Sam Newsome

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

Now available of Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Now available on Bandcamp!

Friday, November 10, 2023

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 resonates with me as a writer and an improvisor. Allow me to elaborate on the meaning this quote holds for me. As I see it, a blank page serves as a metaphor for writer's block—a creative artist's ultimate nemesis. While the process of refinement can transform subpar writing or composing into something worthwhile, a blank page offers no such potential. Its emptiness stands as a daunting challenge. Or as I think of it: creative ground zero.


Let's delve into the reasons behind the existence of these barren sheets, devoid of the illuminating words and vibrant tones we aspire to imbue them with. A prominent contributor to writer's block is the entrapment of a rigid, agenda. When one becomes fixated on executing what the mind (or ego) dictates, the natural, instinctive flow of creativity is stifled. This is where the notion of "God" enters the discourse.


Now, let's decipher this metaphorical language further. In this context, "God" symbolizes the enigmatic currents of creativity, possessing an autonomous momentum. In other words, it has a life of its own. As a writer, composer or improviser, embracing the role of a vessel and/or conduit for these creative forces, rather than assuming the position of a creator, becomes paramount. Failure to do so inevitably results in the dreaded blank page and sometimes a blank creative spirit.


Should you aspire to assume the role of a "creator" akin to a deity, by all means, take the audacious leap. Nevertheless, the multitude of blank pages scattered across the creative landscape serves as a testament to the futility of this pursuit.


In essence, Sheldon's words encapsulate a powerful lesson—that we should humble ourselves to creativity's mysterious power. It urges us to yield to the creative forces at play and recognize our role as mere facilitators. By doing so, we shatter the shackles of the blank page syndrome and allow the symphony of words and tones to flow through us, unimpeded.

How? How do we do this? I wish that I could offer a full proof strategy. But I will say this. 

  • Humble yourself to the process. 
  • Look for cues, not definitive answers.
  • Follow a compass, not a map. 
  • Recognize that not all creative work follows a linear path, sometimes it follows its own unique path.

Give it a try. Actually, don't try. Just let it be what it is!

Thursday, August 31, 2023

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 good days and bad days, as we all do. Interestingly, my feelings towards those who effortlessly radiate interpersonal confidence have been a mix of admiration and annoyance. Though I admire their unbridled swagger, I’m more annoyed that I don’t always have that within me. But delving into the intricacies of my off-the-bandstand insecurities isn't the focus here; rather, I aim to delve into the realm of music, although the two often intertwine, which is a blog post to itself.


We often seek to attain musical confidence through the pursuit of musical perfection, or at least something close to it. Achieving rhythmic precision, mastering harmonic fluency, and wielding instrumental prowess can create an illusion of confidence without question. Yet, these attributes often seem to merely scratch the surface.


In my own musical experience, this approach has proven ineffective. Trust me, when I say that I've  burned enough midnight oil to light up a small town. Anyone who has ever toured with me during my youth, or had the misfortune of being my roommate, can certainly attest to this. But contrary to what you think would have been the end result, instead of making a genuine connection with the audience, my playing would come across as rigid and lacking in emotional communication when fixated on these technical benchmarks. After the gig, I'd often be told that I needed to loosen up a bit—an image that's now hard to envision. Just check out the picture above. Today, people probably wish that I’d reign it in a bit, even though I imagine they secretly like being taken into unfamiliar sonic areas. It’s human nature. 


As a player, I’m flawed with the best of them. But unlike the twenty-something version of myself, I know longer lose sleep over my musical hurdles. I’ve learned that trying to develop the power and agility to jump over them is not my only option. I can either walk around them, or as I prefer, create a new path. The irony of walking your own path, is that putting one foot in front of the other is the easy part. Giving yourself permission to do so, is when we find ourselves bound and shackled.  

But genuine confidence as I see it, emanates from authenticity, not just proficiency. I've found solace in embracing my true self, or at least the creative version of it. Let me just add that authenticity is not just who you say you are, but who you always are. This mode of expression speaks volumes louder than conforming to a rigid template of excellence often endorsed in jazz studies programs. I am unapologetically inclined towards atypical approaches, a fact that defines my artistic persona—definitely in the last ten years or so.  This path is replete with both advantages and obstacles, yet ultimately, it's uniquely mine. 

When I embarked on my journey with the soprano, I was frequently likened to Steve Lacy and Wayne Shorter. It’s rare that a CD reviewer or audience member even mentions them even in passing. Thanks God, those two never hung out at Home Depot. Or else, I'd just be another clone. Today, I proudly claim my own space, for better or worse, laden with both praise and jest. It's evident that not everyone is going to enthusiastically pack their bags and join you on all of your creative explorations--especially when you stray from the pack. And even if they all wanted to come along, there’s probably not enough room.


Wrapping up, I just want to reiterate that confidence is most eloquently displayed through the unwavering embrace of one's true self. Confidence is not simply about projecting an inflated chest, but baring one's heart.

Interested in reading more of my thoughts on music, click below.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Forgiveness: A Path to Liberation

In more recent days, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness, a word that holds within it the power to transform our lives and reshape our perspectives. Often seen as a mere act of letting go, forgiveness possesses the power not only to release others' transgressions but also to serve as a powerful vessel toward self-empowerment.


Many of our internal struggles stem from our perceptions of wrongdoings committed by others. We often find ourselves entrapped in a web of resentment, anger, and hurt as a result of these perceived transgressions. However, forgiveness offers a unique key to unlocking this cage of inner turmoil. If we can teach ourselves to choose forgiveness as a default response, we can control our emotions and reactions. This conscious decision to pardon can liberate us beyond the pain and find solace in the present moment.


As a musician, this idea of forgiveness as a tool of empowerment can guide us towards artistic freedom. When playing jazz, forgiveness comes with the territory. In the throes of the improvisatory moments of a jazz performance, you never really play what you intended to play. And even if you did, it might not be the most heartfelt music. Being deliberate and delivering are not always on the same page. A lot of what gives jazz its vibrancy is the urgency of the moment, or as what MLK referred to as "the fierce urgency of now."


As I’ve become more experienced as a musician and improviser, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not always what I play that creates a path towards a satisfying performance. But my response to what  was played earlier. And this is where forgiveness becomes paramount. In order to play from this enlightened state, checking your ego at the door is a must. The ego is what instigates all of these feelings of angst. But if we can forgive ourselves for not being perfect, for not playing exactly what we wanted to play at that moment, the artistic possibilities become immeasurable.


When I first embarked on my current musical path as an experimentalist and improviser, I felt overwhelmed by the sea of possibility. Almost feeling afraid to even wade my feet in the musical waters. But in order for me to feel more comfortable in this area, I had to embrace forgiveness and acceptability. Which are often interchangeable. Forgiving oneself for playing the unintended. Accepting it as what fate has determined. Again, this is easier said than done. I wouldn't say that I've mastered this state of being, but I am much more comfortable in 'just being" than I was a little over a decade ago.

This idea can extend even beyond performing. I find it useful even when dealing with the frustrations of the music business. Sometimes when magazines print unflattering things about our music, we must forgive. If critics perpetually ignore us in the coveted polls, we must forgive. If festivals refuse to book us, we must forgive. If certain musicians refuse to hire us, or respect us, we must forgive. It is the only way.


I'll be the first to admit that this path of forgiveness is not without its challenges. It demands us to confront our deepest vulnerabilities and face the pain we seek to release.  However, this very process is a testament to our strength and determination. As we learn to let go of the heavy burdens of resentment and self-criticism,, we become the architects of our own empowerment. 

Interested in reading more of my thoughts on music, click below.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Embracing the Second Life: A Musical Journey of Transformation

 "We have two lives. The second starts when you realize you only have one." This timeless saying by Confucius has been the backdrop to the most transformative journey of my life, a journey that began with a seemingly simple, yet very difficult decision—to give up the tenor sax and embrace the soprano saxophone as my new musical voice.


Before my rebirth musically, if you will, I was a tenor saxophonist cruising along a path that, though had its share of frustration, felt familiar. My career was steady, my skills were honed, and yet, there was a lingering sense of unexplored territory. It was as if I was navigating a comfortable musical stream, but beyond the horizon, an ocean of undiscovered music and creativity beckoned me.


And then, it happened—I had music epiphany that sent ripples through my artistic soul. I decided to pick up the soprano sax, a decision that marked the beginning of my second life—a life where I would approach music with fresh eyes and an open heart.


Transitioning to the soprano sax was not just a change of instrument; it was a plunge into uncharted waters. And I'll be the first to admit that at times, I felt as though I was going to drown. The soprano saxophone's voice was higher, its nuances demanded a new understanding, and its tonal palette expanded my sonic vocabulary. As I navigated this new terrain, I discovered new types of music and improvisation that were previously beyond my understanding and general interests. I discovered different kinds of melodies, new tonal systems and a way of improvising that was less centered around theory and standard jazz vocabulary, and more about human emotion.


The journey of my second life led me to cross paths with a diverse group of artists and musicians. Collaborations that would have remained elusive if I hadn't embraced this new path.  I found myself collaborating with individuals from non-jazz genres, each bringing a unique perspective that enriched my musicality. Through our collaborations, I was able to tap into unexplored facets of my own artistry, a testament to the profound wisdom encapsulated in Confucius' saying. 


Looking back at my journey, I am reminded that we have the power to shape our lives, to birth a second life that is driven by our passions and guided by the wisdom that time is restless and waits for no one. Embracing the soprano sax was merely the catalyst for an new world that touched every facet of my existence, from becoming a family person, having a full-time teaching position, writing books, becoming a home owner, and just enjoying life in general. It was the embodiment of Confucius' saying—a reminder that the second life starts when we grasp the fleeting nature of existence and dive headfirst into the vast ocean of possibility.


When things are not going well, we often feel that the answer lies in tying to perfect our birth life. Maybe what we need is to be reborn.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Sam Newsome/Dave Liebman Duo

The following performance is from the 2023 WOW Summer Music Festival, presented at IBeam in Brooklyn. You might say it's our delayed record release, celebrating the launch of Soprano-Logues, our duo recording on Bandcamp, June 1, 2023.


As you can imagine, the entire fifty-plus minute performance was all improvised. Which is not necessarily equated with being hard to follow, or lacking a linear structure. It's anything but. That's one of the things I love about playing duo with Dave--musicality is always front and center. Even when I attempt to venture off into that non-musical grey area, Dave always seem to bring me home. Like a Zen-master keeping his pupil centered and focused.


But I won't say to much more about it. Other than check it out and let me know what you think. There are a lot of great moments. I develop a new appreciation for it, every time I hear it. 


That's it for now!

Friday, June 2, 2023

Why Tim "Bone" Williams Mattered


The jazz world recently lost one of its most influential and ardent students of the music. Which is ironic because many have never heard of him. Unless, of course, you had the good fortune of crossing his path.


Tim Williams, affectionately known by his peers as “Bone,” was a St. Louis, Missouri, trombonist. Williams was a part of that wave of Berklee students who moved to New York in the 1980s and rattled the cage of the status quo. Dwayne "Cook" Broadnax, Greg Osby, Donald Harrison, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, Bruce “Bud” Revels, Terri Lynn Carrington, Jeff “Tain” Watts, and the person from whom I discovered Williams, Branford Marsalis.


In one of the many interviews Marsalis gave during the late eighties, he talked about his days at Berklee and how undisciplined he was when it came to practicing. Unlike Williams, a man who was no stranger to burning the midnight oil, Marsalis seemed to need occasional coaxing. Marsalis also talked about how Williams would knock on his door and insist that he follow him to the practice rooms down the hall. Branford obliged, of course. After all, Williams was a big guy with a low resonant voice and a gold cap on his front tooth that commanded much attention. He was like a teddy bear you knew would maul you if provoked.


This is who Tim Williams was. A person whose love for learning had no boundaries. The shed was his temple. His sanctuary. Music to him wasn’t just a vocation, a way to make money, an excellent way to get the girls. Music was the reason he woke up every morning. It was his spiritual lifeline. "Shedding" to him was the solution for many of life's problems.


I first met him during the early nineties when I was a member of Terence Blanchard’s quintet. Like many musicians during that time, Williams would come out regularly to hear us play. Remember, this was before social media. So, if you wanted to connect, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were not options; you had to physically leave your apartment and go to where the people were. For us, jazz clubs were our social platforms. 


When I first met Williams, he wasn’t playing very much. In fact, I don’t think he had done anything newsworthy since his short stint with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in 1985. Until he lost the trombone chair to Delfeayo Marsalis, Wynton and Branford’s younger brother. An incident that really brought to focus the harsh realities of music and politics. 


Williams was going through an embouchure change and was working a day job to make ends meet--something that plagued him for the remainder of his life. I believe this was one of the reasons he and Blanchard bonded; he had also undergone a recent embouchure change. Blanchard, however, had the good fortune of being able to supplement his income by scoring Spike Lee movies. What impressed me most about Williams was his support and generosity towards fellow musicians, young and old.  I’m sure watching many of his college buddies embarking on great careers while he seemed stuck at ground zero could not have been easy. No one would blame him for becoming bitter. But this could not have been further from the truth. He was proud of who his colleagues had become or were on the verge of becoming. Mainly because he knew he played a minor, if not significant, role in their development--either through the numerous jam sessions he led around the Berklee campus, physically dragging them to the practice rooms or just his presence. 


I lost track of Williams for many years, as I have with many. In this business we’re in, one day, you’re on top of each other, and before you know it, you’re living on opposite sides of the globe. But like most who knew Williams, he was always with me. His warm spirit and kind words made me smile many days. I knew where ever he was, he was either practicing, being generous with his knowledge with aspiring upstarts, or dreaming of the day he could get back to the reservoir of music that once flowed effortlessly from the bell of his horn.


Tim “Bone” Williams proved you don’t have to be a jazz star to be impactful. Unfortunately, life circumstances did not enable him to appear on numerous recordings or make much money playing music. But indeed, his love for life, learning, and his fellow brothers and sisters enabled him to make a difference. I’ll take the latter any day.


R.I.P. Bone. You will be missed.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Why Wayne Shorter Mattered

It goes without saying that an institution of musical thought and creative generosity has left the planet. But, on a positive note, also left behind is a body of work that will serve as a source of musical study, musical inspiration and enjoyment. Maybe until the end of mankind.

Before Wayne came along, a lot of jazz evolved around musical callisthenics. Virtuosity at the highest level, peppered with interludes of heartfelt blues and infectious swing—particularly amongst saxophonists. Not to misconstrue what I'm saying in terms of virtuosity. Wayne had plenty in the bank. 

Here's how Wayne differed. His virtuosity surfaced as a byproduct of making a solid musical statement. It wasn't about running the horn, or making the changes. Even though those two performance practices were on heavy display. Instead, it was about making music inspired by the moment, never to be reproduced again.

When we're taught to improvise in the early stages of our development, we're taught that jazz improvisation is a spontaneous creation of a melody. That's the rhetoric, anyway. However, that intention quickly becomes a lifelong devotion to arpeggiated lines that outline the chords, with a side order of chromaticism that alludes them. Not in Wayne's case. His music was the embodiment of this definition of jazz improvisation. This is heard from the early days with Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, through Weather Report, to his last working quartet. No matter what group Wayne played with, he was always the voice of musical reason. Whenever he started to play, there was always this feeling like, "OK, things are going to be ok now."

When I was a young Berklee student, Wayne was my go-to guy for when I needed a musical pick me up. When you're at institutions like Berklee, surrounded by many high-performing students, it can play mind games on you. One begins to think that if you can't play fast or "Cherokee" through the keys, maybe a music career is not for you. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, many of those high performers did not become the jazz stars that their peers anticipated. My theory: Flash and virtuosity can't sustain a career, only great music. Listeners get bored of being wowed. Eventually, they want to be moved. And this is why Wayne Shorter mattered. He taught us that improvisation has to be nuanced with emotion and vulnerbility, subtlety and fire, whispers and roars, and most of all, patience. It's not about showing your musicianship but your humanity. Only a small number of us were born with the ability to be virtuosic, being able to regurgitate musical information in an encyclopedic fashion. But everyone has humanity. A lesson taught by Wayne Shorter every time he graced the stage. Playing his memorable solos that were often simple, in terms of notes, but deeply profound in terms of meaning and emotional impact.

Wayne will be missed. His sound, melodic compositions, harmonic sophistication, cryptic way of speaking, and of course, his warmth and unwavering generosity.

 R.I.P. and thank you!