Sam Newsome

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

Preorder new CD

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Are Your Musical Standards Too High?

Lowering the bar is the antithesis of what we’re taught. Go for the gusto. Be number one. Never accept anything less than the best. We’re told never to settle. I used to believe the same thing, until I discovered that so-called settling brought me much more than I imagined.


A little anecdotal knowledge here: The times I played the worst was when I really wanted to play well. Right before a performance, I’d be running scales and patterns seconds before I hit bandstand. Mind you, sometimes this can be a good thing, especially if you’re not warmed up or if there are few musical passages that you’re still not solid on. My situation was different. I was plenty loosened up physically. It was my mental and spiritual states that were tight and rigid. It was difficult for my creativity to seep through the cloud of neurosis that was defining my musical existence. 


Even career wise, the times I was doing the worst in my career was when I I really wanted to be a jazz star. I would be on a huge stage of a major festival playing for a few thousand people, upset about not getting my due. Sounds insane, I know. The funny thing is that if I had put all of that negativity aside and had just try to have fun, I would have played better and possibly put myself in a position to receive more career success.


Today, I’m happy to say that I’m not like that nor do I want any of that. And consequently, I continue to receive more than I ever had when I desperately wanted it. Life is funny this way.


Several years ago, I was hanging out with a colleague. Let’s just say he’s not lacking in the ambition department. During our conversation he mentioned the typical things ambitious musicians discuss: festivals desired, promoters whose rosters we want to get on, labels we want to sign us, etc. He began noticing I had relatively little interest in these things, and he said to me. “Man, now I see why you’re not affected by any of this stuff. You’ve basically given up.”


Of course, this made me laugh. I explained that yes, I had retired my neurotic business obsessions. I wasn’t concerned about playing at the Village Vanguard, or getting signed to Blue Note, or topping the critics polls. I was, however, more concerned with having health insurance, saving for my retirement; and musically speaking, having fun with my musical experiments and connecting with like-minded people. None of these things will get me on the cover of DownBeat, on a major festival or a feature in the New York Times. Why? Because this is all very average stuff. Maybe even stuff that someone who has lowered the bar for themselves would be concerned with.

And this is fine. My goal is to be average. Having just enough to do what I need to do. No more, no less. Trying to be great doesn’t work for me. This is a life lesson that has taken a few decades to learn. 

Back to my career-ambitious friend, what he perceived as settling or giving up, I saw as establishing a solid foundation for obtaining happiness. Consequently, my goals are low but my spirits are high. Even in terms of improvisation, I no longer practice to become great, I practice to become solid. Cover the basics and be done with it. If most people heard me practicing, they’d think I was an 18-year-old student attending Berklee. I practice ii-Vs through the keys, patterns, and swinging over standards. Nothing to write home about. 

But I’ve discovered that keeping my musical ambitions within limited parameters, lowering the bar, if you will, aiming to simply build a solid foundation, enables me to tap into more under-explored and un-expected territories while improvising. It's similar to the principle of opposites I often talk about. 


  • If you want to play fast, practice playing slow.
  • If you want a big, robust sound, practice playing soft.
  • If you want to be become a great player achieving lots of notoriety, strive just to be an average, solid player, known by only a few. 

You’d be amazed by the results!

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Life Lessons from the Garden

Those who've seen my recent Facebook posts, are aware of my newfound interest in gardening. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I think we’ve all longed to be outdoors and not be confined to the four walls of an apartment.


Long story short, I recently inherited a very vibrant flower-garden, complete with two kinds of hibiscus trees, and red, white and pink roses bushes. Let’s just say that the mornings are very colorful. And I was exchanging flower pics with my good friend Leslie, a more experienced gardener, who's been mentoring me, and she suggested that I stay on top of deadheading my flowers. Of course, I had NO idea what this meant. In fact, until a few weeks ago, I had very little interest in flowers unless it was February 14th.

So all of you who are novices like me, deadheading means: to remove dead flower heads from a plant to encourage further blooming. The idea is that energy that goes into trying to maintain the dying flower head can actually be put towards a newer and healthier bloom. Immediately, I thought: there’s a profound life lesson to be learned here. At one time or another, we’ve all been told this message in different ways. 


 Focus of the positive not the negative.

Close old doors and new doors will open.

Clear your mind so that your spirit can shine. 


You get the point.

As I interpreted this whole deadheading thing from a philosophical perspective, I saw it as being about letting go. Better yet: letting go of the past and embracing the here and now so that you can enjoy a bloom-.heavy future. Furthermore, it’s about getting rid of that which can no longer serve its original purpose in a positive way.


In the beginning deadheading was very difficult for me. Even though the flowers were brown and shriveled, and obviously past their prime, I somehow felt I was destroying a valuable part of the flower. One might call this a type of botanical hoarding. We all know that this type of thinking extends far beyond the garden. We hold on to hole-ridden t-shirts, worn shoes, old magazines, you name it. Things that should have been thrown out five years earlier. Not to mention the emotional junk we carry around. That thing someone said to you ten years ago. That record date you didn't get the call. That tour that your student got picked to do over you. Again, withered leaves that should be deadheaded instead of being allowed to contaminate your daily vine.

 So here are the three life lessons from the garden I learned:

  1.     If it’s unhealthy, get rid of it. Save the good, not the bad.
  2.     It’s all about re-directing the energy away from the unhealthy, towards the healthy bloom.
  3.     If you don’t get rid of the dead flowers, they will only get in the way. 
The funny thing is that once you get rid of them, you immediately forget that they were ever there. Junk is funny that way.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Unconventional Happiness


This particular exchange strikes a chord with me because I’ve always been the type of person who likes to help others. As I’m learning, this is not always productive. On the surface lending a helping hand is a good thing to do. We all should do it more. Where it gets tricky is when we extend our hand more than we should. Some folks see this helping hand as some form of assistance, while others may see it as merely something to slap away.

To elaborate on this further, let’s look the whole idea of misery. It took me years to learn that being miserable and being unhappy are not the same. For some, misery is the most comfortable and preferred state of being. It’s a very deliberate emotional and spiritual choice that many make. One that does not necessarily make one sad.

One of the reasons that I’m such a glass-is-half-full kind of guy is that I don't like being angry and filled with angst. Most of all, I don’t like feeling like a helpless victim. It really makes me uncomfortable. So, I do everything in my power not to stay in this negative space for very long. Consequently, if someone offers me advice, I tend not to dismiss it. One, I'm grateful that they care enough to try and make me feel better. Secondly, I’m more likely already thinking along those lines anyway. These word-comforters are most likely reinforcing what I’m already thinking.

This is very different from those who reject any positive offerings from caring friends and family, always countering with something negative. Those who get lured into this world of negativity can feel it’s their fault that their friend or family member feels bad. Why? Because in their mind, they failed to offer good advice. Here's the kicker: for some, there is no good advice. There is nothing that can be said or done that would make them see things differently. Because this is the state they want to be in. This is their preferred state of being.

A wise musician once told me that most people have the potential to be everything that they are. I now understand it. Not everyone has the same measurement of happiness. Some prefer having the heads hung low, some would not settle for anything less than the sky.

I know my assessment of how people feel and internalize things is simplistic. However, there's no denying that it comes down to a choice. Choices we make each and every day. And consequently, have to live with.

So back to the above exchange between the teacher and the student. This teacher is correct. Just because we, ourselves would feel a certain way in certain situations, it is not the default response for all. The student was incorrect is assuming that his friend’s constant worrying only brought him unhappiness. The reality is this: For some, they would not have it any other way. There are those who prefer the smiles upside down. 

Blank Page Syndrome

Sydney Sheldon's poignant quote, "A blank piece of paper is God's way of showing you how hard it is to be God," deeply res...