Sam Newsome

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



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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Keep it Simple

One of my favorite jokes is the one about the two tabla players: the guru and the disciple. One day while the disciple was playing for the guru, trying to show off his technical prowess in 15/8 time,  the guru being unimpressed, stopped him abruptly and scolded him, saying “ Quit playing all of this fancy crap and just lay down the 7 and 15.”


Now the moral of the story is “keep it simple,” no matter how complicated the circumstance. Which seems to be easier said than done. Whenever I’m conducting a master class or directing a jazz ensemble, I’m always amazed at the difficulty students have playing simple ideas. It's as though anything that's obvious or easily recognizable is not worth playing. That way of thinking could not be further from the truth. It's the easy to recognize and easy to play types of ideas that grounds the music. It provides a neutral territory for everyone to musically convene. If the basic premise of jazz is that the sum of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, then our job as soloists and accompanists is to make everyone comfortable. It's OK to push your fellow man, but you have to be careful not to knock him over.

As I get older, I find myself using space a lot more and playing fewer complicated ideas. It can be pretty humbling to find that your comfort zone isn't as vast and complicated as you thought or hoped it would be. But once you recognize and embrace your limitations, that's when you're truly on your way to getting to your thing. Otherwise, you will embark upon a lifetime journey of hit or miss performances.


So the next time, you decide to go out on a limb like a tight-rope walker from the circus, just remember that the real you is probably down below waiting for you with open arms.


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