Sam Newsome

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

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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Shaking Up the Status Quo: Three Stages of Acceptance

Shaking up the status quo is no easy task. The status quo usually has but two goals:

1. To stay the same.
2. To keep those trying to change it, out.

Also, the concept of status quo, changes. During the 1970s, black men shaving their heads bald was radical. Today it's commonplace. There was a time when only hardcore bikers sported tattoos. Today, you see them on school teachers and librarians. 

If you are one of those adventurous souls who finds him or herself going against societal norms, here are three (3) stages of acceptance you might want to keep in mind.

Stage 1: First, they DOUBT you.
Stage 2: Then they LOVE you.
Stage 3: Then they IMITATE you.

Ornette Coleman fits this idea perfectly. When he first appeared at the Five Spot in 1959, it was hardly a hero's welcome. He was yelled at, physically assaulted, and someone even set a car on fire in front of the club in protest.

However, some critics and few forward-thinking musicians praised his adventurous explorations. And soon many started to come around. This was quickly followed by a whole free jazz movement inspired by his musical vision.

 So as I said:

Stage 1: First, they DOUBT you.
Stage 2: Then they LOVE you.
Stage 3: Then they IMITATE you.

If you are shoving at the shoulders of the status quo or knocking over a few pins of everydayness, and folks are doubting you, just remember that stages 2 and 3 may not be far behind.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Be Yourself: Affirmations of Self-Acceptance

Years ago, I was one of the judges of a saxophone competition at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) located in Mexico City.

Everyone was very talented. But one thing I tried to stress to all of the contestants was that jazz competitions were slightly different from classical music ones.

In classical music, it's not so much about navigating your way through a set of chord changes and idiomatic authenticity, as it is about instrumental command and your ability to interpret the piece with the composer's intent. The person with the weakest technique will never win a classical music competition; whereas, in jazz competitions, accuracy is rarely your competitive edge.

This is a generalization of both, but you get my point. 

When offering the students advice at the end of each of their performances, the one thing I told them all was to be themselves.  I explained that at my age and level of experience I've heard the saxophone played as fast as humanly possible; I've heard saxophonists who could play louder than trumpet players; I've heard skillfully executed chord change playing; and I've heard musicians that could effortlessly weave in and out of the vocabularies of different players. But the one thing I haven't them. Allowing me to hear them would be the most impressive thing they could do at that moment. It seemed to resonate with them. And many of them seemed to take it to heart. 

Since that day, my Be Yourself spiel has grown into a five-line mantra. It goes something like this:


Someone will ALWAYS have more technique than you. So BE YOURSELF.

Someone will ALWAYS have a better and bigger sound than you.  So BE YOURSELF.

Someone will ALWAYS be able to play more stuff than you.  So BE YOURSELF.

Someone will ALWAYS have more talent than you. So BE YOURSELF.

But NO ONE will EVER be able to BE YOU better than YOU.  So BE YOURSELF.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Three (3) Levels of Consciousness While Playing Jazz (or Improvising)

I’ve always felt that playing music is an ongoing juggling act between total awareness, losing yourself in the music, and all of the micro-steps in between.

Here are three levels of consciousness we want to always have at our disposal when playing music--especially improvised music.

1. Self-consciousness
2. Group-consciousness
3. Sub-consciousness

Let’s unpack this further.

Self-consciousness: This is the first place we want to start—with an awareness of what YOU can create musically. The more clearly you can define YOU and what YOU do, the more easily others can negotiate what YOU do in a group context. 

Group-consciousness: Here, you’re moving away from ME-centered ness to WE-centered ness. It’s not solely about what you can do individually, but collectively. It's about taking your energy and creating synergy with others.

Sub-consciousness: Now, we’re getting into a space of just being. It’s not about ME-centeredness or WE-centeredness, just simply being Centered. 

Losing oneself in the music with little to no awareness takes practice. And the best practice is simply playing. I usually say, “If you’re thinking about being in this state, then you’re probably not.”

Ultimately, what you want to do is bounce back and forth between the three. Each will enable you to tap into a different dimension of your artistic expression. And most of all, have fun!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Music Industry: Good Times or Bad Times?

Being in the music industry is difficult. This is something on which most can unanimously agree.  In some ways it’s easier today than it was 20 years ago: (1) the business side is more democratic, due to the internet explosion, and (2) we don’t have a select group of gatekeepers deciding who gets picked and who doesn’t. We can pick ourselves.

Today, it’s more difficult in that we now have more folks who've tossed their hats into the build-a-career-for-themselves ring--with the filtering process fully removed. And with more competition for performance and recording opportunities comes more bitterness towards those who are indulging in "our" slice of career pie. 

None of us want to end up like this. And you don't have to.

I’ve found that there are three (3) ways NOT to end up a bitter lemon in the drink of life. This is a regressive rabbit hole none of us want to find ourselves inside of. Oh, and I'm speaking from experience.

No. 1. By becoming more successful than your peers. 

No. 2. By doing your own thing so that you don't feel like you're competing with others.

No.  3. By enjoying the journey. Focusing more on the life lessons learned than the pocket money earned.

No. 1: This seems like the most obvious and maybe the most difficult to pull off. If you are considered as being at the top of your field, then you’re are less inclined to feel bitterness towards and jealousy of others. Nothing gives one contentment like having gotten yours. But here’s the kicker: For this to work, you have to stay at the top. This can fluctuate at any time, due to many variables, especially if you’re using metrics like critics polls, reviews, record sales, and concert bookings. The downside is that in your effort you maintain your number 1 status, you might lose your way. 

No. 2: This might be the easiest to do as far as implementing, but the most difficult as far as developing the courage to do it. Those who follow this path are usually too focused on their own thing to care what someone else is doing. It’s like parenting. If you’re really doing your job, you’re not much focused on what’s going on in other folks’ homes--unless it begins to infringe on yours.

No. 3: I’ll admit, this is difficult but doable. It’s not easy aiming for something and being content with only the process. The key is to focus on the micro-goals and have the macro-goal be the icing on the cake. 

  • winning a race


  • physical conditioning
  • team comradery
  • representing your organization with dignity and pride

None of these are the supreme law. But each does offer a unique perspective on internalizing our issues regarding success—ours and those of others. 

* If you'd like to hear more about this type of thing, do yourself a favor and read this post by the wonderful singer and pianist Champian Fulton.  5 Tips for Coping with Rejection as a Jazz Musician.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Era of Squandering

Getting someone’s attention is not a big deal these days. Social media has made this process considerably easy. Keeping and earning someone's attention and that’s a different conversation. We can make most folks look our way at least once--or like us or retweet us. But because we often squander this trust, they, too, will eventually ignore us. We will be treated like the Jehovah's Witnesses of social media.

I've often said that this period in time will be known as "The Era of Squandering." The year 1928 was the time of the Great Depression. The year 2019 is the Great Disconnection.

We have access to millions of people for free, and what do we do? Show up empty-handed. Show up with nothing to say (At best, having something nonsensical at our fingertips ready to be typed into cyberland!). We show up, leaving no good reason to be invited back into folk's social media homes again.

The problem with most is that they don't know life without all of these modern social media platforms for connection: Facebook, Snapchat, Linkedin, Twitter, Tumbler, Blogger, YouTube, Skype, Vimeo, Flickr, you name it. I knew of a time when folks would have paid top dollar to have access to these kinds of databases.

Back in the 1990s, folks would pay several hundred dollars for mailing lists containing only a few thousand names. Or as I like to call them: potential spamm(ees). Just look at Twitter, for example. There are over 126 million active users. You can post as many words (280 characters), pictures, and videos as your heart desires. And it’s FREE. But many squander this opportunity to connect; this opportunity to make a difference. Opting to do like Jerry Seinfeld and put on "a show about nothing."

These free social media platforms things won't last forever. And will probably become monetized at some point (I suspect...) And many will look back on this time and say "should have," "would have."

The good news: The story does not have to end like this. We can start by doing something worth doing, saying something worth saying. Today. Tomorrow. Tonight.

To quote Charlie Parker, "Now's the Time."  And it's free.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Teachers Versus Role Models

Throughout our lives, we often seek the guidance of teachers and role models. Even though I'm sure I could greatly benefit from a teacher, at this point in life, I'm more interested in role models. 

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Teachers give us maps to follow;
  • Role models provide us with a compass.

  • You can only have a limited number of teachers at a time;
  • Role models can be unlimited.

  • Teachers often cost money for their guidance;
  • Roles models are often free.

  • Teachers take us through their specific methodology;
  • Role models allow us to find our own methodology.

  • Teachers show us their way;
  • Role models help us find our own way. 


  • Teachers often make us feel like students;
  • Roles models inspire us to become teachers.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

My Daily Mantra: Embracing Contentment

Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that inspirational aphorisms are more of my thing than boasting of my most recent accomplishments. There’s some of that but in small doses.

I usually post issues and thoughts I’m wrestling with, using Twitter as the medium through which I work them out.

My most recent madra addresses contentment.

Goes something like this:
Everything I have all that I’ll ever have; everything I have is all I’ll ever need.

Now, what does this all mean?

I came up with this after someone expressed to me they felt I should be doing more as far as festivals and things of that nature. I simply told them I did not know if those things are in the cards for me--at least in great abundance. And that’s ok. Not that I won’t continue trying.

I see it like this: Anybody can get booked on a gig. But not everybody is out here doing work that’s making a difference. I’m not sure if I am either. But in aiming to do so, I’m more likely to than not. 

Some may even ask, what defines making a difference? The best definition of making a difference came from Seth Godin, who said that making a difference is doing work that if you stopped doing it, it would be missed.

I’d like to think that there’s a small but appreciative audience who would be saddened if all of a sudden, I stopped my experimental endeavors and began pursuing a more conservative path.

But back to my original mantra:

Everything I have is all that I’ll ever have; everything I have is all I’ll ever need.

At its core, this means two things: 1) being content with where you’re at in life, and 2) embracing a musical value system that’s more about better than more. More simply put, quality over quantity.

Regarding the latter, I do long tones because I want to play better notes, not more notes. I associate with only certain folks because I want to have better colleagues, not more colleagues. I’m selective about bookings because I want to play better gigs, not more gigs. You see my point. I’ve simply taken greed out of the equation and replaced it with satisfaction.

And besides, contentment is not easy. It’s difficult aiming for things while being ok with not realizing them. The two can seem at odds. What helps me is to be focused more on the process than the result. Becoming more focused on the giving, rather than the receiving. Or as I like to say: The life lessons earned, not the pocket money earned.

Everything I have is all that I’ll ever have; everything I have is all I’ll ever need.

Say it until you believe it. Say it until you begin to live it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Note Onion Theory

Since becoming a soprano saxophone specialist over 20 years ago, to say that I’m sound-focused is a significant understatement. As a tenor saxophonist, I was overly concerned with what came out of my horn. Now, I’m more concerned with how it comes out.

Regarding sound production, I’ve discovered that there are basically three layers to playing a note. Each with a specific function. I call it "The Note Onion Theory."

Layer 1. Making the note sound (simply making it audible).
Layer 2. Making the note ring (having it have a strong presence).
Layer 3. Making the note sing (having it move the listener).

Layer 1: Making the note audible. Pretty basic stuff. Move sound through the instrument. Make the reed vibrate. Voila!

Layer 2: Making the note ring. This requires more thought, more effort, and more purpose. This is like taking a blank sheet of paper and drawing a picture on it—or at least decorating it. Layer 1 lets the listener know what the instrument sounds like, Layer 2 enables the listener to hear what you sound like.

Layer 3: Making the note sing. This is similar to Layer 2, except on a deeper level. Here, not only do you let folks know who you are, but the note can take on a new purpose, depending on the impact it has on the person who encounters it. It goes from being about the INSTRUMENT to being about YOU to being about the LISTENER. You might say that the baton of functionality gets passed around.

I know this can sound like some pretty heady stuff. But we experience it all the time. We’ve probably just never compartmentalized in such a way.

The bigger picture with all of this is to remember that no we’re doing, there’s always another layer. This applies to life, applies to sound, and definitely applies to the onion!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Prayer and Creativity

I've always thought of prayer as a positive thing. There is something comforting about surrendering to a higher power. At every age, young and old, we all need to feel that someone has our back. Prayer also has a centering effect. Creating similar physiological responses as practicing yoga and meditating.

Regarding prayer, we're familiar with the practice of praying before bed or before we eat. How about before we create? As I like to say: "We prayed before we ate, now let's pray before we create." Hence, my "Creativity Prayer."

As you'll soon figure out, it's loosely based on the very popular "Serenity Prayer" by Reinhold Niebuhr. 


CREATIVITY, grant me the wisdom
to accept the things I cannot play,
the courage to play the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Playing one day at a time;
enjoying one gig at a time;
accepting musical challenges as a pathway to peace.

Taking, as ALL THE GREATS did,
my musical ideas as they are,
not as how I’d like them to be;
trusting that YOU will make all things right
if I surrender to YOUR will;
so that I may be reasonably happy while creating, and supremely happy while performing, whenever I’m blessed with the opportunity.


So there you have it! Now, let's go put it to good use.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Micro-Experimentation: Honing Small Sonic Interludes

My latest experimentation may be the radical of all. And certainly not something any reputable instrument repairman would recommend.

Here,  I'm stuffing small jingle bells into the bell of the instrument and sealing them in with aluminum foil. Of course, this particular sound has its limitations. And this is OK. One of the mistakes that some make with certain experimentations, is that they only imagine using them in the macro sense. Meaning only thinking of them as sounds that one can potentially exploit for the full duration of a piece, or perhaps and the entire set.

Here's something else to consider: Imagine developing something that's only intended to be used in the micro sense--meaning a short duration of time.

At this point, I think I can say with certainty that I've done more solo saxophone concerts than most. One issue that I'm constantly confronted with is how to keep my sets interesting.

This gets back to my most recent experimentation.

As a stand-alone entity, blowing through a soprano saxophone filled with small jingle bells, and using shaking the soprano saxophone as a sound option, may not necessarily hold one's attention for an entire tune, and certainly not an entire set. However, in the context of a 45-minute solo set, this could be a 120-second sonic interlude that could breath new life into a set.

Numerous times, I've thought about removing balloons from my arsenal of sound options, but whenever I pull them out during a concert, they always seem to be just what was needed at the time. So I'm inclined to believe this new experimentation will prove equally invaluable.

So this piece is called "Conical Shaker."

Materials needed:

(a) As many small jingle bells that will fit into your instrument.

Exhibit 1:

(b) Medium size piece of aluminum foil. 

Exhibit 2:


And if you get a chance, check the new recording Chaos Theory: Song Cycles for Prepared Saxophone. It's been getting a lot a cool press.

Embracing Authentic Confidence, Beyond the Illusion of Perfection

My struggles with confidence has been a constant companion throughout my life's journey, with and without my horn. I certainly have my g...