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.

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