Sam Newsome

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

Now available of Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Joe McPhee Plays Monk

Multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee is without a doubt one of the more important musical figures on the free and improvised music scenes in the United States and in Europe. Born November 3, 1939 in Miami Florida, McPhee is equally at home exploring the ins and outs of the soprano as he is playing in the solo saxophone format. As a matter of fact he has released seven solo saxophone recordings dating back to 1977.

 I had the pleasure of meeting him several years ago in Paris, France. We were both working with our trios at the Sunside/Sunset Jazz Club, located in the Les Halles section of Paris. I was working the upstairs room (the Sunside) with bassist Daryl Hall and drummer Donald Kontomanou, while Joe was performing in the downstairs room (the Sunset) with his group Trio X with bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen.  The set times for the different rooms did not overlap, so we were not able to hear each other’s set. But I was honored to be sharing the same sonic space with him that evening.

I was drawn to this particular clip of Joe playing Thelonious Monk’s “Evidence” because it reminded of my solo saxophone CD, Monk Abstractions, on which I also took it upon myself to deconstruct several of Monk's pieces via solo soprano. As documented by Lacy in his voluminous body of work, Monk’s melodies tend to lay nicely on the soprano, falling in a very resonant part of the instrument.

I like the elastic approach with which Joe plays the melody. His rendition reminds me a little of Lacy in that he, too, often veered off into a freer harmonic-scape after the main theme,  recapping with the melody at the very end.  This approach is very effective, because the music always sounds fresh. If one played over the tune's chord changes during the solos it would start to sound predictable. Besides, Monk's melodies are so well-crafted and witty they often inspire lots of ideas on their own.

This performance occurred January 16, 2011 at the Henie-Onstad Art Centre in Oslo, Norway as a part of the annual All Ears Festival, a non-profit festival organized by musicians Guro Moe, Paal Nilssen-Love, Jon Rune Strøm and Lasse Marhaug. This festival, in addition to improvised music, features cutting-edge artists working in the video and dance mediums.

To find out about more of Joe McPhee's music and performances, visit HERE

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

More About Lol Coxhill

Lol Coxhill
Soprano saxophonist Lol Coxhill was the kind of musician who was difficult to typecast. Even though he was widely known for his extensive work as a part of Britain’s improvised music scene--keeping company with the likes of Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and John Butcher--his musical and artistic endeavors extend far beyond avant garde parameters.

Throughout his eclectic career, Lol has worked with the famed punk band The Damed; the R & B band Tony Knights Chessman, soul singer Rufus Thomas; he has made numerous appearances as a TV and film actor; he has frequently showcased his talents as a crooner in the group Melody Four; not to mention the years spent busking around the UK honing his solo saxophone concept.  Which leaves one to the conclusion that the only thing Lol can be typecast as is an original.

Gianni Mimmo
Here are a few words from soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo recounting the encounters he’s had with the late soprano master.

“The first time I listened to Lol was in 1976 in Ferrara, Italy.
 He was playing a solo saxophone concert. In the same evening and in the same place, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton and Richard Teitelbaum were also on the program. Jazz was large at that time.

The last time I saw him (Lol) was at the Vortex in London. I was playing with my trio just before Lol, who was on the program in duo with (guitarist) John Russell.

He had a melodic and liquid and intriguing sound—a soprano father, for sure.
I always recognized something coming directly from Sidney Bechet in Lol's sound, some nasal medium range tones, suddenly flying in the altissimo like a drunk melody. He was one of the fathers of the soprano saxophone and a sweet English man.

I love his way of singing, he has an intimate and warm crooner voice. I still have some LPs and CDs with Lol singing with the Melody Four which featured Lol, Steve Beresford and Tony Coe.

The evening of the day he died I listened to this song which is really moving and sounds like a sort of good-bye to Lol."

Those of you not familiar with the song "I See Your Face Before Me," it's an old Dietz/Schwartz tune that has been covered by all the great crooners from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Hartmann.

This clip should give you some insight into the idiosyncratic depth of Lol's music. Let's face it, how many free players do you know who can croon?

Here are the lyrics if you'd like to follow along:

"I See Your Face Before Me" (music by Arthur Schwartz and words by Howard Dietz)

I see your face before me
Crowding my every dream
There is your face before me
You are my only theme

It doesn't matter where you are
I can see how fair you are
I close my eyes and there you are

If you could share the magic
Yes, if you could see me too
There would be nothing tragic
In all my dreams of you

Would that my love could haunt you so
Knowing I want you so
I can't erase your beautiful face before me

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Soprano Saxophone Great, Lol Coxhill (September 19, 1932 - July 10, 2012)

Lol Coxill
I was very sad when I received an email last night from pianist Ethan Iverson informing me of the passing of soprano saxophone great Lol Coxhill. Born September 9, 1932, Lol was one of the slew of cutting edge, experimental musicians to come out of Britain's Canterbury music scene in the late sixties and seventies.

Some of Lol's greatest work was in the solo and duet formats. He was infamous for his collaborative duos with pianist Steve Miller and guitarist G.F. Fitzgerald. Unlike many free players, Lol often opted for melodicism over noise and texture. In some ways his playing always sounded like a concoction of Lucky Thompson and Anthony Braxton.

A. Braxton and B. Gallanter
I first came across Lol about 10 years ago while CD browsing at the Downtown Music Gallery. This was back when the vanguard music store of experimental music was on Bowery St and Second Street in the East Village. I told the owner Bruce Gallanter that I was trying to expand my library of soprano sax players. He subsequently pulled several Evan Parker and Roscoe Mitchell recordings off the shelf for me to check out.  And as I was deciding on which CDs I was going to purchase, he said "Oh by the way, you should check out this English guy Lol Coxhill."

 I can't remember which CD of his I listened to first, but I do remember that I was hooked from the very first track. And I think it was his sound and sense of melody that intrigued me the most. Since I knew he was a part of the improvised music scene with players like Evan Parker and John Butcher, I was expecting something a lot more abstract and noise-oriented. However, I could tell right away that he had his own unique approach that separated him,  not only from those guys, but from all the other saxophonists on the improvised music scene.

I sent Lol and email several months ago asking him if he would agree to do an interview with me for my blog. Not knowing that he was sick and in the hospital at the time, I was sad to read the email response his wife sent me informing me that he was ill and in the hospital and was unable to give interviews at that time. I know this is selfish of me, but  I was always hoping in the back of my mind that I would someday check my AOL inbox and find an email from him saying that he was feeling much better and was ready to give me my interview.

Unfortunately, that day never came. And I never got my chance to have my fireside chat with him, hoping that he would bestow upon me his great wisdom and knowledge about his relationship with the soprano saxophone. But I am, however, forever grateful for all of the great music he left behind.

Here's a clip of Lol playing solo, doing what he did best, filmed by visual artist Helen Petts at her home in London on February 19, 2011.

Thanks, Lol, for sharing your world with the world. R.I.P.

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