Sam Newsome

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

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.

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...