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, April 16, 2019

Acute and Chronic Practicing

I’d like to talk a little bit about acute practicing versus chronic practicing. Typically we associate these terms with diseases, but they have more straightforward definitions as well. Acute means merely short term or short period. And chronic just means ongoing or an extended period.

Now that we’ve established an understanding of these terms, here's how they apply to practice. Acute practicing as I understand it is goal-oriented and time-specific. For example, practicing your scales from noon - 1:00 PM. Or working on a particular piece from 4:00 PM - 5:00pm. This is how we typically approach it. Chronic practicing is not necessarily goal oriented (but could be) nor time specific. Chronic practicing could be passively hearing those skills while we do other things. Or rehearsing that piece we were working on in our head all throughout the day, long after we’ve put our instruments away. We’ve all heard horn players humming or whistling ideas that they’re working on, almost on a subconscious level. The same can be said for drummers who are always tapping out grooves and rhythms, no matter how annoying to those around them.

These are all classic examples of chronic practicing.

In medicine, chronic diseases are often much more deadly than acute ones because one, you don’t know have it until it starts to aggressively attack your body or immune system; and two, it affects a larger area of your body, perhaps your immune system as a whole. Chronic practicing is similar in that its effects can run much broader, and the information and skills get absorbed more deeply and tend to be more long-lasting.

Branford Marsalis often talks about a chronic practicing approach to transcribing (this is my assessment, not his), where the first step is to listen to a solo a million times, then when he gets it in his ear solid enough where he’s able to sing every note, then he transcribes it. This certainly differs from the acute practicing method where you pull out the manuscript paper and write it down, let's say from 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM--a methodology I often employ. It's important to recognize that both approaches have their advantages.

I do something similar when I’m confronted with something rhythmically challenging. Before attempting to play it on my instrument, I spend a week or so singing it, tapping it out, humming it, anything to get it embedded into my system.

One might conclude that acute practicing is done with one’s instrument and chronic practicing is done without. In many instances this is true, but certainly not exclusive. More simply stated: Acute practicing as the method for getting it under your fingers and chronic practicing as how you get it into your system.

As I often say, this is not hard science, but a mere softer way of learning.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Soprano Saxophone: A Personal Journey with the Straight Horn ( A Bruce Ackley Lecture)

Bruce Ackley photo
The following is the press release by the San Francisco Public Library.

Soprano saxophonist and new music practitioner, Bruce Ackley, will present a brief and informal survey of the history of the barely tamable, and little celebrated, soprano saxophone. 

Through conversation and live music examples, he will explore the use of the straight horn in traditional and contemporary jazz and the alternate universe of improvised music. 

Ackley has dedicated nearly 50 years to study of woodwinds and improvisation, concentrating almost exclusively on the soprano sax, and will present original works, improvisations, and pieces by soprano masters John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Sidney Bechet, and Johnny Hodges. 

Preceding the live performance, Ackley will present a short slideshow introduction to the soprano sax, and discuss the players who have demonstrated the power and depth of the straight horn through their work.

Bruce Ackley began studying saxophone in Detroit in 1970. Having emerged from a visual arts background, he worked with fellow artists-musicians to create freely improvised music before relocating to San Francisco in 1971. On the west coast, Ackley began the study of jazz and contemporary music. He soon became an active participant in San Francisco’s exploratory music scene, a vibrant community that combines composition, strategy, and improvisation in new ways to create exciting musical forms. 

In the late 1970s, he formed Rova Saxophone Quartet with like-minded players—musicians who embrace structural innovation, improvisation, and community as guiding principles in music making. Now in its 5th decade of presenting adventurous music for sax quartet and expanded ensembles, Rova continues to serve as an ideal vehicle for Ackley’s development as a composer, improviser, and soprano saxophonist. Ackley has worked intermittently as a solo performer and also leads other music ensembles.

April 13, 2019
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Richmond Meeting Room
351 9th Ave
San Francisco, 94118
(415) 355-5600

Please check out some of Bruce's wonderful experimental work with vocalist Aurora Josephson and percussionist Gino Robair.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Vuvuzela Straight Horn: Making The Soprano More South African

I was strolling down 125th Street in Harlem a few days ago, and I spotted a party supply store across the street. Of course, the creative bells went off. I did not know if I'd find anything I could use for sure, but I did feel it was highly likely. What I found was a vuvuzela horn. These are plastic horns commonly used during football matches in South Africa.

Fortunately, this smaller cut version sold by this store fitted perfectly into the bell of the soprano saxophone. It's still in the beginning stages, but I already like how it helps to direct the sound as it comes out of the soprano's bell. 

  • Volume-wise, it certainly louder. 
  • Range-wise, I"m able to play much lower. Not necessarily conventional, 12TET notes, but those notes produced when playing extended techniques such as multiphonics and percussive slap tongue tones (PSTs). The video demonstrates the latter.

The process:

         1. You need a soprano sax                                   2. The vuvuzela horn

                                           3. Them place horn inside the bell of the soprano

In this video, I'm demonstrating how it sounds when employing the PST technique. 
As you'll hear, the notes are:

1. deeper
2. more resonant
3. significantly louder

This particular piece is relatively new to my sonic arsenal. But I'm very excited to see what other musical and sonic gems surface as a result. And it's nice to know that these horns now have another purpose other than distracting the opposing team during a South African football game.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Musical Silent Partner: The Importance of Space

A colleague once asked me how I deal with space when playing in a solo context. More specifically, how do I deal with the challenge of filling up the space. I explained that it’s not an issue of filling up the space, but coming to terms with it. Space is the straight man of a comedy bit: giving your ideas clarity and a strong sense of purpose.

Seeing space as something you need to fill up is implying there’s something wrong with it being there—like the need to fill up a hole. Musical space is hardly a hole. It’s not something you fall into or stumble over. It’s something you lean on. It’s the yin to yang; the up to the down; the peace to the chaos.

As I think about this, more and more, here are a few things which come to mind as ways in which space can assist us, not only when playing solo, but while improvising, in general.

1. Gives clarity to your ideas.

2. Allows us more time to think.

3. It’s an opportunity to rest. Something we need when playing an extended solo saxophone set.

4. A chance for us and the listener to digest what was previously played.

5. Creates more excitement and anticipation for the ideas are to follow. 

Going back to my straight man analogy, imagine Laurel with no Hardy. Penn with no Teller. Abbott with no Costello. Space is an important member of the team. The strong and silent type, if you will.

It’s a pretty radical concept to think that the most profound thing we can play is nothing. Or that the most healthy thing we can eat is nothing. Or that the most effective solution to a problem is to do nothing. Space, silence, nothing—they’re our most effective creative allies. All that we have to do is give them a chance.

Sam Newsome/Dave Liebman: The Art of Duo Improvisation

The recorded performance on July 21, 2023, at IBEAM in Brooklyn, New York, stands as a testament the rich tradition and evolution of improv...