Top Module Empty
Main Menu
Sheet Music
Jazz Theory
Rate this site:
Contemporary Traditionalists Print
Article Index
Contemporary Traditionalists
2. Joshua Redman and Mark Turner.
3. Branford Marsalis.
4. Chris Potter and Coda.

Chris Potter.

imgAnother remarkable technician, altissimo virtuoso and creative musician is multi-saxophonist Chris Potter (b 1971).   Born in Chicago, he was raised in South Carolina where as a precocious 15-year-old he was 'discovered' by trumpeter Red Rodney.   He worked with the Red Rodney Quintet, starting in 1989 and lasting until the leader's death in 1996, and at the same time earned a degree from the Manhattan School Of Music.

Equally at home on tenor, alto and soprano sax, Potter occasionally adds bass clarinet.   While many players have mastered more than one horn, he clearly 'owns' each instrument so completely that it is difficult to describe him as a tenor player or as an alto player.   For instance, most tenorists give themselves away when playing alto.   They tend to lose the 'centre' and pitching of the sound in the top five notes of the normal register of the horn.   These notes are unique to the alto, and often suffer in the hands of someone who is used to moving the air for a bigger, lower-pitch instrument.   Not so with Potter.   His talent and abilities enable him to adapt to each horn's idiosyncrasies.   Very few if any saxophonists today are able to move between the three horns with such ease.

As well as his work with Rodney, Potter has long-term associations with the Mingus Big Band, on alto saxophone and largely playing in a section, with the occasional solo feature.   With few big-bands around to provide a training ground for developing players, this association is no doubt an important one for Potter.   The discipline of blending and interacting with other saxophonists in a section is rewarding in ways similar to that of playing with a rhythm section.   The pursuit of a common musical goal in close proximity to one's fellow musicians is evident in both cases, and many of Potter's compositions and recordings exemplify this ensemble-oriented focus and sensibility.

Potter has also toured and recorded with Steely Dan, taking the mantle from key saxophone soloists Tom Scott, Michael Brecker and Pete Christlieb, all of whom have recorded in the past with this innovative band.   On Steely Dan's studio album, 'Two Against Nature' (2000), Potter's improvised tenor solos add a distinctive new-jazz flavour to the group's recorded output and are much more extended as well as being looser in scope than his predecessor's efforts.

Other notable recorded work by Potter includes Red Rodney's 'Then And Now' (1992) which features his impressive rendering of Ralph Burns's Early Autumn among the largely bebop-themed recording.   His own 'Pure' (1992) provides an excellent cross-section of the saxophonist's talents.   For example, there are blistering tenor versions - with bass and drums - of Mingus's Boogie Stop Shuffle and Cole Porter's Easy To Love, but these are offset by his tranquil, reflective bass clarinet on Lennon & McCartney's The Fool On The Hill.   The recording has many sides and shapes, and features Larry Goldings moving between the Hammond organ and piano effectively to complement Potter's solo voice.


These five contemporary jazz saxophonists - Lovano, Redman, Turner, Marsalis and Potter - have borrowed from and upheld many aspects of the tradition.   Their compositions also form an important part of their identity, creating a link with the great players who influenced and inspired them.   Their mastery of the altissimo range and their overall technical skill have set new standards for future generations, and while technique in itself is not everything, these players clearly have it balanced within their own original forms of expression.

They have a wealth of experience as sidemen, but their contributions as leaders are distinctive and fresh.   Their ability to honour and celebrate the traditional strongholds of the music, while redefining it with their own contemporary treatments and interpretations, point to a bright future.

Frank Griffith.

Tell me more about Frank Griffith

Acknowledgement:   The photographs of Branford Marsalis, Mark Turner and Chris Potter are reproduced by kind permission of Hans Speekenbrink.   Hans' superb collection of photographs can be viewed at [this link] and his website is at [this link]

Jazzorg Note:   The following links connect you to the pages, which make samples of the above albums available for listening.   The pages are shown in a separate window which you may close to return to this article.

< Previous   Next >