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!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

My Four Epiphanies

During my 40-plus year relationship with music, I recall four distinct epiphanies that have come to define my career path.

The first happened at twelve years old. 

During our winter concert at Benjamin Syms Middle School in Hampton, VA, I was one of the featured soloists with our jazz ensemble. After I stood up and played an improvised solo for the first time in front of a live audience, I experienced such joy that I was on a natural high for three days. I can’t say for sure that this is when I decided to become a professional musician, but it was a defining moment where I realized that music would forever be central to my life. 

The second happened when I was thirty years old.

As many are aware, this was the age where I decided to switch from the tenor to the soprano saxophone. Until this day, I’m still unable to say exactly why I did it, other than I was able to arrive at a sonic clarity on the soprano, almost immediately, that was not achievable on tenor, even after having tried for so many years. It is also the moment at which my path veered from trying to be a great jazz musician, to aspiring to become more of an artist. I knew if I did not seize that moment, it would be forever lost.

The third happened almost a decade later.

After hearing Steve Lacy’s Snips: Live at Environ, a double-CD solo saxophone recording,  I truly understood the melodic potential of the soprano. I realized that solo saxophone would be the best way to express my musical concept with the most clarity and the least compromised. There's also an addendum to this epiphany. I knew there would be career consequences pursuing this path. Venturing down this path, I probably lost more supporters than when I first switched to the soprano. But I knew the artistic rewards would be too satisfying to care.

The fourth happened around four years ago. 

While recording Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Saxophone, my first foray into the realm of prepared saxophone, I realized that the essence of my vision is sound. Sound, as I discovered, does not always have to function as a means to an end. It can be equally profound as the means. This enabled me to speak not only a broader musical language, but one that’s heavily informed by my everyday environment. I’m no longer limited to the influences of other musicians, but have become equally influenced by life. Sound, I discovered, is my artistic truth. This, of course, has led to the many experiments that I frequently explore. It may not win me many accolades with jazz purists, but I'm in total alignment with the spiritual purists.

I’m not sure where it will all lead, but I do like where’s it’s going.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Gerry Teekens: Record Producer, Drummer, and Lover of the Music (R.I.P.)

In the fall of 1988, pianist Benny Green called me at my apartment in Rego Park, Queens to tell me that a Dutch record label guy was interested in hearing me play and possibly sign me to record for his label. That man, of course, was Gerry Teekens. The founder and president of Criss Cross Records.

A year later, after a lot of back and forth and international phone calls, I recorded my first and only recording as a leader on the tenor saxophone with Gerry’s label. The recording was appropriately titled Sam I Am, and featured a fantastic cast of musicians: Mulgrew Miller, Steve Nelson, James Genus, and Billy Drummond. What’s funny, is that I have not worked with some of them since. I was one a many younger musicians being signed to the label at the time: Javon Jackson, Don Braden, John Swana, Mike LeDonne, just to name a few.

Those who worked with Gerry back in the late eighties and early nineties knew that he liked two things: the recording to be swinging (preferably standards), and the practitioners of that swing to be name players, especially if the leader was an unknown like myself. At the time, I’m not sure I truly appreciated the opportunity to record on his label. I was 24 years old and full of myself—like many of my peers at the time. Also, during this time, major labels were signing a lot of young musicians, so of course, this was the ultimate fish I wanted to reel out of the sea. Eventually, it did happen, but almost a decade later. At the time I recorded Sam I Am, the leaders on his dates got $1,000.00 and the sidemen received $500.00. In hindsight, it wasn't a bad deal--especially compared to today's standards.

I’d always had aesthetical clashes with Gerry, but I did respect his commitment to what he liked and his willingness to record players solely because he liked the way they played--even if they were not cats getting a lot of hype or proven big sellers. He was also willing to take a chance on unknowns: black and white, young and old, male and female. If he liked the way you played, he’d record you. There’s certainly something admirable about this.

Gerry was different from many of the European label guys who either favored other European players or music that was more experimental. His taste back then was jazz more closely tied to black culture (hard bop, specifically), but he’d record anyone willing to create within these aesthetical, musical, and cultural realms. Over the years, he did begin to release things that fell outside of the "straight-ahead" label. So he was open to change but in small increments.

I used to jokingly call him Uncle Gerry, poking fun of how he used to stroll into town during the Christmas holiday with a sack full of record contracts in tow. I say this jokingly, but it wasn’t too far from the truth. In many instances, he’d come to New York, stay at the Seafarer & International House, a two-star hotel located in Union Square, book a studio for two weeks and commence to make a record per day, along with his partner in crime, recording engineer and drummer Max Bolleman.

Back then, all of his recordings were live to two-track. No overdubs, no mixing, no tweaking. It was what it was. So you'd best come prepared! One tends to have a love-hate relationship with this recording process. It's nerve-cringing having to live with all of one’s mistakes, but comforting to know that you're going to walk out of the studio with a finished product.

So Rest In Peace, Uncle Gerry, and thanks for giving so many musicians their first opportunity to record, myself included. You may have left us, but your catalog of meaningful work will live on.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

More Tube Talk: Exploring the Hookah Sax Technique

Extending the range of my soprano saxophone by attaching plastic tubes to my instrument's neck has become somewhat of a regular thing for me over the past three to four years. In fact, I recorded an entire CD centered around this idea. Please check Chaos Theory: Song Cycles for Prepared Saxophone. The music explains it much better than I ever could here.

I'm happy to say that there are other like-minded saxophonists exploring this idea of extending the lower range of the instrument. As much as I like being a lone wolf, tirelessly carving out my own niche, I do, however, love having company!

The first person I'd like to discuss is soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine, an important figure on Toronto's improvised music scene. This is an excerpt from a performance with the Mark Zurawinski ensemble at the Tranzac Club in Toronto. The piece is "Something Sweet, Something Tender" from Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch recording. Kayla favors the upper partials over the lower sonorities on this performance. This is not necessarily out of choice. In many instances when playing on this set-up, one has to learn to work with whatever comes out--something Kayla does very well.

Next, is saxophonist Zachary Kenefick. This piece is titled "Solo No.1 for Prepared Saxophone," performed at the Art Exchange in Long Beach, California. Zachary's approach is more drone centered, utilizing circular breathing as a way of creating a drone-like effect. There's very little rhythmic or tonal variation--the minute or so introduction using the mouthpiece, being the exception. The focus here is on creating a trans-like state, something he does very effectively.

 This excerpt is from the Ken Ueno piece "Babbling," which features Splinter Reeds, a woodwind quintet with Kyle Bruckmann on oboe, David Wegehaupt on saxophone, Dana Jessen on bassoon, Jeff Anderle on bass clarinet, and Bill Kalinkos on Bb clarinet. On "Babbling," David is using the technique to create more of a gurgling effect--similar to how Kayla played in the earlier example. Ken Ueno also refers to preparing the saxophone in this way as "hookah sax." The hookah sax part begins at 4:20.

Check out this clip of David getting used to the sound of the tubes before performing "Babbling."

Keeping within the Ken Ueno theme, here an excerpt from Zach Shemon of the PRISM Saxophone Quartet, preparing to play Ueno's "Future Lilacs." What's interesting about this clip is how Zach is using what appears to be a baritone saxophone mouthpiece on a tube extension attached to an alto saxophone.

In this clip, I'm demonstrating a wide range of sounds: gurglings, noise, a drone, the Doppler effect, and implied grooves. Here, I'm to exploit the many varied timbres that exist within this prepared horn configuration--the highs and the lows, the abstract and the grooving, and all that's in-between.

Conclusion: One thing that all of these examples have in common is that the players are forced to work within a micro-range; 12TET is not an option. This approach gives both the listener and the player a more centralized listening sphere, where the improvisation is more about micro-texture manipulation than harmonic and technical displays of mastery. Improvisation should not aim only to intimidate those around us. Inspiring and lifting others is probably a more effective and long-lasting means of musical communication.

Thanks for checking this out. And a very special thanks to everyone featured in this blog post for their continued inspiration.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

84th Annual Readers Poll: The Soprano Saxophone Category

I was pleasantly surprised to see that I had placed in the 84th Annual DownBeat Readers Poll in the Soprano Saxophone category. I am the LAST ONE on the list, mind you. But I don't see this as a negative. Trust me when I say that many did.

Here's the way I see it: Most people on this list are either ultra-mainstream or are at least "jazz famous." I'm more in the middle. My music over the last decade can hardly be described as mainstream. In fact, it pushes boundaries, even compared to the revered avant gardists. And as far as me being known...I'm not "jazz famous," I more "jazz respected"--at least I'd like to think so.

Me being a part of this is not only a win for me, but for everyone who has decided to play by their own rules. I'm a firm believer that if you consistently put your work out there, folks will listen.


For the complete list of results, CLICK HERE

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Words From The Wise (2): Create or Steal?


One of the biggest fallacies regarding one's desire to be original is denying oneself the knowledge of music. I've encountered many musicians, young and old, who've feared that learning the language of jazz would actually stifle them--or at least make them sound out of touch.

As the Teacher told the Student, you don't have to invent everything that you play, you only have to own it. Most scientific breakthroughs are based on the work of others. These theories and experiments are not pulled out of thin air.

If we define originality as sounding like no other, beginners are the most original players I've heard. The key is to play and create with the spirit of a small child, not the knowledge of one.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Words From The Wise (1): Mistake or Humanity?

We’ve all had that experience where we’ve listened back to ourselves on recordings and found it to be nothing but a cringe-fest. Like the Student in this story, it’s usually because we are only listening to ourselves, and not fully taking in the musical performance in its entirety.

Musical acceptance can be difficult, especially in a recording situation where what we play is on record forever; but it is possible. Playing what we wanted to play, the way we wanted to play it is not always the best thing for the music. As the Teacher told the Student, sometimes it's not our place to judge. We’re only there to deliver the message.

Even if we don't like the message at that moment in time, things could change. Over time,  our worse moments can become our most profound.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Creative Sunk Cost Considerations: Improvisation and Microeconomics

In microeconomics, a sunk cost is when you invest money, time, effort, or emotion into something, and your investment can not be returned. 

For example: Let's say you bought a piano for $4,000.00 because you thought it would be a fun instrument to learn. The $4,000.00 for the keyboard would be sunk since that money will never be returned. Now, let's say after taking a few lessons, you've realized it's not as much fun as you'd anticipated. This is where sunk cost fallacy comes in. You continue to take lessons, not because you want to learn the piano, but because you've already shelled out four grand for it. Not to mention the additional money for lessons, books, piano maintenance, and the drudgery of having to practice every day. 

As you can imagine, this happens in many aspects of our lives: the relationships we form, the food we eat, and even during the creative process.

When improvising, some of our bad decisions result from what I call creative sunk cost considerations. We play specific ideas, not because the situation warrants them, but because we've invested numerous hours honing that particular idea. So in our minds, we figure, "why not?" Not doing it would be time wasted.

And this is two-fold. Ultimately, as improvisers, you want to play things that are comfortable and easy to execute. This is the only way you can control the musical situation. However, for many, these tried and tested ideas can be viewed as old creative investments, and our focus then shifts to showcasing our most recent innovative investments—even if by playing these ideas, the musical situation becomes musically compromised. 

Not succumbing to creative sunk cost fallacies is one of our biggest challenges as improvisers. Some players already know what they're going to play on each tune before they get to the gig. I used to be one of them.

The discipline and willingness not to give in to creative sunk cost fallacies are what separates the student from the professional, the artisan from the artist. In the context of creativity, it's good to think long term. It's wise not to become too emotionally invested in newer ideas practiced. The temptation to prematurely force our ideas into a musical setting becomes too much to control. While a student at Berklee, I was told to forget the things that I'd practiced, once I'd mastered them. This was difficult. In my mind, I figured Why bother if I couldn't enjoy the fruits of an immediate application? This is typical thinking regarding creative sunk cost considerations. 

Well... here's why (and this took me a long time to figure out).

In the context of improvisation, the present-day losses become the creative wins of the future.

Anyway, fruit for thought.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Zen Parable: Maybe (Embracing Indifference)

Zen parable: Maybe
 Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. "Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.

Maybe," the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.

"Maybe," replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

"Maybe," answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was injured, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

"Maybe," said the farmer.

This story is a reminder that there's a natural order to life. Within this order, there are highs and lows, sunny days and cloudy days, good times, and bad times. We do not know whether these events in our lives will bring good fortune or misfortune. These things are out of our control. Life is a perfect chain of events, connected by perfectly arranged, imperfect links.

For the events that happened in the farmer's life, he had the wisdom not to get too excited about happy events, nor too upset over the negative ones--for all were necessary for his journey. And where each of these events eventually led, were revealed in due time.

As musicians, we must approach our music and careers with the same wisdom. Whether we're seeking the high-profile gig, the sweet record deal, top billing on festivals, or accolades from those in the industry, we should not put too much importance in any of these. Some of these things will lead to our happiness; some will leave us perpetually sad. And as demonstrated in the story about the farmer, you never know.

I used to be roommates with a guy named John, who also approached life in this way. John was textbook-skeptic. Every time something seemingly good happened, he would always respond with, "We'll see." Our conversations we're usually Like this:

Me: Hey John, your two-week tour in Europe should be exciting!
John: We'll see.
Me: John, when your record comes out, that's going to be some great exposure.
John: We'll see.
Me: John, your new girlfriend, seems charming.
John: We'll see.

John was as a skeptic on crack! He was never really emotionally invested one way or the other. Today, however, I understand his feelings.

Thinking about all of these things takes me back to 1999 when I got signed to a record deal with Columbia/Sony. I finally felt that I had a chance of having a career as a solo artist. Unfortunately, I was dropped from the label a year later. As you can imagine, I was pretty devastated. But like the unfortunate events in the farmer's life, this, too, ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Losing my recording contract taught me a couple of things: One, relying on others to build a career for me was too risky and compromising. While on the label, I always in the backseat of the car, never behind the steering wheel. Artistically speaking, being dropped, forced me to dig deeper into finding my sound.

Playing solo taught me how to be exciting as a player and tap into that which is uniquely me. And now I find I'm able to connect with players and listeners in almost any context. I would never have discovered this with my group, Global Unity. I was preoccupied with trying to project my vision through the members of my band, not my instrument. So where I lost an opportunity to have a successful career as a solo artist and bandleader, what I gained was a musical voice--which is much more valuable.

As musicians, we must approach life, our music, and careers with a certain level of indifference. Like the farmer, we must not get too emotionally invested, one way or the other. Our story and the impact of our music will continue long after we're gone. That album you released that only got two stars in Downbeat, might change lives decades later. That tune that you wrote, last minute, might define your legacy. You never know.

Music of the Free World: Getting High and Low with Sam Newsome and Dave Sewelson

Check out my fun interview will baritone saxophonist/radio host Dave Sewelson on WFMU. For three hours, we listened to my earlier work with Global Unity, my work with the Collective Identity Saxophone Quartet, newer and older solo saxophone outings, and we got into some pretty happening on-air improvisational duets!


Approx. start time
Sam Newsome 
It's Not The Size of the Horn, It's How You Swing It  
Sam Newsome & Global Unity 
Sam Newsome 
Marching Towards Insanity 
Chaos Theory 
Some New Music 
Fay Victor's SoundNoiseFUNK 
Creative Folks 
Wet Robots 
Sam Newsome 
Monk Abstractions 
Some New Music 
Sam Newsome 
Blues for Robert Johnson 
Blue Soliloquy 
Some New Music 
Blues People 
Rare Metal 
Sam Newsome 
Echos From Mt Kilimanjaro 
The Art of the Soprano Vol.2 
Some New Music 
Sam Newsome 
The Straight Horn of Africa 
The Art of the Soprano Vol.2 
Some New Music 
Sam Newsome 
Monk's Dream
GTDS Records and Tapes 
Sam Newsome / Dave Sewelson 
GTDS Records and Tapes 
collective identity 
The World According to Shaquana Goldstein
The Mass 
Sam Newsome 
Sam Newsome & Global Unity 
Sam Newsome / Dave Sewelson 
GTDS Records and Tapes 
Sam Newsome 
The Doppler Effect 
Some New Music 
Sam Newsome
Chiming In 
Chaos Theory 
Some New Music 
Meg Okura 
New Music 
Sam Newsome 
Giant Steps  
GTDS Records and Tapes 

Friday, August 23, 2019

A WALK IN THE REEDS by George W, Harris

* A new review in Jazz Weekly by Geroge W. Harris.

A WALK IN THE REEDS…Sam Newsome: Chaos Theory

Sam Newsome is the reigning champ of preaching the message about the soprano sax. He is usually in solo or duet form, with this latest album featuring him exploring just about every part of the straight sax, teamed with “preparations” alongside. Not only does he explore the mouthpiece and reed with pops, slurs and tongue snaps as on “Urban Location,” “Seven Points of Reference” or ‘Bubble Mute Boogie,” but he uses these sounds as part of the percussive rhythm as well.

Other times, he creates tweeks, subtones and squeals on his “Solo” and “Chaos Theory” moments, sometimes making rich melodies and other times digging into deep magma. It’s a thrilling journey into the visceral of the straight sax.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Communities: Avenues for Sharing

Many know that I'm often advocating for folks to do their own thing. But on the flip side, I'm equally a proponent of forming and being part of a community. If necessary, create in isolation, but share your findings with the masses.

There are three types of communities that we tend to align ourselves with:

1. Internal communities: our sources of inspiration that exist primarily in our hearts and minds. Folks whose music, philosophy, and vision we've internalized deeply.

2. Virtual communities: Those with whom we interact online, usually through social media.

2. External communities: those with whom we interact in person. 

Ultimately, human to human relationships tend to be most impactful. But these are not always feasible. And sometimes they can be more trouble than they're worth. Which is why it's essential to recognize and to be open to the other two types of communities mentioned. 

As far as defining a community, I see it like this:

  • One person: Alone
  • Two persons: Having a conversation
  • Three persons: Being brought together by shared values.
  • Four or more: Now, you've got yourself a community!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Musical Aging: A Four (4) Step Process

Aging is something we all have to deal with every day--or every second if you really want to get neurotic about it. Comparable to biological aging, there are actually different facets of aging that we move through when we play music.

Four (4) musical ages:

  • Chronological musical age
  • Developmental musical age
  • Artistic musical age
  • Mastery
Chronological musical age: This is simply how long we've been playing. If we've been playing for 20 years, then our musical age is 20. 

Developmental age: This is a measurement of our overall skill sets. I want to add that these are the skills comparable to others who've been playing equally as long. When I was a Berklee, one of my classmates was British saxophonist Tommy Smith. At the time, Tommy was only 16-years old and had only been playing the tenor saxophone and jazz for four years. So even though his chronological musical age was only four years, his developmental age was at least 15 years. He was pretty scary. 

Artistic musical age: Simply put, this is our personal voice, artistic vision, and our unique sense of style. Some are fortunate have this from the start. Some never develop it. And some develop it much later in life. Drawing from my own story, I began to embark on this when I switched to the soprano. This was a paradoxical stage in that my chronological soprano saxophone age was relatively young, yet my artistic age was much more advanced.

Mastery: This is when music if life and life is music. Mastery is never an easily attainable one. You have to put in the time chronologically, developmentally, artistically, and spiritually. Even when you arrive, you may not even realize it. I imagine you increase your chances of arriving at this age/stage when you live a life devoted to high-level performance and illuminating teaching.

Summary: It’s important to remember that one doesn’t guarantee the other. You might have a chronological musical age of 30 years, yet, your artistic age might be that of someone who’s been playing for 10 years or fewer. I call these types, professional students. They never really grow conceptually, they just continue getting faster, cleaner, and playing more stuff. There was a time when these types were not revered as one of the cats. One typically had to dig deeper to be held in such esteem. Today is a new paradigm. We’ve embraced a culture of what I call green masters.

Dissimilarly, some, even if they lack the technical prowess and vocabulary vastness, will arrive at an advanced artistic age much earlier in life, due to talent and vision.

Musical aging can be a process with many layers. The important thing is knowing where you’re at, where you’re going, and where you need to be. 

Monday, August 5, 2019

Art: The Three (3) Cycles of Functionality

A little something about art. 

Over the years, I've observed that art usually passes through three (3) cycles of functionality.

Cycle 1: Starts as a perspective. Cycle 2: Becomes a movement. Cycle 3: Settles into a tradition. 

Cycle 1 often starts with one or maybe a few people who have a different point of view about what’s happening around then.—or at least a different vision for the future. This stage is often difficult for the ones leading the way, for they are often moving against the tide with little to no support.

Cycle 2 happens after the few brave (perhaps even foolish) folks have stayed the course, created enough of a stir that others felt compelled to follow their lead. Serving as a mouthpiece for a new generation. Thus, creating a movement. 

Cycle 3 happens over time, once the idea has run its course. You might say when it has lost its element of surprise and has become predictable. Often times it has become codified and organized into easily teachable concepts. Sort of like jazz. 

But first things first. Before we can even think about Cycle 3, we have to do the following:

Take chances;
Think differently; 
Recycle our fear into courage!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Yes, You May: Giving Yourself Permission

In 2008, soon-to-be-president Barack Obama's popular slogan was "Yes, We Can." For many, this was very empowering and uplifting. And this worked great for voters. However, as artists and creative folks, a more suitable slogan for us is "Yes, You May."

The latter is appealing to a slightly different sensibility. Obama's slogan is telling a group of people that they can collectively accomplish something. My slogan simply gives you permission to. Or more importantly, it asks you to give yourself permission to go for it.

This is often the creative stumbling block for most of us. We often know WHAT to do. We know HOW to do it. But we simply have not given ourselves permission to do so. I've often had great ideas, that I would immediately talk myself out of implementing. For most of them, it was never the case of not knowing how to bring those things to fruition. It was often me not allowing myself to.

Fear is usually the culprit.  The fear of putting ourselves out there on the limb and being judged as a result. For many, it's better to fail following the rules, than to take the risk of possibly not succeding by straying from the norm.

I have a few thoughts regarding fear:
1. Don't try to conquer your fear, embrace it.
2. Don't make fear your archrival, make it your muse.
3. If you stop being afraid, start doing something else that fears you.
4. Lastly: Complacency leads to more complacency. Fear leads to growth and more insight.

As I see it, fear is simply an acronym for:

Figuring out
Angle to

I realize that all of this is easier said than done. And like everything else, learning to accommodate fear takes practice. It's like having a co-worker that you bump heads with. The solution is not always to rid one of you from the equation, but by acknowledging that your relationship is complicated and dealing with it.

So, looking at doing something new, something adventurous?

Yes, You May!
Yes, You May!
Yes, You May!

The only thing stopping YOU is YOU.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Traveling the Highway of Success: Three (3) Common Routes

Carving out a career for ourselves is a little like negotiating highway traffic—not excluding the occasional burst of road rage!

Route 1: We can choose to take the congested roads, equipped with bumper to bumper traffic, not going anywhere in a hurry.

Route 2: We can choose alternative routes that might take longer, but at least we’ll arrive at our destination in a good state of mind.

Route 3: We can choose to wait things out, until the proverbial traffic dies down, and opt to embark on a journey that’s more strategic.

I consider Route 1 to be the default choice of most. We tend to feel safer when we’re traveling the road most traveled. And when we do, we must also accept the consequences of potential stagnation and the possibility of getting lost in the crowd. But it’s not all bad. The flip side is that there are more people to learn from and with whom to make positive and fruitful connections.

For those of us who could do without the hassle, Route 2 might be the choice for us. While it’s true that traveling an alternative road can take longer and can be more isolating at times, some find the peace of mind gained, a well worth it trade-off.

Route 3: In many cases, this road is taken because we have no choice. Route 3 can oftentimes reveal itself as a disguised blessing--even if not viewed as such, initially.

Years ago, I had a conversation with Matt Balitsaris from Palmetto Records about doing a follow up Global Unity recording. Sensing that I wanted to record, not because I inpsired to, but because I felt I needed to, he told me that sometimes it’s OK NOT to record—especially when the industry was going through the kinds of changes it underwent in 2003. Personally, I was glad I waited until the industry traffic died down. When I did decide to get back on the road again, it was on my terms. I went to where I wanted to go, not where others and my insecurities felt I should venture.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Balloon Improvisation

My fascination with balloons is no secret these days. It started off very innocently with me an as amateur balloons twister. I never attempted to do this for money or tried to use it as a side hustle. I really just loved the idea of taking these pieces of elastic, filling them with air, and shaping them into very surreal looking figures.

Over the years, I've become increasingly intrigued by the idea of using them as improvisatory aids.

Balloons have a very unique sound, especially when you place materials inside of them that create a rattling effect when you shake them. My two materials of choice are dry rice and small white beans. Dry rice creates a bright rattling; whereas, small white beans create more of a darker sound.

Below are some examples of different ways I've used balloons as a part of my improvisation over the years.

Example 1: The Shaker Technique

Here, I've attached rice-filled balloons to the bell of the soprano saxophone. This inspires me to explore more deliberate movements of the instrument. And this morphs into the Steve Lacy composition "Deadline."

Example 2: The Puppeteer Technique

Here, the rice-filled balloons are attached to my fingers. And as my fingers move, sporadic sounds are set into motion. This technique is called the puppeteer technique because it reminds me of two non-descript things having a conversation being manipulated by me.

Example 3: The Explosion Technique

This example exploits the unique sound that balloons make when you pop them. Using a small sewing needle, my goal was to pop the balloons to a specific rhythm.

Example 4: The Sax/Drum Technique

This example is less about the inflated balloon, but more about using the elastic material like a drumhead when placed on the bell of the soprano saxophone. You can't see it in this video, but I'm using a foot pedal to mark the time.

Example 5: The Puppeteer Technique: Part 2

In this example, I'm using the puppeteer technique in conjunction with playing the soprano saxophone using a toy trumpet as a mouthpiece.

Example 6:  The Puppeteer Technique: Part 3

This example features me playing duo with guitarist Sandy Ewen. My saxophone is also prepared with a small tube extension.

Example 7: Ensemble Balloon Improvisation

* Here's something by bassist/composer David Menestres. This is from his piece is called "Between Know and Then - Part 4: Little Toes." This piece commemorates Sun Ra's 100th arrival day.

On this piece, David and his ensemble are exploring many of the balloon's sonic aspects:

1) The inhaling and exhaling breath patterns heard as the balloons are inflated and deflated.

2) The ringing timbres heard when you strike them.

3) The difference sounds that can be extracted when you tug, pull, and scrap the balloons.