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!

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)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Jazz Improvisation 101: A Two-Sided Coin

In order to be more effective at improvising, one needs to draw information from two primary sources.  The first being theory (scales and chords) ; the second being language (licks, patterns, and standard jazz vocabularies).

As a teacher, I found that theory is by far the easier of the two to teach. Theory, unlike language, follows a specific set of rules. And once you understand the vertical and linear relationships,  you can cognitively understand how to put it together.

Language on the other hand is a bit more complex. One, it's not as easily codified. There are  many languages which have evolved from the many styles of jazz, and there many interpreters who have created these different languages. In addition to the innumerable note to rhythm combinations, language can only mastered through the experience gained from years of playing, imitating and listening to others who have mastered the particular vernacular you're trying to perform.

As a jazz student, it's important to remember that just because you got an "A" in  Jazz Improvisation 101, you could still, however, lack the performance skills needed to be an effective improviser. It it for this reason that I always stress that you take the necessary steps to complete the other half of this puzzle--which is learning the language on which the theory is based and honing that language through playing.

What you can learn from a book in the classroom has it's limitations, whereas, the possibilities of what can be learned on the bandstand are limitless.