Sam Newsome

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Straight Horn of Oliver Nelson

In this post, I'd like to take a look at the Oliver Nelson composition "I Hope in Time Change Will Come," from his 1970 recording Black, Brown, and Beautiful, which has been referred to as a "stirring tribute to Martin Luther King."

Since it's release on the Flying Dutchman label almost 40 years ago, this piece has become somewhat of a staple amongst big band soprano saxophone features. In my opinion, this is right up there with other classic soprano features such as "Afro Blue" and "My Favorite Things."

The Composition: "I Hope in Time Change Will Come"  is a mournful and bluesy slow swing tune built on the standard 32-bar, AB form. The A section is in G minor, and the B section modulates to the parallel major in G, but then bounces back and forth between the parallel major and parallel minor. This piece utilizes the similar hocketing  compositional technique—where a melodic figure is split between a single lower instrument and harmonizing horns—that’s heard in Nelson's classic "Stolen Moments." This is just one of many of Nelson's signature compositional and arranging techniques


The Soprano Saxophone: Nelson, like many saxophonists during the 1960s,  became intrigued by the soprano after becoming popularized by John Coltrane--Nelson, probably more than others. In fact, his 1966 release Sound Pieces on Impulse, features Nelson exclusively on the soprano saxophone, soaring over top a beautifully orchestrated 20-piece big band on three of the pieces. This is one of the first albums I bought after switching to the soprano exclusively. In fact, when I started playing with trumpeter Donald Byrd as a soprano player he used to always say to me,”You need to check out Oliver Nelson.” And I did. But like many who don't play the instrument exclusively, Nelson at times struggled with the instrument's tuning challenges.  But his distinctive and soulful voice still comes through, nonetheless.

Different Versions: (1) This version is arranged by Nelson, conducted by Stanley Wilson, and features the following:

Oliver Nelson, soprano saxophone
Bobby Bryant, trumpet
Frank Strozier,  alto saxophone
John Gross, tenor saxophone
John Klemmer, tenor saxophone
Pearl Kaufman or Roger Kellaway, piano
Chuck Domanico, bass
John Guerin or  Roy Haynes, drums

* There are other instruments heard on the recording such as the trombone, baritone sax, for which players are not listed. So I apologize for not having these details.

(2) This version is arranged by Bob Curnow and features me with the UW-River Fall Jazz Ensemble, directed by saxophonist Dr. David Milne. The concert was part of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls annual RADD Jazz Series. Curnow's arrangement included more space for improvisation, so you get to hear me stretch out more, something I would have loved to have heard Nelson do. But he set the vibe of soulfulness and spirituality, regardless.

Anyway, thanks to Oliver Nelson for his great music, unwavering vision, and courage to delve deeply into the sonic realm of the soprano. And thanks to David Milne for his great musicianship and generous spirit.


Version 1: Oliver Nelson from the recording Black, Brown, and Beautiful. 

Version 2: Sam Newsome with the UW-River Falls Jazz Ensemble, directed by Dr. David Milne


  1. Thanks for jogging my memory about Nelson's soprano playing. Your rendition of "I Hope In Time A Change Will Come" was beautiful!

  2. Thanks for reading, and for the kind words!

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