Sam Newsome

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

VIDEO FEATURE: Dorota Potrowska/Sam Newsome Quartet - 2017 Sopot Jazz Festival

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Prepared Saxophone versus Extended Technique

The following video features me playing duo with Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine-Abbott.

This piece demonstrates how sound that is produced using unconventional methods, often works best paired with another instrument on which sounds are being produced unconventionally.  The two approaches used are prepared saxophone and extended saxophone techniques.

Here are my working definitions of the two:

Prepared Saxophone: The process through which alterations are made to the soprano that distorts how air enters the instrument, how it exits, and by attaching external vibrating sources to the soprano that are set in motion by the movement or sound of the instrument.

Extended Saxophone Techniques: Notes and sounds that go beyond the original scope of the instrument.  These notes and sounds are either produced by blowing air through the instrument using unconventional methods and/or using conventional fingerings, slightly modifying the air stream.

1. Demonstrating prepared saxophone, I've attached plastic tubes to my instruments, elongating the air column, consequently, producing a longer column of air that results in a lower sonic range. In addition, I've attached a trumpet Harmon mute to the end of my bell. Essentially, I've altered the way air enters and exits the instrument.

2. Demonstrating extended saxophone techniques, Kayla is blowing through the mouthpiece without a reed, which creates a buzzing effect as air travels across the facing of the mouthpiece.


Friday, March 16, 2018

Don't Wait on Perfection. Just Get it in the Mail

We often want to wait until something is perfect. Perfection is an illusion. You'll find Sant Claus faster. We can't wait until the optimal moment to act. Sometimes in life, you just have to put it in the mail. We often spend way too much time obsessing over the envelope stuffing process. 

And the same can be said of playing music. Don’t wait until you have something to say to play. Play so that you can figure out what you have to say. I say this to people who are ultimately waiting until their music becomes perfect before they feel compelled to release a recording or book a gig. 

Aiming for perfection and wanting to wait until we’re "ready" has become all-purpose excuses for not trying. The truth of the matter is that we never feel we’re 100% ready. There’s always something to do—a tweak here, an edit there...I once heard an executive from Pixar say that “ Pixar, we don’t finish movies, we just decide to release them.” Or as Leonardo da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

This is why I’m a firm believer of just getting to the bandstand “by any means necessary.” And don’t worry about being outmatched. If you can’t keep up, musicians will let you know.

Look at professional sports. Ballplayers don’t wait until they’re ready to hit a home run to step up to the plate. Home runs are a byproduct of having stepped up to the plate several times.

If I thought this way, I’d still be tweaking Monk Abstractions, my first solo saxophone CD.

So my advice is:

Get it in the mail!
Hit send!
Press record!
Count off the tune!

Just start swinging, and let life take care of the rest!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Seek Heroes, Not Mentors

First, a quick story: In 1996, when I first began playing the soprano exclusively, I had no idea of what I was doing—musically, technically, and career-wise. So my first inclination was to get a teacher/mentor to help guide me through the process.

My first thought was Jane Ira Bloom since she lives in New York and has had the most experience playing the soprano exclusively than any other living person, other than Steve Lacy. I ultimately decided not ask her, because she did not strike me as the mentoring type. But I did attend a few of her gigs, and she was very gracious in answering some of my questions regarding embouchure building and sound control.

I then thought about Dave Liebman. He seemed perfect. He had developed the soprano to an unprecedented level, he was a dedicated educator and had traveled a similar path of having put down the tenor sax in pursuit of a new and more original voice on the soprano. However, during this stage of my straight horn path, he had already returned to the tenor—which did not exactly boost my confidence in my decision.

But ultimately I did not ask Jane nor Dave—for many reasons. Primarily because I did not want them as mentors, but as heroes.

What’s the difference? The difference is pretty significant.

Heroes inspire us to follow our own path. Mentors tell us which path to take. When you follow a mentor, you do what they do. When you follow a hero, you do as they do. And to bring the point home even further: One gives you a map to follow, the other allows you to create and revise your plan as you go along.

Having a mentor has its perks:

  • Easy access to information.
  • Access to their network of musicians. 
  • And most importantly, they offer you the excuse of being able to say that you were just doing what you were told. So if you don’t succeed you are not forced to bare total responsibility.

This is actually of the issues I have with jazz education, which is that we’re into the business of mentoring, while we should be more in the business of hero-ing. In music pedagogy, students are trained to follow orders, not their musical instincts. They're not trained to take risks, nor to problem solve,  unless it's a math problem. And I’m guilty as charged. I don’t have the answer. But one step in the right direction is to offer students both mentor-ship and hero-ship. Show them what a good map looks like, but then encourage them to go out and create their own.

But a special shout-out to all of mentors and heroes. Your influence us forever implanted.

Don’t Set Goals, Develop Good Habits

Don’t set goals, but develop good and productive habits. One enables you to reach that desired place, the other enables you to stay there.

Goal =  a quick fix solution
Good habits = a way of life

Many see the two as interchangeable. But I see them as being significantly different. 

Here are the issues I have with goals:

1. The effects of goals are often short-lived. We often move on to the next thing once we reach them.

2. We often neglect essential stuff in pursuit of goals. It does not pave the way to a balanced lifestyle.

3. Most goals are not attainable. Or least we tend to quit before attaining them.

Developing productive habits is different. It’s a longer, more patient path, which tends to produce more favorable outcomes over time. And there is a reason I used the word  “outcome” and not “aim.” An "outcome" is a byproduct of habit, whereas an "aim" implies desiring a more immediate result that does not require one to change his or her behavior.

So I’m not suggesting having no standards, only that your positive outcomes result from who you are, not what you set out to do.

Don’t be the kind of person who’s practicing 4 hours a day, getting ready for the big gig. Be the type of person who practices regularly.

Don’t be the kind of person planning a big release in the fall. Be the kind of person who releases recordings.

Look at people who like to go on diets. Guilty as charged!  Rather than being the person trying to lose five pounds, be the person who eats healthy and regularly exercises. You’ll never have to worry about your weight again.

One of my frustrations as a younger musician was that I was always trying to get better, rather than being a person who practices in all 12 keys. Or the kind of person who learns tunes, or transcribes, or merely the person who enjoys expressing himself through his instrument. The latter gets rid of the “tick tock” effect.  When you’re not so goal oriented, you permit yourself to get lost in the process; consequently, internalizing things on a deeper level.

So become a creature of habit, not a goal-oriented creature. It’s a much calmer and more fruitful path.

Solo Saxophone Performance - Saturday, March 17, 2018


Monday, March 12, 2018

Four Ps to Successful Music Branding

Below are for Ps that can serve as an excellent guide to successful music branding.

1. Passion: Find something you’re good at and are committed to. No one is more charismatic than the person showing great commitment and passion for something. This makes others want to follow in your footsteps. And this also the first step towards leadership. People don’t just support those who speak loudly, but those who talk passionately.

2. Participation: Seek out like-minded folks with whom to share and exchange ideas with. No matter how brilliant you might think you are, your one brain is not better than five minds working collectively. Great art rises out of a community of people, not a single soul working in isolation.

3. Presentation: Constantly produce work and present work. Having passion and sharing your passion is great, none of that will amount to anything if you don’t produce work to present. And this is two-fold. The more you present, the more people become familiar with what you do. And frequently presenting enables you to get better at what you do.

4. Purity: Be genuine and be consistent. This is how you gain trust and how you keep your focus. Self-authenticity is unbreakable. It can withstand the harshest criticisms and the test of time.

Branding is much deeper than a fancy logo and a catchy slogan. It’s not just about the music we share, but the humanity we share.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Straight Horn of Oliver Nelson

In this post, I'd like to take a look at the Oliver Nelson composition "I Hope in Time Change Will Come," from his 1970 recording Black, Brown, and Beautiful, which has been referred to as a "stirring tribute to Martin Luther King."

Since it's release on the Flying Dutchman label almost 40 years ago, this piece has become somewhat of a staple amongst big band soprano saxophone features. In my opinion, this is right up there with other classic soprano features such as "Afro Blue" and "My Favorite Things."

The Composition: "I Hope in Time Change Will Come"  is a mournful and bluesy slow swing tune built on the standard 32-bar, AB form. The A section is in G minor, and the B section modulates to the parallel major in G, but then bounces back and forth between the parallel major and parallel minor. This piece utilizes the similar hocketing  compositional technique—where a melodic figure is split between a single lower instrument and harmonizing horns—that’s heard in Nelson's classic "Stolen Moments." This is just one of many of Nelson's signature compositional and arranging techniques


The Soprano Saxophone: Nelson, like many saxophonists during the 1960s,  became intrigued by the soprano after becoming popularized by John Coltrane--Nelson, probably more than others. In fact, his 1966 release Sound Pieces on Impulse, features Nelson exclusively on the soprano saxophone, soaring over top a beautifully orchestrated 20-piece big band on three of the pieces. This is one of the first albums I bought after switching to the soprano exclusively. In fact, when I started playing with trumpeter Donald Byrd as a soprano player he used to always say to me,”You need to check out Oliver Nelson.” And I did. But like many who don't play the instrument exclusively, Nelson at times struggled with the instrument's tuning challenges.  But his distinctive and soulful voice still comes through, nonetheless.

Different Versions: (1) This version is arranged by Nelson, conducted by Stanley Wilson, and features the following:

Oliver Nelson, soprano saxophone
Bobby Bryant, trumpet
Frank Strozier,  alto saxophone
John Gross, tenor saxophone
John Klemmer, tenor saxophone
Pearl Kaufman or Roger Kellaway, piano
Chuck Domanico, bass
John Guerin or  Roy Haynes, drums

* There are other instruments heard on the recording such as the trombone, baritone sax, for which players are not listed. So I apologize for not having these details.

(2) This version is arranged by Bob Curnow and features me with the UW-River Fall Jazz Ensemble, directed by saxophonist Dr. David Milne. The concert was part of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls annual RADD Jazz Series. Curnow's arrangement included more space for improvisation, so you get to hear me stretch out more, something I would have loved to have heard Nelson do. But he set the vibe of soulfulness and spirituality, regardless.

Anyway, thanks to Oliver Nelson for his great music, unwavering vision, and courage to delve deeply into the sonic realm of the soprano. And thanks to David Milne for his great musicianship and generous spirit.


Version 1: Oliver Nelson from the recording Black, Brown, and Beautiful. 

Version 2: Sam Newsome with the UW-River Falls Jazz Ensemble, directed by Dr. David Milne


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