Sam Newsome

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

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Now available on Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Talking Shop with Soprano Saxophonist Jamison Williams

Have you ever wondered about the setups other saxophonists are playing on soprano? 

NOW you can find out!

During this installment, we’ll be talking shop with soprano saxophonist Jamison Williams. Jamison, who resides in Jacksonville, Florida, self-identifies as an experimentalist and an improviser. Not to mention that he thrives on pushing the envelope with regards to extended saxophone techniques, sound exploration,, and music programming.  Check out his [neu] Sonic Music Initiative. Jamison also has a fascination with reimagining the Disney Songbook through avant-garde lenses.

Knowing Jamison, and knowing that he is out there doing his thing, makes me very excited and optimistic about the future of the soprano saxophone and experimental music.

So I am extremely grateful that he was generous enough to take time from his busy schedule to talk shop.

Sam Newsome: Jamison, during our last interview, you stated that you play the Conn 18M soprano. Is this still the case? Being an older model, how does it compare to some of the newer horns available?

Jamison Williams: There are some tools you refuse to let go of, they’re an appendage, and they just seem to pronounce the exact syllables intrinsically appropriate for the story being told; this is the most ideal instrument needed to manifest every word to complete that creative sentence. It will be with me for life. 

                                                       Jamison's Conn18M Soprano Sax (Disassembled)

Having played Nonoko Yoshida’s soprano, it definitely gave me an eye-opener as to the more comfortable ergonomics developed by newer models, but compared to the 1865 Adolf Sax soprano I’d played at Saxquest, this ’27 New Wonder II feels practically futuristic. A very satisfying era, for me, in soprano saxophone manufacturing.  

SN: What was it like to play a soprano saxophone from 1865? I’m not even sure if it can be put into words.

JW: The Adolphe Sax soprano was a museum piece located at SaxQuest in St. Louis, played like an absolute charm; it had a double octave key, so in order to get a range above the high G, you would have to engage the second octave key. It played brilliantly, clean, open, no backpressure force, and was surprisingly light, much, much lighter than the Conn I’m playing now. Much lighter. The ergonomics were also spectacular, perfect grip. 

SN: When I first switched to the soprano, the Conn, which I imagine is similar to yours, was of one the sopranos I liked the best. What deterred me was not having access to the fourth octave. Was this ever an issue with you? Eventually, I think I could have figured it out, but I was too impatient at the time.

JW: That’s pretty high. There are colors and musical choices that are distinctly necessary for what’s being designed. That range, when used by me, is masked by auxiliary overtones when using multiphonics. Also, if they haven’t been produced as overtones, I probably haven’t sent them a birthday card either.

SN: Are still playing the Otto Link “Super Tone Master?” You seem to have a proclivity for vintage equipment.

                                           An Otto Link: Super Tone Master" Soprano Sax Mouthpiece

JW: That mouthpiece was given to me by a very well respected soprano player who was unable to attend a scheduled performance due to illness, who’s no longer with us; he asked for me to keep this exchange between us, so it is very special to me, and a private dedication at every performance. It will go with me to my grave.  

SN: What do you most like about it? And what’s one aspect of it that you dislike?

JW: There haven’t really been very many other pieces that I’ve played, this and an S80 and honestly the only ones I’ve ever put to my face; some things just fit, this seems to be the one that just makes the most sense.

SN: And how about reeds…Are you still playing the Vandoren #3? This used to be the brand of reeds I played before switching to the RW reeds.

                                                           Jamison's brand of reeds

JW: Vandoren 2.5 (classics) is the strength that now seems best for my lip, they seem to have a fresher sound compared to the stronger reed, even if by just a little bit. 

Extended techniques are my primary bag; having a reed that provides the support of hourly, heavy backpressure, as well as the flexibility to provide sustainable, clean overtones is absolutely essential. These are the performance spark plugs that power the machine.   

SN: I can certainly relate to this. Like you, being that extended techniques are at the core of what I do, I tend to go through reeds pretty quickly. Do you find this to be the case as well?

JW: Interestingly enough, I am pretty sensitive to the reeds, tapping them, controlled air pressure, and a proper balance, so they pretty much last me a good while; I’m still playing a reed from last year, with no chips, warping, or dullness. My teacher told to back in college to rotate them out, in a series of four, to keep a fresh reed always in hand. Instead, I play one until it’s dead, then move on. Love them, and they will love you in return.

SN: That’s pretty fascinating! The only time one of my reeds ever lasts a year is when they get lost between the cushions of the couch--something to think about.

And what type of ligature or ligatures do you use? As you know, ligatures have become almost as complicated as the mouthpieces. The newer ones are no longer metal contraptions with screws that you tighten to keep the reed from coming off. 

JW: Interestingly enough, having played a stock Otto lig, a basic Rovner, and a Francois Louis, I managed to Frankenstien one out of an old leather belt, and bound it with an old finishing washer. It’s absolutely perfect: the flexibility, resilience, resistance, tone, and grip. Perfection.

                                                 One of Jamison's homemade ligatures!

SN: It looks pretty cool. How long did it take you to make this? 

JW: Once you have the vision, it only takes a second, think this one took me five minutes maybe, probably less; just needed a good wrap that would provide ‘give’ (for flexibility and vibration), as well as endure an hour-long set without leaving me stranded. 

SN: And have you ever thought about selling them?

JWHa! Selling these things...hadn’t thought of it. Think I will just stick to playing a horn and continuing the growth of an ever-expanding library of published books.

SN: I can respect that. Having a narrow focus keeps you from getting derailed from what’s really important.

So what’s new on the horizon? Any noteworthy gigs/tours/recordings coming up? You always seem to have something in the works.

JW: Always on the move: tour throughout the South in July with a quartet including fellow saxophonist Jim Ivy, New York in August with Dave Miller and Austin White (to commemorate a trio release), solo Japan in January, and solo throughout Europe in February. 

In collaboration with artist MP Landis, January looks to be the inaugural month for an ongoing boxset series, ‘Interpretations from the Disney Songbook’, vol I-V; solo soprano saxophone, each extensively exploring key signature songs, themes fully expanded in duration, space, and development. The motifs have been mapped out in microscopic acuity. Releases will be made available in Portland, Maine in conjunction with an exhibition of the art cover, in full life-sized detail. Highly anticipating this event/release.

Currently continuing the ever-expanding ‘Interpretations from the Disney Songbook’. The previous edition was documenting specific graphic, shorthand notes and exercises (written in my words, for my personal understanding and development), intended for solo soprano, and closed out at over 1200 pages, this edition for ensemble is now amassing at over 800 pages of arrangements ‘for orchestra and soprano saxophone’; this allows for me the opportunity to write out everything in my saxophonic arsenal, with accompaniment, so the soloist is exclusively dedicated to extended thematic techniques. Me, with an organized backing band, per se.

                                               "Interpretations from the Disney Songbook"

SN: That’s quite an itinerary. I’ve always admired how you’ve been able to keep the flames going on so many fronts. Thanks again for taking the time to do this, and I look forward to hearing your new work.

JW: Absolutely! Thank you again, and appreciate you reaching out to me. Take care, and be safe.

Please check out this cutting edge performance of Jamison playing duo with one of my favorite percussionists, Tatsuya Nakatani.

To learn more about Jamison and his music, please visit