Sam Newsome

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

Friday, January 12, 2018

Four Ways to Build Your Musical Brand

We often think of branding as having a fancy logo or catchy slogan. These things are great for corporate and product branding. However, as artists, ours is much more personal. It requires courage, commitment, and a whole lot patience. Simply put, our branding is the story that people tell about us and our music when we're not in the room.

Back when I had a close working relationship with drummer Leon Parker, the conversation in the room about him was usually how he only played the ride cymbal, or him just playing parts of his body, or one of his temper tantrum antics pulled that day, or him having given up playing music altogether; and of course, his infectious beat.

No one talked about his clothes, his hairstyle, his promo pictures, nor his website. In fact, you had to be somewhat of a detective to even find him. This was another conversation about him when he was not in the room. He often had no phone, email, or website. Typically you had to know somebody who knew somebody who knew him. And you know what? The jazz media could not get enough of him. The more elusive he became, the more they wanted him. All of these things would have been the nails in the coffins of most folks careers. However, for Leon, it only perpetuated the Leon Parker mystique. 

I'll admit, his case is extreme. But it does prove a point. Which is that branding is in the hands of the artist, not some publicist or record company. These mediums just magnify what's already there. They don't create it. 

Below are four ways that I've observed that we as artists can go about creating an effective brand for ourselves. These are by no means the holy grail. Just a few things that I have observed over the past 25 years or so.

1. Embrace that which is uniquely you.
Find that thing that you are good at—something you feel you can do better than anybody else, and more importantly, something you’re more passionate about than most people. This often means doing things that no one else wants to do or is afraid to do.  For me, this would be me only playing the soprano,  along with me having a geek-like obsession with producing unusual sounds. As I said, it often means doing that undesirable grunt work.

2. Develop a network of like-minded folks.
Even though we often create in isolation, all artists need a community of creative comrades with a shared vision to learn from and to share ideas with--even if it's just members of your own ensemble. Silicon Valley is a perfect example. Creating artistic communities are so much easier to do nowadays than ever before. One of the reasons I created Soprano Sax Talk was to galvanize like-minded people. Not only has this created opportunities to share, but ones to learn.

3. Spread your ideas.
Producing product and performing live is a must. As musicians, we have to make recordings, post videos, blog, tweet, perform, you name it. Releasing our work into the public domain is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, we end up boarding the bus without ever getting on the road. Oddly enough, this is one part that people neglect. I know so many musicians who've been on the scene for twenty years and have released only one or two recordings. We live in a time where we can release four or five a year in we want. We just have to get out of that "Please, pick me!" mentality. And we need to get away from the record-company-industrial-complex way of doing things. Our only limits are our imagination and courage.

4. Be authentic.
Being authentic, which is also just another way saying "be consistent,"  is how you gain trust within your creative community. This makes people feel they always know what they’re getting and where you stand. Consequently, this is also how you keep yourself focused. Personally speaking, people who trust what I do would be very disappointed if all of the sudden I started playing tenor, alto, flute, and clarinet; releasing dull straight-ahead recordings on Criss Cross; and only associating myself with the flavors-of-the-month and decrepit jazz masters. I'm starting to yawn just joking about it! But more importantly, doing these things would make me disappointed in myself. 

In closing, I'd like to point out that there are many different ways to brand yourself:

Types of Brands:
The consummate side-person who plays with everybody;
The leader who only does his or her own gigs;
The uncompromising artist;
The hardcore, straight-ahead cat;
The multi-instrumentalist;
The uni-instrumentalist;
The political activist/musician;
The jazz educator/musician;
The holistic musician type;
The musician with a strong religious affiliation;
The feminist/musician;
The trend-chaser;
The musician who only wants to get paid!;
The anti-establishment musician;
The name-association whore-type;
The weird experimentalist;
and so on, and so on....

Whatever the case may be for you. Do it, and do it well...Oh yeah, and in no way do I think that all records on Criss Cross are boring. I was merely trying to make a point.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

39th Annual Jazz Station Awards: The Soprano Saxophone Category

With all of the best-of-the-year-lists posted over the past few weeks or so, here's one more that flew under my radar.

Below are the winners of the 39th Annual Jazz Station Awards: The Soprano Saxophone Category, a feature of the blog Jazz Station, by Arnaldo DeSouteiro, jazz journalist and producer for Jazz Station Records.

Arnaldo put together a pretty comprehensive list of notable jazz recordings and performances. And I like the fact that he included categories for players on their respective instruments.

I was happy to be included for my appearance on Fire Dance, a beautiful recording by vocalist Beata Pater on B&B Records, who, by the way, placed in the number one slot in the Female Singer category. Yaaah, Beata!

Congrats to all of the winners. Kudos to Jane Ira Bloom for a job well done. It’s nice to see that the straight horn is alive and well.

2017 Soprano Sax Category:

1. Jane Ira Bloom (“Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson” – Outline);

2. Hailey Niswanger (“Mae Sun Vol.1: Inter-Be” – Calmit Productions);

3. Dave Liebman ("Masters In Bordeaux" w/ Martial Solal - Sunnyside);

 4. Michael Pedicin (“As It Should Be: Ballads 2” – Groundblue Records);

5. Sam Newsome (“Fire Dance” w/ Beata Pater – B&B Records);

6. Chris Potter (“The Dreamer Is The Dream” – ECM);

7. Chris Greene (“Boundary Issues” – Single Malt);

8. Harry Sokal (“I Remember Art” – Alessa Records);

9. Vincent Herring (“Hard Times” – Smoke Sessions);

10. Roscoe Mitchell (“Bells For The South Side” – ECM);

11. Gilad Atzmon (“Pasar Klewer” w/ Dwiki Dharmawan – Musikita/MoonJune);

12. Lisa Parrot ("Lyric Fury" w/ Cynthia Hilts - Blond Coyote).

Saturday, January 6, 2018

DÉCIMA ENCUESTA ANUAL A PERIODISTAS INTERNACIONALES: Tenth Annual International Critics Polls - The Soprano Saxophone Category

It was great placing 2nd in the Tenth Annual International Critics Poll. Though many just say "Wake me up when it's over,"  when it comes to critics polls, I'm a believer that they do serve an important function in that they inform the jazz community at large on who's doing what and how audiences are responding. And this poll is also a little hipper than most: 

(1) there are fewer critics than those voting in the Downbeat and JazzTimes polls, so it doesn't get saturated with the misinformed; 

(2) these critics have more adventurous and eclectic taste and the often include musicians ignored in other polls; Rarely have I read this poll and had a what?-what!-moment; 

(3) they have more respect for the soprano category. 

I've often read the Downbeat Polls and felt I did not even know that musicians selected even played the soprano. Certainly not the case here. Check my earlier post about critics polls in my article "Seven Reasons to Support Downbeat Magazine (And Other Publications Like Them.) "  This post resonated with a lot of readers.

But I am glad to appear with many of my heroes. Amazing company to be in.

Congrats to Jane Ira Bloom for knocking it out of the park, once again!

CLICK HERE for the full article.

JANE IRA BLOOM (95 votes)

SAM NEWSOME (79 votes)

EVAN PARKER (53 votes)


JOHN BUTCHER (23 votes)

Friday, January 5, 2018

The SN TRIO: Live at the Clemente Cultural Center

Here is a concert with my trio with bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Reggie Nicholson, recorded by Don Mount at the Arts for Art series at the Clemente Cultural Center on 107 Suffolk Street. We've performed in numerous configurations, but this is only our second performance as a trio. The first was back in October of 2017 for InGardens series, presented by the same folks.

Playing with these musicians is liberating because I'm able to channel many of the sounds and textures I play during my solo performances. Not having a chordal instrument certainly frees things 
up sonically--even my multi-phonics and prepared saxophone concepts can have their own space.

Typically, we go to several micro-spaces during the performance, however, tying all together as a comprehensive suite. During this concert, we begin with a theme in B minor, ending with the same theme at the end--sort of like musical bookends. And, of course, going to many unpredictable places in between.

I'm looking forward to recording this band--probably sometime over the summer. And I'm anticipating a January 2019 release. And I have to be careful not to make the mistake of many which is that they have a situation that already plays itself, but then they go into the studio and try to micro-manage it, making everyone uncomfortable, and then the beauty of the music gets lost. I can't remember how situations I've been in like that. But first things first...

    Anyway, check it out, and I'll get you posted on the happenings.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The New York City Jazz Record (Best of 2017)

It was terrific seeing both Sopranoville and Magic Circle included in The New York City Jazz Record (Best of 2017) list.

The folks at NYCJR have always been very supportive of what I do; I've always been very appreciative, too. I remember the days when I could not get writers to even recognize that I no longer played the tenor and was now self-identifying as a soprano player. I still remember doing a gig as a soprano player in the late 90s and the title of the review in The New York Times was "Tenor Saxophonist Probing in the Shadows." At the time I took it as the writer saying, "You might now call yourself a soprano saxophonist, but you will ALWAYS be a tenor saxophonist to ME! But I was patient and they eventually came around.

 Also, big congrats to the many great musicians also included. As you know, today's music scene is very saturated, so getting noticed is even more of a feat. When I first came on the scene back in the 90s, recognition did not necessarily go to those making the most exciting music. Often times, it was about the artists whose CDs record companies were throwing the most money at. During the era of the Record Company Industrial Complex, it was all about outspending your competitors. There was no way a DIY artist could compete with Columbia/Sony, Warner Brothers, and RCA, and Blue Note. These were the head honchos during my youth. Fortunately, they don't yield the same power these days. Thank god for Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, the Napster guys who first threw the grenades of opportunity into their monopoly.

But I'm glad we're living in this more democratic society, where the power belongs not just to those with the deepest pockets, but those with the ability to create excitement about their music, often through vision, courage, and persistence.

Happy 2018!

Monday, December 25, 2017

Prepared Soprano Saxophone w/ Plastic Tube Extensions

Below are six examples of the soprano saxophone prepared by attaching plastic tubes of varying lengths to the neck of the instrument. In doing so, I'm able to extend the lower range of the soprano. Of course, the longer the tube, the lower the pitch.

There are a few challenges:

(1) I'm often limited to 2 - 3 notes. Which means that I'm limited to playing drones, rhythmical figures, ostinatos, and noise-like effects.

(2) To get the full effect of the tubes, I do find it necessary to circular breath.

(3) Don't try this thinking you're going to have a new lower octave to the soprano. This serves primarily as a textual effect, not a melodic function.

(4) Keep in mind that these excerpts were recorded on my iPhone, so the sound quality is pretty low. I even suggest that you listen with headphones in order to hear the full effect. However, even without them, the original intent is still audible.

Let me know what you think!

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #1: Tube Extensions w/Harmon Mute (This example almost has an electronica sound, even though it's all acoustic. This is achieved by playing a Harmon mute into the bell of the horn.)

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #2: Tube Extensions W/ Overtone Whistle Tones (On this example, I begin with some percussive slap tonguing, that almost sounds like a bass guitar string, segueing into a 3/4 ostinato. And by slightly over-blowing I'm able to achieve the whistle tones.)

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #3: Short Tube Extension in 4/4 (On this example, you can hear that it's a much shorter tube, producing a much higher pitch. This is also the only example where there is a more discernable melodic content.)

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #4: Medium Tube Extension (One this example, you can that the tube is slightly longer than example 3. And through oral cavity manipulation, I'm able to produce some interesting tone distortions.)

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #5: Tube Extension, Playing Textural Flurries (On this example, you can hear that the tube is slightly larger.)

Prepared Soprano Saxophone #6: Tube Extensions w/ Aluminum Foil (On this example, I created a 3/4 ostinato with a drone effect. And by attaching aluminum foil to the end of the bell, I'm able to create a cool buzzing effect.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Linear or non-linear practice: Which is the path to originality?

Linear practice is pretty straight-forward. You know exactly what you want to accomplish, you just have to figure out how to get from point A to point B. This could mean trying to figure how to navigate your way to a set of chord changes; rehearsing a problematic fingering combination until it becomes natural; or merely doing long tones, trying to keep the pitch from inevitably going flat or sharp--pretty straightforward stuff.

Non-linear practice is not as clearly defined. First of all, there’s no point A to point B. You either arrive there, or you don’t. It either works or is it doesn’t. Of course, you can spend time fine-tuning any musical issue. But the objective of non-linear practice is to just arrive. 

Of course, this is no easy matter. It takes a lot of experimentation, and it requires a whole lot of failing. In fact, failing is the surest way to succeed practicing non-linearly. And this is one of the reasons many shy from this approach. We avoid failing at all costs. We are programmed to work our way methodically to perfection, which makes linear practicing the method of choice.

Multi-phonic production is an excellent example of non-linear practice. Typically, they work, or they don’t. And many variables come into play: reed strength, air velocity, embouchure pressure, instrument, mouthpiece, and if course, fingering combination—typically crossed fingerings. And the either-it-works-or-it-doesn’t narrative applies to my prepared soprano methodology. Many of those experiments heard on Sopranoville, like reed straw, tin foil, Scotch tape, and hanging chimes were all about non-linear experimentation. Many earlier attempts were total failures. But when it clicked, it clicked. As I’ve said with non-linear practice, you don’t rehearse your way to perfection, you simply arrive. 

Non-linear practicing teaches us to become original through practice, not perfect. And the way I see it, if it’s original, that in it self is perfection. 


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