Sam Newsome

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Hawthorne effect

Is it a good or bad thing to practice under the Hawthorne effect? 

First of all, many may not have heard of this phenomenon, but I guarantee that most of us have been under the influence of it. The Hawthorne effect is a type of reactivity in which people modify an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed. Simply put, you act differently when you think that people might be watching you. 

Think back to your college days, when practice room availability was scarce. And when one did become available, there was usually a burning musician in the room to your right, another one to the left, and probably a few in the practice rooms across the hall. I found that under these conditions, practicing was no longer about learning new ideas and perfecting your old ones, it became a type of performance. 

And this is classic Hawthorne effect. 

I usually had a love-hate relationship with the communal aspect of college practice conditions. On the one hand, I enjoyed letting others hear some of the cool things I was working on—as I did theirs. The drawback was me feeling compelled to perform rather than just practice. I’m talking about the willingness to sound horrible as you take on the new and under-explored material. And this speaks to the aspect of the Hawthorne effect in which one's behavior becomes modified when being observed. 

Here are some ways it affected me:
  • I never wanted to play things I didn’t know.
  • I always wanted play things that were flashy.
  • And I was too paranoid that others were listening to me.

But I must say, the Hawthorne effect doesn’t always have to always affect you negatively.  Sometimes knowing that you might be observed helps you to become more focused. Instead of showing off your flashy licks, now you’re showing how disciplined you are—how you can methodically tackle a new idea. 

Even outside of musical things, the Hawthorne effect is the reason I go to Starbucks to do administrative tasks on my computer. Just from feeling self-conscious about indulging in time wasters like YouTube and Facebook, I tend to be more focused, and I use my time more wisely. 

So is being watched while we perform tasks a good or bad thing? I guess it all depends on the kind of show you want to put on. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Naysayers: Three Kinds of Pessimism

Whenever we attempt something new, whether it be a new job, a new project, or perhaps a new musical direction, we’re likely to encounter some well-meaning soul telling you “No, you can’t,” also known as the naysayer. I’m here to tell you that you might not be able to always avoid them, but you can learn how to deal with them.

There are basically three categories of naysayers. Each possessing three levels of pessimism.

  1. Family naysayers 
  2. Destructive naysayers 
  3. Constructive naysayers 

Family naysayers:
With family naysayers, they don’t wish you harm, they just want you to be safe. They want you to have a steady job, a family, benefits, the whole nine yards. They want you to follow a rule book, however, you’re looking to follow a vision for which you have to make up the rules as you go along. We’ve heard that art and finance don’t mix. And neither do art and family approval. 

In dealing with family, I say this: love them, respect them, but ignore them. They may not get what you do, and they may not be able to get what you do. And you don’t need them to. Their function in your life is TLC, not career support..

Destructive naysayers: Avoid these types at all costs. They thrive on negativity, and they absolutely love company. Under no circumstances are you to share your ideas or plans with them. Chances are they will only greet them with negativity and cynicism. As with the former, respect them, love them, but avoid them, and certainly don’t listen to or become influenced by them.

Constructive naysayers: This group is the most complicated. Because they get what you, they support what you do, but they’re not convinced that you are making the right decision. They might be in support of you being a professional musician, but maybe they think you should major in accounting as a backup plan. For this group, I say this: embrace them, listen to them, maybe even implement some of their suggestions. However, then revisit your original idea to see if this is something you really want to do. This will help solidify it in your mind and give you the assurance that you are indeed making the right decision.

So as you pursue your new idea, project, or vision, just realize what you might be up against and go for it!

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!


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