Sam Newsome

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

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.

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...