Sam Newsome

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

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Soprano Saxophone, Balloon Extensions, and Steve Lacy

Some of you may have heard or seen me hang chimes from the next strap holder of the soprano. This, of course, enables me to improvise to the chance rhythmic and melodic occurrences that result from the movement of the soprano.

The balloon extensions have a similar function.

There are a few differences. One, the balloons are attached to the bell of the horn, not the neck strap holder, and two, the movement of the balloons creates more of a rattling-effect, that’s neither rhythm nor melodic specific.

The rattling effect: This is created by placing bits of dry rice inside of deflated balloons and then inflating the balloons to the desired length. For me, once I inflate the balloons, I like to tie the ends and connect them all to create a visual as well as sonic collage.

What’s great about this type of improvisation is that it teaches you to go deeper inside of your sonic language in order to find musically compatible responses to the rattling effect.

Even if you don’t care to try this in public, it could be fun to try at home just to see what you come up with.

 Oh, and I almost failed to mention that I used the effect as a way to interpret Steve Lacy's  "Deadline." The footage is a little grainy, but the point is still clear.


Monday, March 19, 2018

The NPO Trio Plays Yiddish Jazz: "Oyfn Pripetchik"

NPO (Newsome, Pilc, and Okura) was formed in April of 2016 when violinist Meg Okura assembled this group to perform as a part of her week-long residency at The Stone.

The idea was to have an ensemble that could successfully re-imagined Yiddish songs without sacrificing the jazz aesthetic.

I think I can say with humility and confidence: mission accomplished. 

None of us knew that this would someday become a commercial recording, or if we would even document something that we were proud of.  To be honest, the three of us were all "pleasantly surprised."

In fact, our first response was "Wow. Maybe we need to put this out."  And here we are.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the legwork done by Okura, and the vision and faith in this project shown by Jon Madof and Shanir Blumenkranz from Chant Records.

Now, about the music:

The following is NPO's interpretation of "Oyfn Pripetchik," a Yiddish song by 19th-century composer and poet Mark Markovich Warshawsky. The original Eminem!  Born into a Russian Ashkenazi Jewish family, Washawsky had composed many pieces, but "Oyfn Pripetchik" was one of his most famous ones. It's about a rabbi teaching his students the aleph-bet, which is the Jewish alphabet or sometimes known as the Jewish scripts. I actually took a course at Temple Israel New York called "Aleph Isn't Tough," just to learn some of these scripts. No easy task, let me tell you. But the piece became very popular amongst Jews of Central and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century.  It's still commonly sung by Jewish school children around the world.

The piece is in a minor key, as is the case with many Jewish songs, which makes them very adaptable to a jazz makeover, particularly through the lens of modal jazz.

The melody isn't really stated until 4:29 of the recording, which is played very loosely by me on the soprano, while Pilc and Okura are playing very passionate, and, at times, very textural accompaniment.

So please check out this piece and the rest of the recording NPO Trio Live At The Stone. You won't be disappointed.


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



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