manipulations: aluminum foil, scotch tape, making reeds out of straws and adding chimes or other percussive effects. There are some 22 pieces here and each one explores the soprano(s) in many different ways. Starting with, “The Quiet Before the Storm”, a stark, hypnotic, solemn intro for lone soprano with soft chimes, a great way to begin our journey. “The Doppler Effect” is for three soprano saxes in circular motion, spinning together in a most mesmerizing way. Even better is “Horns of Plenty” for 15 sopranos, interlocking in strong rhythmic patterns. The aptly titled “Hiss and Kiss” is for three mouthpieces, bending and twisting their sounds just right. For Mr. Newsome’s previous CD, ‘The Straight Horn of Africa’, Sam worked on setting up African rhythms by tapping on the keys of the sax. He continues to experiment with similar rhythms here, creating shifting patterns with one of more saxes, interlinking their lines. in “Micro-Suite for Fifteen Sopranos”, Newsome layers a number of slightly bent notes in a most fascinating way, the haze of notes being somewhat disorienting. The are only two songs covered in this collection: one is John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” for three sopranos played into a piano for resonance, all saxes swirling around one another until they play in unison near the end, all to great effect. Newsome has obviously worked hard at exploring a good deal of extended technique sounds, like using this odd flutter-tongue sounds which have been more common in recent years yet still sound fresh if one goes beyond their superficial use. I dig the way Newsome stacks up layers of bent note lines on “Soprano-ology”, combining alien sounds with something somehow familiar to those who enjoy taking chances, never knowing where things will end up. Sam Newsome has worked hard and created his own sonic world. well-with exploring. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Four "Musts" for Awakening Your Inner Artist

Being and thinking like an artist is no easy task. Not just because of the ability, patience, and courage required, but because you must be primed to receive and deliver your ideas from such a creative head space. Like anything else, this requires a certain conditioning. Below are four "musts" that I've identified that might help you to get closer to thinking and creating from an artist's mindset.

1. Must be a blank slate.
Being a blank slate is so important because you don't want new ideas to be covered by old molds of thought. This will prevent you from realizing their potential. Imagine you're about to paint a picture. You will have a much different relationship with those new images when applied to a clean canvass versus painting over an old one. And sometimes being a blank slate is the willingness to let the former die so that you can be reborn.

2. Must be willing to be vulnerable in front of the world.
One of the things that all artists possess is a willingness to bare their souls in front of all. Great artists let it all hang out. Artists like Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollock, and Marlon Brando left nothing to the imagination. They embodied total spiritual and emotional transparency. You have to be willing to show the world your bad as well as your good, and all that's in between.

3. Must be aware

Being aware is crucial. Great art is not only a reflection of the times but what artists often reflect is how things could be different or maybe even better. This is why John Coltrane's A Love Supreme could not have been created during the 1940s, or why Albert Ayler would not have existed during the 1930s. There was nothing going on to inspire those types of creations. If we as artists are going to be a step or two ahead of popular trends and modes of thought, we have to be aware enough to know what we're getting ahead of.

4. Must have skills sets
You can be the most creative and innovative thinker in modern times; however, if you don't have the skill sets to bring those creative and innovative thoughts to fruition, they won't amount to a hill of beans. Often times, this is where people drop the ball. I've encountered many who come across as imposing figures on paper, or they may talk a good game; yet, they appear flat when you actually hear them play. This is because they lack the musical, mental, and instrument control to allow their ideas to prevail uncompromised. This takes work. I don't have an answer as to how to make this happen. All I can say is, "Make it happen, any way you can."


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Five (5) Things I Learned from Playing in Saxophone Quartets

Since becoming a soprano player over 20 years ago, I've held the soprano chair in two saxophone quartets. The first was with the Collective Identity Saxophone Quartet, which I co-led with Jorge Sylvester on alto, Aaron Stewart on tenor, and Alex Harding on baritone; and the second was with the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet (also known as BSQ), which was co-led by tenor saxophonist David Bindman and baritone saxophonist Fred Ho. During the two years that I was with BSQ, both John O'Gallagher and Rudresh Mahanthappa occupied the alto chair.

Even though I loved playing the arrangements, and performing in such a musically self-governing context, it was, however, frustrating always feeling overpowered when we all played together. This was partly due to me still figuring out the instrument, and partly due to the other members not always being sensitive to the delicate nature of the instrument.

I remember saxophonist Greg Osby expressing the same concerns. He also felt musicians could be insensitive to the soprano's dynamic limitations. It's a different animal. And those accompanying a soprano player don't always understand that you can't treat it like a piccolo alto or small tenor up and octave. The soprano its own entity. 

All kvetching aside, I some how figured out how to project. And when I couldn't, I used a mic. And I must admit, it did make me a better player and forced me to push myself beyond what I thought was capable. So I do see playing in saxophone quartets as a very positive experience, and highly recommend that all saxophonists have this experience at least once during their careers. It's like no other.

In fact, here are five things I learned from playing in saxophone quartets that I feel makes us stronger players, no matter what musical context we find ourselves in. 

1. Learned how to be more autonomous when providing rhythm. As wind players, I think we can all agree that when it comes to the rhythmic accompaniment, we tend to be more receivers than givers. This is understandable being that known as melodic instruments. Even though a strong rhythmic understanding is vital to our improvisation, however, applying it from the standpoint of a percussionist only strengthens our understanding of it.

2. Learned to think nonlinearly about harmony. I found this to be particularly true when having to improvise over chord progressions. There seemed to be more harmonic freedom when the chordal accompaniment is being provided by other saxophones versus a piano or guitarist. Harmony seems to exist more as harmonic implications rather than harmonic absolutes. Looking at harmony in this way taught me how to think beyond diatonic harmony and the available tensions. I also learned how to approach improvisation textually and atonally. 

3. Learned how to blend with other saxes. As the soprano player in these groups, it was particularly challenging in that not only did I have to project over these much larger and louder horns, but I had to also find a harmonious blend. Also, the pairing of instruments was always changing. Within one tune it could be soprano/tenor, soprano/bari, soprano/alto/tenor, soprano/tenor/bari, you name it. Each with its own set of challenges. Having to do this was a great lesson in textual flexibility.

4. Learned how to function in non-melodic roles. In both groups, it was a challenge having to provide harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment, especially during some of the more extended improvisations. This forces you to think beyond the linear construct of the saxophone. I found that developing a sonic vocabulary of extended techniques was extremely useful in this setting. 

5. Developed endurance. As a soprano player, there's probably not a better training ground for building endurance and overall chops strengthening than playing in a saxophone quartet. For one, you're required to play continuously for four to five minutes with few moments to rest; two, you're required to project over three much larger horns. (In classical saxophone quartets this is less of an issue since they tend to play set-ups that give them more dynamic range, especially when it comes to playing at softer volumes); and three, you're required to play a fair amount of written material over an extended period of time, and written material tends to be more demanding on your chops.

Again, these are just some lessons I've learned. I'm sure every sax player would come away with their own unique set of learning experiences. 

So I'd like to conclude with a piece from Collective Identity's first recording called The Mass. This is my original titled "The World According to Shaquana Goldstein." It's an extended three-part suite that clocks in around 12:53, and it features pretty much everyone. This happens to also be the first saxophone quartet piece I ever wrote.  And listening back to it several years later, it doesn't sound bad. With these guys, it's hard to go wrong. And I owe these amazing musicians a huge debt. They were very instrumental in my development. I was fortunate to have cross paths with them. Oh yeah, and this is a kinder, gentler me. I hadn't yet gotten into all the crazy stuff. I was still employable.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

10 Reasons Why You Might Have Problems with Rhythm

As teachers and performers, we often prescribe the metronome as the all-purpose solution to most of our rhythmic and metronomic ailments. In most instances, practicing with the metronome is the best resolve for these matters. But not always. Sometimes these issues result from things we are doing incorrectly, or just simply not doing. 

In this piece, I've identified 10 reasons why you might have problems in some of the aforementioned areas as well as a few prescribed remedies. These are hardly the laws of the land, just a few pointers that have helped me over the years.

1. You have not thoroughly absorbed the material at hand.  Trying to play things before we have thoroughly absorbed them is one of the surest ways towards rhythmic calamities. When creating in real time, there's plenty of room for error, but little room for hesitation. In general, we tend to be more hesitant with things with which we are uncertain. 

2. Playing outside of your comfort zoneTypically when we go for things outside of our musical reach, we tend to get into rhythmic trouble. The solution: Play less, and play what you know. Sometimes it's ok to drive under the speed limit. You don't always have to burn rubber.

3. Don't spend enough time listening to music. Writers understand that if they want to write well, they have to constantly read. As musicians, we tend to forget that listening is just as important as playing. Chances are that if you're constantly listening to players with great rhythm, you'll probably instinctively begin to play that way. Or at least you'll have a clearer understanding of how things are supposed to sound.

4. Need to play more. There's no better way to improve at something than by simply doing it. Playing allows you to assess what you can and can not do in real-time. It also gives you a more realistic perspective of your musical comfort zones.

5. Mentally unfocused. Sometimes our minds are just not in our work. And this is where practicing with a metronome helps. Having constant rhythmic accountability enables us to practice from a more heightening state, which will usually translate into you performing from the same state of mind.

6. Technical difficulty. Let's face it. If we can't technically execute something, it's not going to be rhythmically sound. This is usually the result of needing better instrumental control or just needing to get our ideas better under our fingers.  

7. Uncomfortable with our sound. People often underestimate the importance of sound. Being comfortable with our sound helps us to be more centered. And if you're centered and relaxed when you play, that will be reflected rhythmically, and definitely musically.

8. Thinking too rigidly about time and rhythm. If we're constantly looking at these musical components through narrow and limited scopes, we may never find what works best for us. Imagine that Ornette only interpreted time from the perspective of Sonny Rollins. Or what if Cecil Taylor only viewed time through the rhythmic lens of McCoy Tyner. Neither of them would have experienced the rhythmic liberation that enabled them to change the way we think about music.

9. Practicing with the metronome too much. There is such a thing as over doing it with the metronome. I've certainly been there. In doing so we don't allow ourselves to connect with our own internal clock. More importantly, we don't learn to trust our musical instincts. And ultimately this is our most valuable metronomic resource. 

10. Have not embraced your own unique relationship with rhythm and time. The fact of the matter is that everyone has their own unique relationship with these musical components, as they do with sound, melody, harmony, etc. And we have to learn to embrace this aspect of playing music. Some play perpetually ahead of the beat, some seem comfortable just a little behind it. Some are masters at swinging and playing over complex chord progressions, some make their most profound musical statements during free improvisation. Whatever the case may be, do what you do and be the best at it. Own it!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Transcription and Analysis of Steve Lacy's Solo on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise"

Steve Lacy's improvised solo on the Sigmund Romberg and Oscar Hammerstein composition "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" was transcribed from the album Jazz Idiom recorded in 1954 on Jaguar Records. It was recorded by the Dick Sutton Sextet which featured Dick Sutton on trumpet,
Ray Anderson on trombone, Steve Lacy on soprano sax, Don Sitterlex on baritone sax, Mark Trail on bass, and Billy DeHay on drums.

Although Sidney Bechet was the first to be prominently featured on the soprano sax, it was Steve Lacy who gave the soprano a home in modern jazz. Unlike many of his peers, he managed to sidestep the complexities of bebop and hard bop. He went directly from Dixieland to more progressive and avant-garde styles of jazz.

The melody of "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" follows a 32 bar AABA structure, both during the melody and the improvised solos. The A section is in C min and it modulates to Eb Major for the B section. 

Even though this version of the song is credited as "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise," there is actually a new melody written for the A sections of the first chorus, but the B section, however, does contain the original melody. Therefore,  this version of the song is only a partial contrafact. Contrafact is a term coined by David Baker which describes when a new melody is written on a pre-existing set of chord changes. This practice was used quite commonly during the bebop era. The other method of interpreting standard repertoire is through the use of a composition technique known as reharmonizing. This is when you take a pre-existing melody and set it to a new harmonic structure. 

The band does, however, play the original melody during the first two A sections on the head out, performed in the contrapuntal Dixieland style, before returning to the contrafact melody for the last A section.

The improvised solo

First two A sections

As shown in the transcriptions below, Lacy's solo is pretty diatonic. For the first two A sections, he primarily improvises of the progression C min / Dmin7(b5) G7(b9) using the tonic harmonic minor scale; however, using the scale's flatted 6th and major 7th, sparingly. 

In fact, the only non-diatonic note used is the sharp 4. And this is primarily used in the context of blues, as shown on bars 6, 8, 9, and 10. This is very idiomatic for this period. Scales like the dorian, mixolydian, and the multiple variations of the bebop scales, were more of a modern jazz phenomenon. Players from this era kept it pretty bare bones. Much of their improvisational acumen was demonstrated through their inventiveness with melody, rhythm, the blues, and often times, awe-inspiring dexterity on their instruments.

B section

During the first two bars of the B section, when it modulates to Eb major,  Lacy improvises on the major scale of the chord, also known as the Ionian mode. In the 4th bar of the B section, he plays F harmonic minor on the E dim. Players often play a G min7(b5) C7(b9) instead of the E min in order to create a more interesting harmonic motion,  thus, create more possibilities during their improvisation. Using the Roman numeral analysis, it would be the #I dim substituted by the ii7(b5) and its related V7(b9).

Last A section

In the first bar of the last A, Lacy emphasizes the major 7th, which at first creates a lot of tension,  but resolves smoothly to the tonic. From there, he continues playing over the C minor using the harmonic minor scale.

The transcription of Lacy's solo appears in concert, Bb, and Eb keys. 

After listening closely to this recording, practice it at different tempos with the metronome clicking on beats 2 and 4. This will help you dig more deeply into the time, consequently, strengthening your swing feel.

Please note that this transcription is absent of dynamics, phrase markings, and articulations. This is intentional.  In order to truly capture the essence of an improvised solo, you have to listen to it, again and again, until you start to hear all of its subtle nuances.  This is when you truly start to understand what improvisation is all about. Jazz is "off the page music." Its essence is not found in what is written, but in what is not.


And please check out my book Life Lessons from the Horn and my new CD, Sopranoville.

                             CLICK HERE:

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

5 Star Review in Downbeat

This five-star review is from the June 2017 edition of Downbeat magazine, with Diana Krall on the cover. For some reason, I forgot to post this. I probably got caught up in a million and one things. Better late than never. And a special shout out to Michael Jackson for being generous with the stars.

I was actually very nervous about putting this recording out, seeing how it pushes the envelope more than usual. I never know how these outside of the box projects are going to be received. Fortunately, the feedback has been positive. So I guess you never know. Onward and upward!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Young Steve Lacy (1954): The Bechet Period

In 1954, while still a student at the Manhattan School of Music, Steve Lacy was performing regularly with a Dixieland repertory band called the Dick Sutton Sextet on both soprano and clarinet. The band wasn’t Dixieland in the strictest sense. At times, they sounded more hard bop and West Coast than Dixieland. 

Lacy recorded two albums with Sutton, the young trumpeter. The first was August 8, 1954, on an album titled Jazz Idiom, and the second was November 24, 1954, on an album titled Progressive Dixieland.

During this period, the Sidney Bechet influence on the 20-year-old Lacy is very evident from his use of the fast and wide vibrato that defined Bechet; his penchant for arpeggiated lines that outlined the chord structure, versus the chromaticism pervasive in the bebop vocabularies; and of course, how he maintains very close ties to the blues when playing the melody and while improvising. He often exclaims that he picked up the clarinet after hearing Bechet’s version of Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche, recorded in 1941.

Before we hear Lacy with Dick Sutton's group, let's first listen to the recording that inspired him to take up the clarinet, showing his entree into jazz. In this version of "The Mooche" recorded on October 14, 1941, we hear Bechet on clarinet, Henry Goodwin on trumpet, Vic Dickerson on trombone, Don Donaldson on piano, Ernest Williamson on bass, and Manzie Johnson on drums. 

On this recording, Bechet does not take an improvised solo. He makes his musical statement solely from how he plays the melody. One of the paramount lessons Lacy probably learned from Bechet was the importance of being able to tell a story with one's sound--something Lacy seemed to have learned well. With regards to Bechet's sound, Lacy had this to say: 

“Many did not care for his sound owing to his excessive use of a very wide vibrato. My own feeling is that this was a means, perhaps, of covering the natural inaccuracy of any given note on the horn itself." 

And this is another tip I imagined Lacy learned from Bechet, when striving to achieve pitch ascendancy over the defiant horn.

After Lacy took up the clarinet in 1949 at the age of 15, he began hanging out at the Stuyvesant Casino, a music venue located at 140 Second Ave., at Ninth Street, that primarily featured Dixieland bands. In this picture, we see a young 19-year-old alongside many of mentors at the time,  such as clarinetist Pee Wee Russell (far right), saxophonist and clarinetist Cecil Scott, who taught Lacy clarinet and the soprano saxophone when he 16 years old, (left of Pee Wee Russell) and trumpeter Harry Hot Lips Page (left of Cecil Scott). This was pre-Monk and Cecil Taylor, mind you. 
In 1951, Lacy played his first gig at the Stuyvesant Casino as the featured performer. The club billed it as “Bechet of the Today.” Something he certainly felt embarrassed about.

Stuyvesant Casino (bandstand)

Stuyvesant Casino at 140 Second Ave., at Ninth Street, New York City 

The following tracks are from the two aforementioned Dick Sutton Sextet albums recorded on Jaguar Records in 1954. What’s really remarkable is that even though Lacy had only been playing the soprano for four years, he already has a personal sound (though influenced by Bechet), excellent sound control, and a good amount of technical fluency. It’s as though he was meant to play the instrument.

Track 1:  "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" was recorded on the album titled  Jazz Idiom in 1954 on Jaguar Records.

Dick Sutton - trumpet
Ray Anderson - trombone 
Steve Lacy - clarinet, soprano sax
Don Sitterlex - baritone sax
Mark Trail - bass
Billy DeHay - drums

Track 2:  "Let's Get Away from it All" was recorded on an album titled Progressive Dixieland in 1954 on Jaguar Records.

Dick Sutton - trumpet
John Welch - trombone
Steve Lacy - soprano sax
Frank Caputo baritone sax
Mark Trail - bass
Billy DeHay - drums

Track 3:  "Avalon" was recorded on the album titled Jazz Idiom in 1954 on Jaguar Records. 

Dick Sutton - trumpet
Ray Anderson - trombone 
Steve Lacy - soprano sax
Don Sitterlex - baritone sax
Mark Trail - bass
Billy DeHay - drums

Coming soon will be a transcription of Steve Lacy's solo on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." Stay tuned.

And please check out my book Life Lessons from the Horn and my new CD, Sopranoville.

                             CLICK HERE:

                          CLICK HERE: 


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