Sam Newsome

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



Video Feature: Afro-Horn - Arts for Art - January 19 2017

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Soprano Sax and Drums Duo: The Sounds of Interstellar Dialogue

The first soprano saxophone and drums recording I ever heard was "Breathe If You Can," an adventurous and hard hitting outing by soprano saxophonist Heath Watts and drummer Dan Prell on Leo Records. It stayed in high rotation on my playlist for several days. I was very intrigued by the great chemistry Heath and Dan had together. After I heard it,  I knew that I one day wanted to do something along those lines.



I then discovered Clangs, a recording by Steve Lacy and Andrea Centazzo on Ictus Records, which was very different from Breathe If You Can. Their interaction on Clangs was more spacious and textual, whereas, the Watts/Prell duo was very edgy and in your face. What both recordings do share, however, is proof that the sax and drums format is not exclusively tenor saxophone domain, which was kind of my impression before discovering these two recordings.


On Saturday, January 16, 2016, at Cornelia Street Cafe, I'm going to humbly throw my hat into the ring and pair up with legendary jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille. Unlike myself, Mr. Cyrille has been quite prolific in the sax and drums format. He’s played duo performances with Anthony Braxton, Jimmy Lyons, Peter Brotznmann, and my man Greg Osby. Each of these encounters resulted in nothing less than astonishing.



So if you happen to be in West Village this Saturday near Cornelia Street, we'd love to have your company. I’ll be going on an adventurous ride the C-Train. 

In closing, here's a short interview with Andrew that appears on the CD, The Albert Ayler Story where he's talking about being possessed by the music. I hope we can get to some of this at The Cornelia Street Cafe. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

JAZZ: A Creative Model for Learning

Until I became passionate about music, I always felt I was a slow learner. I thought that my intellectual lamp burned a 20-watt bulb--a sentiment I'm sure was shared by many of my teachers. In some instances, I was probably viewed as just plain old stupid. My grades all throughout school were unimpressive at best, which matched perfectly with my disinterest in school--even more tragic, my disinterest in learning. Attending school was just a five-day-a-week, an eight-hour-a-day commitment that prolonged my enjoyment of Christmas break and summer.

When I discovered jazz and improvising that all changed. I acquired not only a love for music, but for learning. Even more important, I discovered that they are different approaches to learning.

One insight I gained from my quest to become a skilled improviser, which began when I was in the 8th grade, is that I can accomplish and understand most anything I put my mind to, no matter how difficult the task may seem. Like many young students who are bitten by the jazz bug, it was the first time I practiced my instrument without being told to. I practiced because I was excited about learning, not because I feared the repercussions of not doing well on a test.

Why is this important? When you're incentivized by the love of learning, even when what you're doing is difficult, you won't be easily deterred. You will work at it for as long as it takes to figure it out: hours, days, months, or even years--which is often the case when trying to figure out jazz. In some instances, it's a matter of finding your own unique way of understanding. And this is also very important. In more traditional subjects like math, science and history, students are often motivated by grades, not the love of numbers, or the love of understanding nature and the past. With short-sightedness learning, it skews our ability to see the bigger picture, hence, making us less motivated to go beyond the call of duty.

Had I had the same love for learning when it came to these subjects that I had for jazz and improvising, I would have had an entirely different relationship with hitting the books, as they say. I would have read about history without being told to, or I would have practiced mathematical equations until they became easy, and maybe even fun. I would have studied different types of mathematicians and schools of thought on math until I found something that resonated with me personally--like the way I did with music. I went beyond the Neal Hefti stage band arrangements and discovered Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

When I discovered jazz and improvising, I was inspired not just by the greatness of the music and its players, but my relationship to it, and the small but monumental sense of ownership I felt from finding my own way of understanding it. And this certainly was not the case when it came to more traditional subjects.

My big "aha!" moment regarding learning came when I was in college. My roommate invited me to drive down to Yale University with him one weekend to visit his cousin, who was also our age. What struck me the most about his cousin and her friends was how passionate they all were about learning. They studied tirelessly during the weekend not because they had a test the following Monday, but because it was fun for them. And they conversed about the things they were learning with the same enthusiasm and curiosity than many young people their age do when conversing about current events and tabloid gossip.

Where I went to high school in Hampton, Virginia there were probably a few students like this, but they certainly did not exist in large numbers the way they did at Yale. This experience demystified my idea of the smart person, the natural academic genius if you will. What I discovered was that they were no different than the high performing students at Berklee who could really play. Both achieved exceptional levels of achievement through hard work and an unwavering passion for learning. It wasn't just something they were born with. None of my friends in high school ever discussed anything that went on in the classroom outside of the classroom, unless we were inquiring how each other scored on the test. There was certainly no intrinsic learning taking place. We were mostly incentivized by grades and report cards.

But I'm happy to say that today, even though I'm far passed worrying about receiving traditional grades for my intellectual and creative efforts, I do love learning, and I feel pretty confident that I can conceptually understand most subjects and see their relevance in the larger scheme of life. And it's not that I'm smarter,  I'm just motivated by a more love-of-learning-oriented incentive. More important, even if my understanding is unclear in the beginning, like when I first tried to figure out how to improvise, I now understand that I can examine things from many linear and non-linear viewpoints until I find what works for me. I've discovered that learning does not have to be a one-size-fits-all paradigm. Just as we all talk differently, walk differently, and think differently, it should be no surprise that we all learn differently. And I owe this new understanding to jazz.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Soprano Madness: A Straight Horn Meeting of the Minds

Tenor saxophone-oriented meetings of the minds are a dime a dozen. These types of musical encounters have been documented for decades. From the Lester Young/Coleman Hawkins Kansas City battles; to The Four Brothers with Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Herbie Steward, and Serge Chaloff; and of course, the infamous Tenor Madness session between Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane--all of which has become the standard by which tenor saxophone battles are measured.

And contrary to popular belief there have been a few meetings of the minds amongst soprano saxophonists. The first being the classic 1987  Live Under the Sky concert, later released as a DVD titled A Tribute to John Coltrane, which featured Dave Liebman and Wayne Shorter on the soprano saxophones, with 1980s jazz icons Richie Beirach on piano, Eddie Gomez on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. This recording is a testament to the undeniable high-energy potential of the soprano, which is probably only rivaled by the trumpet.

Another such famous straight horn encounter amongst fans of the avant-garde is the 1992 recording The Three Blokes, which was recorded live by Jost Gerbers from September 25 - 27, as a part of the Free Concerts series at the Townhall Charlottenburg in Berlin, Germany. This three-night improvisational exchange between Evan Parker and soprano saxophone specialists Steve Lacy and Lol Coxhill certainly proved one thing: The soprano saxophone may not always be ideal as a single lead instrument, but it certainly works well as a part of a straight horn collective. The imperfections seem to compliment each other in a way that other instruments can't.

The Soprano Saxophone Colossus (a name coined by Dave Liebman) is another such meeting of the minds amongst straight horn enthusiasts. This performance took place on December 20, 2015, at The Cornelia Street Café in the West Village section of Manhattan. It featured Dave Liebman, French saxophonist Michel Doneda, who rarely performs in New York, Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion, one of Doneda’s frequent collaborators, and yours truly.

You might say that this performance had the energy of the 1987 Liebman/Shorter encounter and the enumerable sonic nuances of The Three Blokes, channeled through each of our own unique voices--individually and collectively.

There was no discussion of what we were going to play. In fact, most of what was said before our performance was along the lines of “Nice to finally meet you,” "Glad we’re finally getting a chance to play,” and “How long will you be in New York.” After that, it was pure musical telepathy.

And I’m not sure when, or if ever we will play again. I’m just happy that fate allowed us to meet on that memorable evening.

My 2016 New Year's resolution will be to decipher some of those interesting sounds that Dave and Michel were getting. They were certainly going beyond the original scope of the instrument. I hope to have it figured out before 2017.

Enjoy!

P.S. You're about to hear why I called this blog post "Soprano Madness."

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