Sam Newsome

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

Preorder new CD

Monday, May 20, 2019

Intimidation or Inspiration: Which Do You Project on the Bandstand?

A colleague once expressed to me that a saxophonist with whom he was performing was playing so much shit it intimated him and made him not want to play—as though this is something commendable. A word from the wise: If you’re scaring the musicians you’re playing with and not inspiring them. You’re drawing from the wrong musical well.

Let’s look a this from a couple of perspectives.

One observation: Why is it that when we hear certain musicians play, we get inspired and think, “Yes, I can become a great player." While with others, we can feel discouraged and come away thinking “Man, maybe I'll never get my act together.”  Some make us want to take our horn out of our case, while others make us want to pack it away. 
Second observation: When someone intimidates us, we refer to them in aggressive descriptors like beast, monster, killing, or badass. We say things like “they destroyed it,” or that they “tore it up.” Whereas we refer to those who inspire us in softer terms like original, spiritual, soulful, swinging, moving, or expressive.

For my own taste, I lean more toward inspirational qualities in terms of what I like to listen to and what I like to play. It has taken a long time to come to terms with this too. When one lives in a competitive place like New York City, where competition is fierce, these types of metrics dominate our musical value system. In fact, our whole musical practice is often centered around becoming a beast, killing it, destroying it. Rarely do we pick up our instruments and try to figure out how to inspire, how to move, how to be an original. This is not our culture. This is why players who win competitions—especially jazz--rarely inspire me. Let’s face it, their whole aesthetic is about destroying it. That’s the nature of the game.

Typically, when I hear this type of player, I come away thinking, “Man, I need to practice.” I’ve rarely come away with the feeling of being inspired to play music. It’s funny how I’ve never heard Wayne Shorter and felt I needed to “go home and shed.” If anything, I want to pick up my instrument because I’m inspired.

During my younger and more formative years, I was often accused of being jealous or of hating on some of the more popular players. Ok, I’ll confess, there may have a been some of that. I’m only human. However, at the end of the day, I just did not like what I was hearing. In terms of metrics, I could appreciate their flawless technique, their impeccable time, their never-ending flow of ideas, their basic overall command of the musical situation. But...and this is a BIG but.

I simply was not moved by what I was hearing. 

It’s like when you read great book. What makes a book fun to read is not just the author’s command of the language, but his or her ability to tell a compelling story.

Several years ago, I did a tour with one of my bands, and there was another group sharing the bill. The group was excellent. Everyone played great. Very high level, actually. But certainly not moving in any way. I personally don’t criticize for this reason. If it’s not there, it’s not there. I usually deal with what is there. However, during their set,  a gentleman sitting next to me asked me what I thought, and I told him that I thought they sounded good—which they did. So, of course, I asked what he thought. And I must say that I was surprised by his answer. He simply said, “Personally, I need a little bit more poetry.” 

At that moment, it really dawned on me that it’s ok not to settle for not being inspired or moved. As professional musicians, we sometimes choose not to celebrate these qualities and opt for the latter. This is understandable. Intimidating skill sets are more widely accepted and easier to assess.

All that said, we probably want exude a little bit of both. Maybe we can be spiritual while killing it. Be inspiring while in beast mode. Be original while playing lots of shit. As with many situations in life, both sides often have good points.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Websites: Relevant or Relic?

Music consultants say that a great website is paramount. Not sure I totally agree. Yes, you need one. But I think we can take it’s-good-enough attitude with them, too. As long as your website is easy to find, up-to-date, and enables folks to find you—job done! People don’t often visit your website to check out your music. They usually go for pics, bios, and to see where you’re playing.

Here’s an observation: One mistake folks make is that their websites don’t really reflect who they are or their career status. A colleague once joked with me that if you went to my website (my former one) you’d think I was making $100,000 per year—certainly laughable back then. This was something to think about. It’s a little misleading to create an impression of being a multi-platinum artist, and you’ve got three door-gigs in Bushwick listed in the SHOWS section.

Nowadays, fans and colleagues are used to being able to engage with us in delayed and real-time, whether it emails, the World Wide Web, or social media. These are the areas you want to stay on top of.

Regarding emails: Be prompt with them and make sure they are well-written. This is the next best thing to having a conversation. I’ve seen plenty of musicians who have fancy websites, who don’t respond to emails promptly, and when they do send them, they’re often not professional.

Social media: I see social media as the great squandering of the 21st century. Again, a fantastic opportunity to let folks know who we are and what we’re about (and it’s totally free, by the way), and we betray people’s trust by having nothing to say and showing up empty-handed. It reminds me back when I was a kid, and we’d go over to a friend’s house and ring his/her doorbell and then run and hide in the bushes before he/she came to the door. As you probably guessed, they eventually stopped responding to our ringing. Why? Because we betrayed their trust. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram—all great mediums for engagement. Now it’s up to us to show up to the table with something worth serving.

YouTube: This is another area musicians don’t take advantage enough. With video recording being so easy to make, there’s no excuse not to have at least five new videos posted on YouTube per year. This enables folks to remain current on our musical activities. Being current is one of the most positive images of the project. It
shows that you care, and consequently, makes others care. And besides, there’s transparency in videos that lets folks know precisely what they’re getting. They might be more likely to trust poorly shoot YouTube video than a slick, well-produced recording.

Blogging: Some may not feel this is for them. But I’m here to disagree. Everyone has a perspective on the world, or at least an area of expertise. So blogging helps you to articulate this. Doing this is two-fold: 1) it helps to organize your thoughts, and 2) lets others know who you really are. The more deeply they feel they know you, the more likely they are to follow you and your music. You don’t need to wait for DownBeat or JazzTimes to interview you. Become your own publicist.

So as you can see, there are many aspects to getting yourself out there. I’m not saying websites are unimportant. Only that other more effective mediums exist.

As long as folks access to pictures, bios, know where you’re playing, and can find out how to contact you immediately, that’s all that’s needed. 

One last point about being reachable.

Listing your European booking, your North American booking agent, your manager, your publicist—all of these folks are fine—but also have a way you can be reached directly.
As I see it, a website is your ticket to the game. The other mediums are your means through which to play it.

Blank Page Syndrome

Sydney Sheldon's poignant quote, "A blank piece of paper is God's way of showing you how hard it is to be God," deeply res...