Sam Newsome

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

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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

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