Sam Newsome

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

Monday, December 7, 2020

Want to be a better free player? Practice jazz

Being someone who plays mostly experimental and free jazz gigs these days, one of the things that I’m discovering during this COVID-19 period is the importance of working on my jazz skills. Yes, that four-letter-word! Time permitting, this is something I typically work on even when not in lockdown. Folks often look at me side-eyed when I tell them that what I work on most is playing over standards and honing jazz my vocabulary. It’s true. I can only spend but so much time attaching things to my instrument. I still have to address the fundamentals.

 Even though I self-identify as an artist or even an experimentalist, the root of it all is jazz. 

 Here are the three category of things I like to practice:

1. LICKS/PATTERNS: many shun this sort of thing, but practicing these types of ideas in different keys at different tempos is an excellent form of study.

A few benefits:

  • instrumental control
  • command of musical vocabulary
  • aural skill development
  • rhythmic clarity

2. PLAYING STANDARDS: working your way through a set of chord changes with a rhythm section providing some steady swing underneath you is a great way to improve your harmonic understanding, rhythmic sharpness, and melodic clarity. Not to mention the added benefit of learning how to swing. With all of the backing tracks available on YouTube, it’s a fun way to spend a lot of time with your instrument, while continuing to hone your ability to interact with other players in real-time. 

3. ETUDES: shedding etudes is a great form of objective practice. You can hone specifics like different fingerings, intonation, and overall instrument dexterity. The great thing about etudes is that you can isolate specific parts of a piece and still reap tremendous benefits. 

These things aid into doing one thing: enabling your ideas to flow freely and effortlessly--especially during these times when playing with others is limited.  You must see these things as a means to becoming a better improviser, not necessarily as a means to becoming a great jazz musician. However, if you can both...Hooray!

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Will The New World Order Be Scarier Than The Old?


As much as the Democratic Party and those on the left may hate Trump, they actually owe him a great thanks. Why? He did something not done since the 1960s: he united the Democratic Party, all of the radicals on the left, and many of the RINO's on the right. He gave them an unwavering and clear sense of purpose: to make him a one-termer by any means necessary. And given the situation, you would not think that he had a shot in hell of winning. In fact, it's nothing short of a miracle that he did as well as he did. We heard for months about the "blue wave" that would leave Trump with dismal numbers on election night. This was hardly the case. I would say it was more like a blue drizzle that covered the Democratic ground in the eleventh hour. And according to the Trump campaign, there was a blue wave, but it came in around 4:00 AM after we all went to sleep.  

If Trump only ran against Joe Biden, I suspect he could have pulled it off without a hitch, definitely without the help of the state and federal courts. But unfortunately for him, he was running against five much more worthy opponents.

  1. The Big Tech industry: Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter; etc
  2. The mainstream media; MSNBC, CNN, and FOX News, near the end;
  3. The entertainment industry;
  4. The elite intellectual class of colleges and universities;
  5. And the most challenging of them all, COVID-19!

To run against one of these entities is suicidal, to go up against all five is catastrophic.


As you can see, Biden is far down the list. This might also explain his anemic campaigning efforts. There was no need to break a sweat; he had a left-wing ideological super pack doing the fighting for him. Never before in the history of politics has a presidential candidate been able to campaign non-aggressively, exist in a media-protected cocoon, and still win with the most votes ever. I personally find this to be astounding. Keep in mind he received more votes than Ronald Reagan, who received over  97% of the entire Electoral College; and Barack Obama, who was a political rockstar of the likes we've never seen. 

But before we let any conspiracy theories run wild, when you look at what this election was really about, the numbers seem more palatable. This election wasn't about this candidate against that candidate, it was about a growing movement in America and a resistance to that movement. As far as the left was concerned, they did not need a candidate to lead them, but one who would not get in their way. I think this is what's so difficult for Donald Trump to wrap his mind around. He can't fathom how an uncharismatic, low-energy, boiler-plate template of a candidate could beat him. The reality as that Biden did not beat him, all of the entities I just named did. And some make the argument that Trump beat himself. 

Some elections are complicated like this, where it's not always candidate versus candidate. In 2008, Barack Obama may have been running against John McCain, but McCain was running against Obama, the Irag war, and George W. Bush's failed economy. Hardly a fair fight.



And this leads to my next point: before we all jump for joy for overthrowing a racist/xenophobe/misogynist/serial liar/fill in the blank, we have to do two things: 1) wait for the Trump campaign to finish contesting the outcome, which is within their legal right, 2) we have to make sure we have not built a monster we can't control. As they say: "We have to make sure the solution is not worst than the problem." 

This is the issue when we create a super monster, literally and figuratively, to defeat what we perceive as a current threat: when the match is over, we end up with a fighting machine with no foe to receive its wrath. Not to worry though. This monster will find a new one. And this is what scares. As time has proven, in this animus game of political chess, black America is always the pawn. 


We know what fascism looks like on the right, but what does it look like on the left? My fear is that we'll soon see. Some argue that this fascist monster has already shed its red hide for a blue one.

My question is this? What happens when the opposition becomes more subtle and ideological and less in your face and brawny, like Trump? Then we're looking at a different kind of fight. One where we won't realize we're losing until it's too late. 


 If all of these entities are working together, how much freedom will we really have?

  • Where will Facebook draw the line?  
  • Where will Google draw the line?
  • Where will Twitter draw the line? 
  • Where will mainstream media draw the line?
If FOX News can turn on Trump, what's to stop MSNBC and CNN from turning on those whom we hold dear? Unfortunately, these organizations are no longer legitimate news networks, they've digressed into political propaganda machines--on the right and the left.

Here's where we need to be careful: the folks doing the censoring and deciding what's best for us, no longer look like Strom Thurman. In fact, they're scarier and more deceptive because they get to hide behind the left-wing ideology. They wear jeans and T-shirts. They like the same movies and books and us. They know the perfect thing to say to make us feel guilty. They know exactly how to scare us. They understand how to make us put to rest any oppositional thoughts. Even though they're multi-billionaires, they get to dismiss the white middle class as privileged and out of touch. It's a convenient shield. Big Tech billionaires get to hide behind the guise of being Stanford and Harvard intellectuals. They are part of our intellectual elite. They are prized. To me, they are the scariest and most potent strain of white supremacy. When you match them with the propaganda-for-hire mainstream media, it's an ideological force with which we can not compete. We've been duped into thinking that The Proud Boys poses the real threat to our democracy. Politicians have been running the same con on black America for decades. I can see it a mile away.

Over the past four years, while we sat back and watch this consortium strengthen its political-ideological chain, we failed to notice that we might be throwing our future First Amendment Rights out of the window. No one noticed and, quite frankly, no one cared, since this machine had but one objective: GET TRUMP OUT OF OFFICE. 

Mission Accomplished. Well...we'll see.

Many probably don't remember this, but in 2000, Ralph Nader predicted that someone like Trump was needed to galvanize the party. But he probably never anticipated anything of this magnitude or that it would take so long. During the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore, Nader dismissed them both as being "institutions dominated by corporate interests?" It turns out that he was correct. We really saw this in 2016 when a slew of Republicans began throwing their support behind Hillary. My first thought: Nader called it! He referred to Bush and Gore as "Tweedledee and Tweedledum." He also said, "I'd rather have a provocateur than an anesthetizer in the White House." Provocateur is what we got. And galvanization is what we got.



In the meantime, as the mainstream media works to find a new ratings cash cow to prop up its dying industry, and as Big Tech fine-tunes its definition of "hate," "explicit," or "inflammatory," we'll have to wait with bated breath to see who the new fall guy will be. Who knows? Maybe they'll run the this-is-all-Trumps-fault narrative for four years. The most frightening part of a Biden presidency is how silent I feel we'll become as a nation. For better or worst, under Trump, the public was not afraid to voice their opinions. Under Biden, it could get more complicated. To actually criticize Biden could be an admittance that Trump was actually correct about some things and that all of his policies were not bad. Are we ready to go back to an out of control immigration situation? Are we ready to return to the Bush days of living in fear over terrorist threats? Are we ready to be tied up in senseless wars overseas? I'm not sure the country is ready for this type of reflection and honesty. The easiest thing to do is to be silent and keep saying to ourselves, "At least he's not Trump." 

Meanwhile, we have an ideological consortium that's in tip-top shape and ready go. Let's just hope the next person, idea, movement, style of music, is not something or someone WE cherish. After all, this new elite class has already decided that THEY know what's best for us.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Bad Plus plays Ornette Coleman: Featuring Tim Berne, Ron Miles, and Sam Newsome

On Saturday, October 18, 2014, I had the pleasure of performing with The Bad Plus as a part of a project commissioned by Duke Performances appropriately titled The Bad Plus plays “Science Fiction.”


In addition to the TBP members of Ethan Iverson, on piano; Reid Anderson, on bass; and Dave King on drums, additions to the group included Ron Miles on trumpet, Tim Berne on alto saxophone, with me holding down the soprano chair.


The performance took place at the Baldwin Auditorium which sounded and looked great. Long story short, the group was a hit which led to scattered dates in the US, and a couple trips to Europe.


A little about the music: Science Fiction was first released in 1972 on Columbia Records and featured many of Ornette’s core members and a few newbies:

  • Ornette Coleman, alto saxophone, trumpet, violin
  • Don Cherry, pocket trumpet 
  • Bobby Bradford, trumpet
  • Carmine Fornarotto, trumpet
  • Gerard Schwarz, trumpet
  • Dewey Redman, tenor saxophone, musette
  • Charlie Haden - bass
  • Billy Higgins, drums
  • Ed Blackwell, drums
  • David Henderson, recitation 
  • Asha Puthli, vocals

I would not say that this was classic Ornette, it more of a breakthrough. In fact, Steve Huey in the AllMusic Review had this to say.

"Science Fiction was his creative rebirth, a stunningly inventive and appropriately alien-sounding blast of manic energy... Science Fiction is a meeting ground between Coleman's past and future; it combines the fire and edge of his Atlantic years with strong hints of the electrified, globally conscious experiments that were soon to come. And, it's overflowing with brilliance.” 

The original set unfolded like this:


1.     "What Reason Could I Give?" 

2.     "Civilization Day" 

3.     "Street Woman" 

4.     "Science Fiction" 

5.     "Rock the Clock" 

6.     "All My Life" -

7.     "Law Years" 

8.     "The Jungle Is a Skyscraper" 


Here's a short sample:


The modified version performed by The Bad Plus went more like this:

1.     "What Reason Could I Give?" 

2.     "Rock the Clock" 

3.     "The Jungle Is a Skyscraper" 

4.     "Science Fiction" 

5.     "All My Life"

6.     “Broken Shadows”

7.     “Happy House”


The following performance was recorded on September 12, 2015, at the Jazz à la Villette in Paris, France as a part of a multi-day music festival. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to record this band in the studio, but I’m glad our performance was at least documented in some capacity. It was fun playing and fun hanging. It will definitely go down as one of my more memorable musical experiences.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Multicultural or Liberal: Which Society Spawns More Creativity?


Which is better for artists, to live in a multicultural society or a liberal one? We should first examine how we define the two.

In a multicultural society, the collective comes together as individuals. In a liberal society, individuals come together as a collective. 

Let me unpack this further. Under multiculturalism, the individual is not asked to sacrifice his or her identity for the whole. The more prominent their identity, the stronger the multicultural model becomes. A good example is salad. You never want to diminish the uniqueness of the lettuce and tomatoes and cucumbers. Their individuality is what makes it a salad. Liberal societies play by a different set of rules. In a liberal society, it’s about serving the whole, which requires one to sacrifice their identity or at least revise it. The vegetables no longer have the identity of the salad but the uniformity of a smoothie. 

How’s does all of this affect us as artists? How does it affect creativity?

As artists, our dissatisfaction with the status quo is what often motivates us to create. To paraphrase Toni Morrison, there’s a book that we want to read that has not been written, so we write it. In our effort to write that book, we don’t look to the tried and tested but the new and under-explored. In other words, uniqueness.

Liberal societies, on the other hand, encourages the melting pot, or as I like to call it, the smoothie model, where we assimilate to create a unified image. Again, this type of unification ignores fundamental differences that make us unique. The basic tenet of most artists, not only shuns this idea of identity-sacrificed uniformity, but we view and share our uniqueness from a high-resolution perspective. In other words, we take that which is not commonplace and we bring it to the forefront.

The smoothie model may be a convenient solution for the complexities of diversity and uniqueness. Still, as artists, the salad model allows us to repurpose our individuality into a new normal. 

The more diverse we are within our society, the more we're incentivized to embrace our uniqueness. The more unique our perspective, the more fertile our creative wells become. I call it the relay-effect. It's a win-win situation.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Jazz in the Age of Esotericism

As far as my musical upbringing, I became serious about music in the height of the conservative movement throughout America. During Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s, the country was 97% red, at least terms electoral support. The bleeding-heart liberal did not have a fighting chance. As a general rule, when liberals lose economic and government support, so do artists. We all remember when Republicans relentlessly went after the NEA for funding controversial art.

We were conditioned to stay in our places and not ruffle feathers. The safest place artistically was in the middle. Ignore that which falls on the fringes, and create things that everybody can enjoy. Or at least things that would not offend.

This goes against the basic tenet of esotericism, which celebrates that which is only understood or intended to be understood by a small number of people with special knowledge—whether it offends or not.

Fortunately for other like-minded musicians and me, using the internet to gather and share information became common practice. The internet is a breeding ground for esotericism. It is a tapestry of micro-universes that allows one to be as narrowly focused as their creative intuitions guide them, and they can still find an enthusiastic group of supporters. This is what's so amazing!

During the 80s and early 90s, I never could not have done what I do today. We may have torn down the Iron Curtain, but the conservative wall protecting the sacred values of azz during that period was rock steady and impenetrable. Two of the most influential and successful jazz players to come out of this era were Kenny G, with his 1982 release Kenny G and Wynton Marsalis with his 1983 release Think of One. Both saw unprecedented sales for their sub-genres of jazz. And to further emphasize Marsalis' conservative vision of music, he was equally skilled at playing classical music. Unlike G, Marsalis was often very vocal about music that did not fit his conservative vision. Much in the way that seasoned politicians running for office do. Musically speaking, G is the opposite of esotericism. In fact, he was extreme-exotericism. He music was all about accessibleness and being able to be understood right away. Hyper-placation was more his objective than challenging the listener. He didn't push them, he put them at ease. 

Today, it's a different story. We no longer have to smooth out the edges. We no longer have to sacrifice the purity of our vision in an attempt to reap more financial rewards. We no longer need to cater to the taste of the conservative radio stations of the world; the limited tastes A&R execs; and the booking agents who often try to convince you that you're not bookable unless you have all-star players in your group. Thank goodness for me. Otherwise, they'd tell me my only options would be to play the tenor and try to sound like Hank Mobley.

I see esotericism as a philosophy of hope, not an ideal only centered around exclusion and isolationism. Under the guise of esotericism, we no longer have to scrap ideas that cast a net with a limited circumference. And I'm not opposed to commercialism. I celebrate the idea of something appreciated by the masses. But it's hipper when commercial success is a consequence of a more sincere and earnest endeavour that just happened to get lucky.

There are undoubtedly artistic benefits to esotericism:

  • Having limited scope helps create an identifiable sound.
  • Less time is invested in wooing those who don't want to be wooed.
  • You're most likely fulfilling the artistic needs of those often ignored.

When people say that I'm only appealing to a select group of geeks with highly specialized taste, my response: I sure hope so!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Why Originality May Be Our Most Effective Survival Mechanism During These Tumultuous Times

Most will agree that these are unprecedented times. We just experienced a chaotic election, racial tensions are at an all-time high, and bias news reporting has stooped to an all-time low. All of these things, of course, are fueled by either skewed truths or just flat out lies.

The question is this: If the world around us is entangled in falsehoods and lies, then where is the truth? 


Inside of us. 

Not just any truth. But our artistic truth. A creative ideal born in the purist part of our inner-self. In other words, our originality. 

Contrary to popular belief, originality is not only about claiming creative turf, but it’s also the unveiling of possibilities. Simply put, hope. It’s the kind of hope that comes deep from within and can stand up against most oppositional forces. Originality is a kind of enlightenment that moves you out of the realms of competition and acquisition, and into the realms of discovery and appreciation. As a general rule of thumb, we can appreciate much more than we can acquire. As a musician, this can mean simply discovering music. But, more profoundly, it’s about the discovery of oneself. There can be some darkness in your discovery, but at the nucleus is an effervescent shining light that gets brighter the deeper you go, not darker. 

Looking at my own path, the clearer and more crystalized my artistic-self becomes, the less fazed I am about the things that happen around me. Most things appear to me, not as wins and losses, satisfaction and disappointment, but lessons learned and to be learned. 

The good news is that this originality/hope/sea of possibilities is latent within all of us. We simply have to clear our hearts and minds and let its radiance come through again. You'll not only do yourself a favor, but the world around you.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Microtonal Challenge: Part 1 - "Microtonal Worksong"

A few months back, I asked three of my esteemed colleagues to participate in what I call the Microtonal Challenge. 

 The participants:

  1. Dario Dolci
  2. Catherine Sikora
  3. Jaleel Shaw
  4. Sam Newsome

Playing only the soprano, I asked them to interpret my tune "Microtonal Worksong." The piece is loosely based on a Bb blues, with lots of quartertone alternations in both the melody and the improvised solos. One of the most common ways I use quartertones in a blues context is by moving from the major 3rd to the quarter flat 3rd to the minor 3rd--creating a delayed blues effect and intensifying the blues sound. In fact, I use this technique for the entire major chord.

It looks something like this in the key of C.

C // C quarter flat // B

E // E quarter flat // Eb

G // G quarter flat // F#

B // B quarter flat // Bb 


Below is a poor photocopy of the piece.


We all took different approaches. Dario, my microtonal partner in crime, played it at a slightly faster tempo, giving it a welcomed energetic boost. Jaleel paced it slightly slower and changed some of the notes on the second half. Not to mention treating us to some cool runs at the end! I would say that Catherine moved through the piece most patiently, playing the 1st and 2nd endings and an exploratory improvised solo, delving deep into the nuances of the microtones. My approach was pretty straight ahead, especially the melody. But I did seize the opportunity to explore the quartertones pretty extensively during my improvised solo.

Thanks again to all of the participants for lending their time and talents.


Dario Dolci

Jaleel Shaw

Catherine Sikora


Sam Newsome

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Black Conservatives and the Black Jazz Musician

In 2016, when Ben Carson appeared in the media as one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination, I began thinking a lot about black conservatives and how they have a lot in common with black jazz musicians.

Typically, one would rarely associate these two groups as having anything remotely in common. And in many instances, they don't. Politically speaking, black conservatives are usually Republicans, and black jazz musicians are Democrats, as is the case with most artists when it comes to voting. While it is true they share nothing on the political stage, here are some beliefs and values they share:

  • Both believe in personal accountability.
  • Both are willing to think beyond the traditional realms of black culture.
  • Both are committed to the individual, not to the black majority.
  • Both are comfortable and willing to play to a non-black base.

For better or worse, black conservatives are committed to what they believe to be the truth, not what makes most black people feel good. Rarely do they even have large sums of blacks in their political corners, though the numbers are significantly growing in recent years. Consequently, this has afforded them the freedom to be independent thinkers within their race. They don't have to worry about alienating blacks nor being alienated by them. Most don't travel in their circles. People like Ben Carson and Candance Owens (and Kanye West, to a certain extent) are often vilified in the press by racial feather rufflers like Don Lemon and Michael Eric Dyson, and the only real crime they've committed in the black court of public opinion is thinking differently. Or, as most say, "Thinking like white people." 

Having an unpopular take on the world is nothing new to the black jazz musician. We are usually the outliers of our families and communities. Our views and values tend to be worldly and less typical. This is seen in our appreciation of different kinds of music, food, art, travelling to different countries, and how comfortable we are with inter-racial and inter-faith relationships, as friends, lovers, and bandmates. In a typical jazz group or audience, you'll have white Jews and black Christians; Buddhists and atheists; gays and lesbians, bi-sexuals, heterosexuals, and those who might be transitioning.

The majority of black jazz musicians that I know have many interests and inter-personal relationships that fall outside the typical realms of black culture and daily relations. And this is very different from other blacks who are of similar socioeconomic status and not in the arts. Where I grew up in Virginia, blacks mingled with blacks and whites with whites. End of story. This is especially true within church culture. We might all be God's children, Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday mornings, God's house is segregated like the Jim Crow South.

Since the inception of jazz, black musicians have strived to be the best Americans they could be, not the best black folks. During Bird's time, blackness was not much of a political bargaining chip. It certainly did not carry the same weight of power and control as it did during the late sixties and thereafter. White guilt had not made it's way to the mainstream. Consequently, music was not created through the lens of race, but through the lens of excellence. As a rule of thumb, when race and politics take precedence over musical excellence, it looks good on paper, it serves as a convenient vehicle for virtue-signalling, but the musical results often can't withstand the test of time.

Since the bebop era, when jazz made the transition from popular music to art music, our commitment (and I'm not speaking for all) has been to our artistic vision, not what makes people feel good--blacks or any other groups. Consequently, we've ended up with few blacks at our gigs. For most, this is not a problem, as long as somebody appreciates what we do, and are willing to pay us to do it. Our commitment is to our vision, not that of the black collective. And this is precisely how black conservatives think.

Contrary to popular belief, black conservatives are not always seeking out a majority-white base. These are just the people with whom they share similar ideas. Let me add that these are also the people who hire them to tout conservative talking points. Just like black jazz musicians are not purposefully trying to fill their gigs with whites and Asians. These are only the groups who are coming out to hear us play—point-blank. 

I'm sure that high profile conservatives like Candance Owens and Condoleezza Rice would love to speak in front of black majority audiences. Since most blacks are loyally-Democratic, this will rarely happen. Blacks are often so unified politically that any Republican outreach is viewed as a wasted effort with a zero-sum return. During the 2012 election, President Barack Obama received 93% of the black vote. In 2017, Mayor Bill Deblasio received 96%. This is textbook collectivist thinking. It's also the reason we're often taking for granted by political candidates. We are loyal political pets. Why else would Joe Biden go on the Breakfast Club and say "you ain't black," if you vote for Trump? Even though he said it jokingly, it speaks to the sense of ownership white liberals and black politicians feel they have of most black Americans.

As I said earlier, black conservative talking points don't make the black majority feel good—which is an understatement. They preach about personal accountability and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, often sounding cold and uncaring and like they're kowtowing to the white man. They often perpetuate the narrative of "Hey, buddy, I made it. What's your problem?" Tough love, without love. 

Most black jazz musicians that I know have similar ideological beliefs. If nobody will hire us, systemic racism is not our default response. Even if one suspects that it is, very few will act on it. Most practice productive pessimism: not expecting anything from anyone and living your life not as a victim, but as a person of action. The bottom line is that no matter the cause, you have to study, practice, and keep trying. This is not negotiable. Or better yet, start your own band.

Politically speaking, many of the things that unify the black majority, like institutional racism and white supremacy, are usually dismissed by black conservatives as conspiracy theories and scapegoats for black regress. And this never goes over well. What's interesting is that black conservatives seem to stand against everything that white liberal stands for. When it comes to police brutality, black conservatives say to black people, stop committing so many crimes, and you won't be targeted. White liberals tell the cops that they need more diversity training. When there's an under-representation of black students at specific colleges, black conservatives tell black students that they need to study harder. White liberals say to colleges that they need to assess black students differently. One remedies problems with excellence and personal accountability, the other by coddling those they view as disadvantaged.

Black jazz musicians who thrive in the industry are also very committed to excellence and personal accountability. If the press seems to be covering white musicians more, the remedy is to make more exciting music or create our own scene. Or, as I do. I write about my music. I don't sit around and wait for DownBeat and the New York Times. If white bands are being booked disproportionately by European promoters, our remedy is to improve our music or learn to play the political game a little better. "We step up our hustle."

I think we can all admit that there are times when certain groups just seem to receive preferential treatment over others. Sometimes for good reasons. I remember periods when it was convenient to be young and black. And periods when white musicians seemed to be a promoter's group of choice. During the height of the Me Too Movement, promoters were proudly touting on social media how many women they booked on their festivals that year. 

We've all been on the outside looking in, depending on how the pendulum of preference was swinging. And guess what? No one cares. The victimization card is not an option--at least not to the successful ones. If affirmative action existed as a remedy, most would have too much pride to cash that chip in--and those who do use it, pay for it, long term. We earn our place on the bandstand, and we don't need our circumstance to be socially-engineered by white liberals, pro-black protesters or professional virtue-signalers

One complaint that many have of white liberals is that they are often too preoccupied with trying to comfort blacks or keep us in a perpetual state of anger. Our misfortunes can always somehow be attributed to systemic racism or white supremacy. This feels comforting to the sympathizers and the victims. If someone scored badly on the SATs and is told that the test is racially biased, then that lack of accountability would make their failure easier to deal with. It wouldn't help them long term, but it would feel good to point their finger outward at that moment.

During my first few semesters at Berklee in the early '80s, there was a population of black students who felt under-represented in many of the top ensembles: The Recording Band, The Herb Pomeroy Ensemble, The Dues Band, and a few others. I'm not saying that these claims were unfounded, but our resolve was comparable to the narrative touted by many black conservatives. If we needed better reading skills, we got those things together. If we needed better doubling skills, we got that together, too. We didn't form protests and marches against the school, forcing them to lower the black students' requirements. We didn't make them develop a white assessment and black assessment of playing abilities. Just as many black conservatives claim to have, we rose to the occasion, despite how we felt the deck was stacked. Social engineering was not necessary. We simply got our act together. Again, back to the practice of productive pessimism. Consequently, we did a lot better career-wise than many of the white and Asian students who occupied Berklee's top ensembles. 

Let me be clear, I'm not letting black conservatives off the hook, either. They are often too willing to go on white conservative platforms and duke it out with black liberals like two black-bucks fighting for the amusement of the white slave master, like champion Mandingo fighters. In today's political world, that white slave master is usually Fox News.

But I am often impressed with how calmly black conservatives can debate matters of race using reason and statistical data, and not unbridled emotion, which is very different from white liberals and pro-black defenders. They often debate racial issues with anger, intimidation, and character assassination of those who disagree with them. Republican whites are called racists, and conservative blacks are called coons and sell-outs, no matter the evidence. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Homerun Fallacy

The Homerun Fallacy is a term I came up which speaks to how we look to hit homes in life rather than being content with merely staying in the game. Aspiring to stay in the game is less sexy and doesn't make for retweet worthy sound bites. But it does bring one more attainable goals and peace of mind, longer-term. Some could see it as lowering the bar, but I see it as expanding your bar options. Focusing on playing the game gives you a more nuanced experience. Or more reward options that extend far beyond hitting the ball over the wall or running the basses. 

This can certainly be applied to be a musician. It’s not just about having a hit record or playing with the most popular players at the top venues, but learning all that you can from the recording experience or being excited to perform. Expect nothing, gain everything. It seems too simple. Yes, it is simple, but it's very difficult to do. We’ve convinced ourselves that happiness only awaits us on the other side of the wall. In most cases, we simply need to open our eyes and experience fully the side we're on.

The next time you’re at that proverbial plate, smell the air, admire the green, lose yourself in the music of the cheering crowd. Focus on your swing, not the consequence of hitting the ball correctly. Be in the moment. Or, just be.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

THE LOCKDOWN SESSIONS, Vol. 21 - presented by The Jazz Gallery

Every Saturday.  Hear a set recorded by musicians in their respective lockdown stations, and join us for for the culminating concert where each musician will present their set and answer any questions & chat.


Reservations are required at $15/$5 members.  We will send you a Zoom link with instructions approx. 30 minutes before the Lockdown Session.


Each Lockdown Session will be recorded on the day, so anyone who purchases a ticket will have access post-concert.

Featured artists:


Seattle Improvised Music Festival (Streamed)

Like most of my musician friends, I lost a lot of work during COVID-19 that I was uncertain of whether I'd ever retrieve it back again. I'm happy to say that one performance did find it's way into the lost and found box. The Seattle Improvised which has been presenting pre-recorded streamed performances since September 27, 2020, will conclude their festivities on Sunday, October 4, 2020

Beginning at 10:00 PM, the line-up will be as follows:

  • Ben Goldberg, clarinet (Berkeley)
  • Galin Hebert, drums; Laurel Evers, clarinet
  • Sam Newsome, soprano saxophones (Harlem)
  • Thomas Campbell, drums; Dick Valentine, flutes, sax; Tamara Zenobia, voice
  • Joe McPhee, sax (Poughkeepsie)
The event will be streamed on the Race Sessions YouTube channel.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Solo Transcription and Analysis of Sub Saharan Dialogue (DownBeat)

In the August 2020 edition of DownBeat, guitarist Jimi Durso submitted a solo transcription and analysis of "Sub-Saharan Dialogue" from my 2012 release, The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1.

I'll spare you my analysis, Jimi's is much more thorough. Check it out!


Performing a piece as an unaccompanied horn player is quite a feat. To record an entire album like this—without the ability to play chords and to accompany oneself-- shows tremendous ambition and requires some real ingenuity. To do multiple albums this way displays vision, dedication and maybe a little insanity. Sam Newsome has taken on this challenge, and successfully applied it to the soprano saxophone, creating varied and inventive ways to use the instrument so that we don’t miss any other instruments.


One example is the tune “Sub Saharan Dialogue” from Newsome’s 2012 album The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1. His solo is presented in concert key.


By playing two low notes at the beginning of each two-measure phrase, Newsome has created a sort of de facto bass line for his solo. Of course, jumping up from these low notes to improvise in the upper octaves requires some serious skills, as well as the lung power required to keep this up for 48 measures with minimal breathing spaces. 


Besides the soprano saxophone virtuosity on display here, there are other impressive aspects to this solo. One is how Newsome treats the implied harmonies. 


At first glance, we have alternating eight-bar groups of A dorian and Bb dorian. But Newsome doesn’t play it like it’s just Am to Bbm; he puts some effort into making the harmonies more ambiguous. He hints at this in the second bar, where he start a line with notes that fit with Am7 and ends it with a D major arpeggio. His lines in measures 7 and 8 start out as more of an Em7 sound, and end with A and F#, which could imply the D chord that he played previously, but also could be heard as F#m or Am6. I think the point is that it could be any of those; it’s undefined. 


Measure 10 is another example. On the Bb minor, Newsome plays what is clearly a Db maj7 arpeggio. However, Db maj7 is also Bm9, only without the Bb, so this isn’t that far removed from the parent key. Bar 14 is the same, except Newsome also adds in the ninth (or the 11th, if you’re viewing it from the B perspective), making it sound a bit further from Bm. Repeating this idea four bars later is no accident. Notice how the scalar passage in measure 12 (which, traversing from C down to G, also adds to the ambiguity of the harmony) reappears in measures 15–16. Newsome also recycles the Db maj9 idea in measure 28 and (sort of) in bars 31–32 (which we’ll examine a little later). 


Newsome also continues the polytonality, with the next A minor section showing a remarkable concept approach: In measure 18, he plays what clearly sounds like a B minor pentatonic lick. All the notes of B minor pentatonic exist within A dorian, so on one hand it’s not “out.” But at the same time, it makes it sound less like A minor and more like B minor, which are two very different things. 


This gets taken up a notch in measures 23–24. Newsome plays descending seventh-chord arpeggios. The chords he plays— D7, Cmaj7 and Bm7—are again all part of the A dorian mode, but playing them as actual arpeggios makes it sound more like he’s playing changes rather than playing modally. For this, the lack of a rhythm section actually serves him, as not having anyone else defining whether it’s modal or not adds to the mystery of his playing. 


As to recycling ideas, at the beginning of the next B dorian section (bars 25–26), Newsome reuses his idea of descending arpeggios within the scale, but here does it mostly with triads (Dmaj7 to Eb to Db). He repurposes this idea, as well, playing the Dmaj7 without the fifth in bar 31, and in the next measure including the #11, while still leaving out the fifth. This makes the sense of the harmony even less defined. 


Since Newsome is supplying his own accompaniment in the form of the repeated root notes at the start of every two-bar phrase, he keeps that resolutely consistent. To create contrasting rhythmic variety, notice how he doesn’t start his improvisatory lines at the same time after that. There are places where he starts nearly right away, leaving only an eighth-note of silence (bars 5, 7, 13, 19, 21, 23, 25, 29, 31, 35, 37, 39 and 43), and less commonly waiting until the next bar before playing (bars 3–4, 11–12, 17–18, 27–28) and variations in between. 


Even in this, there is some consistency, as the places where Newsome lets more time pass typically occur in the first two phrases on each scale. He tends to fill more space in the final two phrases, building up to the scale changes.


Also interesting is how Newsome never anticipates the changes. He seems to be hearing the bar lines as borders, never implying the next chord in his lines. Considering the harmonic vagueness of his lines, this helps to make the changes, as well as the rhythm, abundantly clear in a context where there are no rhythm section players to elucidate these elements. 


Newsome’s manipulation of range also tells a story. His first phrase stays low, only going up an octave from the bass note. But each subsequent phrase for the A dorian section pushes the boundary further, going up another fifth in bar 4,up to a high G in the following phrase and up another third after that. This last phrase also falls all the way down toward the bottom of the staff, balancing out all the climbing he’s done.


On the Bb dorian section that follows, Newsome starts from this bottom but quickly moves up to a high Ab (close to the ceiling he’s set up), and next plays around a higher C (also near this upper limit). His next two phrases mirror these in range, basically setting up a new upper limit. 


This high point remains for the next 11 bars, but in measure 28 he crosses this border, ascending almost an additional octave up to a high G. This is a high point in his improvisation, and it occurs at almost the midpoint of the solo. The next two phrases work their way down, until at bar 34 we’re at a middle B, which, with the exception of bar 40, becomes the ceiling for the next 10 bars. 


Newsome doesn’t just let us down softly, though. For the penultimate lick (bars 45–46) he quite suddenly hits close to that climax, and then plays in between the extremes he’s set up for the closing statement. This last phrase has a nice symmetry, starting with Ab-to-F and then leading up to Ab-to-F an octave higher. 

Thanks, again, to Jimi Durso for his fine work. And to DownBeat Magazine for their continued support.

Oh yeah, if you're are curious about the 2020 DownBeat Polls in the Soprano Saxophone categories, look below. As you know, you must take this stuff with a grain of salt. And remember this: It's not about making the polls, but making a difference. 

But congrats to all that made it, and to all that didn't. Your voice and your journey matters, whether you know it or not.

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...