|Chris Potter | Photo
American saxophonist, flutist, bass-clarinetist, bandleader, composer
and arranger. Born January 1, 1971 Chicago USA.
His music - Potter exceeds expectations
Still not 30, Potter is the youngest JAZZPAR Laureate
so far. He is also the first JAZZPAR Sideman to reappear, this time as
The Principal Performer of The Project. As a key member of The Jim Hall
1998 JAZZPAR Double Quartet, Potter impressed everybody by playing with
the authority and inevitability of the born improviser.
Potter is one of the sharpest new saxophonists of today.
He can play with a powerful tone full of surprising stylistic twists.
He combines classic bop with new adventure and is always concerned with
the sound of his instrument. Potter can play naturally in all kinds of
odd time-signatures. His virtuosity, his restless flow of ideas matches
any of the soloists he has been involved with. His reluctance to go too
far out for effect and the thematic weight applied to all of his improvisations
single him out.
Potter's, being quiet and modest, has nevertheless by
the sheer expressiveness of his music established a reputation as probably
the most accomplished and innovative of the under-thirty-generation of
He sucked up everything like a sponge
Chris Potter grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, where
his parents taught at the university. An early dream of his was to become
a blues guitar player like Buddy Guy or Muddy Waters. At the age of ten
he started playing the saxophone. He had his first professional gigs in
Columbia while in high school at 13. In South Carolina he also met and
played with the veteran trumpeter Red Rodney.
In 1989 Potter moved to New York to attend, first, The
New School and, four years later, to graduate from The Manhattan School
Of Music. He evidently took full advantage of this education. During the
same period he was a member of Rodney's group, learning bebop firsthand.
At that time the alto sax was his main instrument. Rodney on Potter: "He
sucked up everything like a sponge, but his sound is original; his articulation
is different from anybody's; his harmonic knowledge is profound."
A sideman and recording artist with "big ears"
Potter has scored invaluable experience, as a sideman
playing and recording with many reputed jazz artists. Technically proficient,
he is in full command of his instruments. Having "big ears"
he adapts without problems to different musical situations - and still
keeps a clear identity. He is quick-minded and has the ability to immediately
pick up any musical idea presented to him.
Potter's insight as to harmony and textures is highly
developed. Another characteristic - especially of Potter the tenor player
- is a big, firm, solid sound: muscular but not heavy, fluent but not
ponderous. The various tone colors are applied in accordance with a steady
succession of original ideas - often arresting - in between surprising
even himself: stock phrases and borrowings from other musicians' vocabulary
few and far between.
Incorporating any point in music history
Today Potter's playing is not limited to the music of
the 40s or any other decade. He is aware of what came before and what
is going on in other music worlds. Potter acknowledges his roots and is
fully aware of their multiplicity and what seems to be the incompatibility
of some of them.
Lately Potter has pushed into a less conventional idiom
that merges the energy of bebop with novel harmonies, unusual scales,
unpredictable rhythms and unflinching use of dissonance. His recordings
document a successively more audacious use of harmony, modes, odd melodic
intervals and a fervent sense of swing. Now and then he ventures into
Jazz classicism plus
This attitude includes an awareness of the European
contribution to the development of jazz. For one thing, Chris Potter -
as many of the younger American musicians - as well as his intrinsic insight
into US jazz, is trained in the classical tradition and is also familiar
with the important "serious" composers of today. Touring Europe
he has experienced the difference between the jazz scene in his country
and over here. Potter may very well be in the process of taking the better
of both worlds.
Potter is versatile and not extremist, rather a representative
of jazz classicism plus.
Many jazz masters have been mentioned as his sources
of inspiration: Hodges, Carter, Young, Parker, Mobley, Rollins, Coltrane,
Shorter, Henderson, March et al. Potter acknowledges most of these primary
influences. Once asked whom he listens to, his answer was: "Messiaen,
Bartok, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons ..." Open-minded
and serious about his art, Potter listens receptively to all his predecessors.
At the same time he attaches great importance to telling his own story.
A remarkable authority
"Listening and just thinking without the horn in
my hands is valuable" Potter observes, adding that he has not tried
to push the process in his own case. "It's actually pretty easy to
do something new. But to really hear what's in your head, what you feel
really expresses you, that rises in an organic way and takes a lot of
time and a conscious effort toward that goal". Pointing to Rollins,
Coltrane and Shorter as examples Potter adds: "Most players don't
really come into their prime until they're in their thirties," and
then - as to prime - adds: "like when you go back and listen to Lester
Young, and hear a voice not forced, a voice singing."
The importance of all these influences and their remarkably
integrated unity cannot be too strongly emphasized. What from the start
has been copied and borrowed is completely digested. Any appearance of
his has an exceptional authority.
Chris Potter is also a gifted composer. Sometimes reflecting
influence from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Potter has written rhythmically
vivid and seductive originals with thematic substance and changes to take
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