Sam Newsome

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

Video Feature: Sam Newsome, Ben Stapp, and Joanna Mattrey

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Remembering Soprano Saxophonist Gilles Laheurte

I was saddened to hear that we had lost one of our brothers of the straight horn, soprano saxophonist Gilles Laheurte. Gilles had been battling pancreatic cancer--probably one of the most difficult fights that one could have.

I first met Gilles back in 2003, while playing at the Jazz Standard with Jean Michel Pilc’s group Cardinal Points. Gilles came up to me during the break and jokingly said to me that it sounds like I like to listen to Steve Lacy. I guess it was pretty obvious, even back then. At the time, I didn’t know that he played the soprano, nor that he had worked beside and studied with Lacy for several years.  He was pretty humble about sharing that information. Many would have led with that upon the introduction—which gives some testament to his humility. And playing the soprano was just one of his many talents. He was a Renaissance man in the truest sense. In All About Jazz, he describes himself as an “architect / planner, an artist, a writer, a poet, a stage actor, a photographer and an [amateur jazz] musician."

Gilles had brought with him that night a relatively new solo recording of Lacy’s titled 10 of Dukes + 6 Originals (2002) that was released on the Senator’s record label, which he was heavily involved with as an associate producer--a label that was devoted solely to the music of Steve Lacy. He graciously gave me a copy of the CD, which, by the way, stayed in high rotation in my CD player for months. In fact, it was a big inspiration to the way that I sequenced the tunes on many of my CDs. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

After my encounter with him that night, I only recently connected with Gilles again in Feburary of 2014, via Facebook; he was a part of the Facebook group called the Soprano Sax Fellowship, created by soprano saxophonist Yanni Hat.  It was then that I sent him a digital download of my new recording, The Solo Concert: Sam Newsome Plays Monk and Ellington. Afterwards, he graciously sent me a very moving and thoughtful letter expressing his admiration for my CD as well as explaining the details of his illness.

Here are some of the brave and inspirational words that he shared with me in his letter. I’ve omitted details about his illness as well as the things he said about my CD.

My philosophy is that we all have to go some day. We come to this planet like Broadway actors going on stage, playing their roles, removing their make-up and going home when the show is over…Despite the shocking news, I remain serene, fearless, and determined to enjoy whatever time is left, which is totally unpredictable. Enjoying the moment, the present moment…which is eternal since it’s always here, is all that matters. We all have to cross the inevitable finish line at some point. I often think of the magnificent Korean movie: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring…still so totally inspiring some 12 years after I saw it the first time…but I do believe that the power of the mind is stronger and is what can REALLY and CONCRETELY make the difference. Like Albert Ayler said it so well: “Music is the healing for of the universe.” I believe in this, I believe in its power, and am determined to live till age 104 (it feels like a good number to me!) and to keep on playing soprano and sopranino!!! Time will tell…

As you can imagine, I was pretty moved by his words. When someone is having to go through chemotherapy, numerous trips to the doctor, and an overwhelming regimen of medications and supplements, just to exist is extremely challenging. So the fact that he took the time write me a letter and to share his music with me, is a true testament to his kindness, bravery, and passion for life and people.

Along with this letter, he included a copy of his CD, Wings of Light, which features him on soprano sax and percussion. And I was happy to see that The New York Jazz Record had reviewed it in their June, 2014 issue, along with my mine and Steve Lacy’s. I’m sure it must have brought him great joy to see his CD reviewed alongside his longtime friend and mentor.

 This track is called "Moon Zen Twilight Zen New Moon." I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. And we thank you Gilles for leaving us with such inspirational words, friendship, and beautiful music. RIP

Here are some words of appreciation about Gilles' music from his Soprano Sax Fellowship:

"...a palette of sounds that I think really captures his genius." - Adrien Varachaud, soprano saxophonist

" like poetry, small sentences of wisdom that you need to listen to carefully to get the meaning of it."
- Yanni Hat, soprano saxophonist

"Deeply moving..." - Guillaume Tarche, writer and soprano saxophonist

"Quiet playing of the man who let many drink the wine of the gods and almost touch New York skies."  - Stefano Scippa, soprano saxophonist

"Gilles has beautifully distilled the wisdom of Steve Lacy in his playing and made it his own." - Paul Bennett, soprano saxophonist

"He is one of the fe soprano players who really seem to have figured out how to approach Lacy's sound." - Paul Shambles, soprano saxophonist

"The music is light, deep, calm, and assertive, dramatic and embracing. And Japanese - definitely" - Gianni Mimmo, soprano saxophonist

"Gilles is a prince, a poet, a friend to everyone who is looking for something real. I am blessed a hundred times to know him." - Joe Giardullo, soprano saxophonist


  1. Gilles Laheurte was my brother in all respects. From the first moment we met, nearly 19 years ago, I was struck by the pure humanity and compassion of the man. I am brokenhearted at his passing, more than I can express. I know that I am enriched by having known him and also diminished by his departure from this sphere. Sail on, my brother. I love you madly. Please visit to get a glimpse of this true giant soul. You will be amazed and inspired, I promise you.

  2. Thanks for this Sam. Gilles was one of the best and most positive forces I've met here in New York City. I'm going to miss him terribly.

  3. I first met Gilles in 1985 in Rwanda when he heard me playing with the Inono Stars, one of the few modern African music groups in Rwanda in those days. We became instant friends, since we shared the same enthusiasm about music, adventure and new experiences. He had recently started playing the soprano saxophone and was eager to learn, so I gave him a few lessons in music theory and saxophone technique. He insisted for the three decades I knew him how helpful this was but, frankly, he had far better teachers and mentors, such as his idol Steve Lacy. His enthusiasm for music and sound knew no bounds and his collection of woodwinds (especially soprano saxophones) quickly surpassed that of most full time professional musicians. Yet he was always humble about his music, calling his label “Self Gratifying Productions,” but managing to produce a number of his own CDs. With his last one he reached what he was searching for -- powerful, simple, direct and spiritual music. It was as if he knew that he would soon leave us and wanted to make sure that his spirit and musical message lived on.

    There is so much more to say about such a wonderful, multifaceted person, that I can only begin. His death was unfair, as cancer usually is, but at least he managed to cram three lifetimes into one. He had just about seen and done it all, but then with Gilles, one does not know what he would have done next. He left his mark on the world, which is more than most us can aspire to. I will miss him terribly, but am glad that his suffering has ended.

  4. Oliver - Thanks for your beautiful words!

  5. I met Gilles not long ago in 2006, but when I met him it was like I knew him since I was born... Gilles had the capacity to speak directly to your soul with his kindness, sensitivity and intelligence. We met because we were meant to meet: he was Lacy's friend and expert and I played and recorded with Steve some of the best music of my entire career. On the top Gilles shared with me the love for gongs and metal percussion. He played that with a metaphysic approach in a way that always struck me, bypassing the need of technique and going directly to the heart of sound. I had the privilege to spend his last week of life with him and to shoot his last photo... we had a joyful time and i somehow convinced myself that he could still make it. But the day I left to go back to LA I saw him in pain and I understood that was my last moment with him... I'll keep forever those moment in my heart as the best gift he could gave me until I'll meet him again. Thanks Gilles for all you gave to all of us. Andrea Centazzo


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