Chris Potter and book-review mention
January 1, 1970Just one piece this week, yesterday's profile of saxophonist Chris Potter. But the weekly magazine The Week gives the review of David Brooks's "On Paradise Drive" a couple of weeks ago a mention on page 20, in its "Review of reviews: Books" section.
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Saxophonist simply swings with new band
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | June 4, 2004
Chris Potter, not so quietly, has made a name for himself as a preeminent tenor saxophonist. In mid-February, the 33-year-old rolled through town with Dave Douglas's "Strange Liberation" quintet and thoroughly dazzled the Regattabar faithful with an arresting mix of passion, technique, and logic in his soloing.
Doing so meant taking a break from his primary sideman gig with the Dave Holland Quintet, which was documented most recently on the August 2003 CD "Extended Play: Live at Birdland."
Meanwhile, Sunnyside Records was readying a live CD of Potter's: "Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard," recorded over two nights in December 2002 and released last week.
All three discs are among the best dozen or so jazz offerings of the past several months, which helps explain why Potter, with four stellar elders (Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, Wayne Shorter, and Sonny Rollins), is a finalist in the tenor sax category of this year's Jazz Journalists Association awards dinner, to be held on June 15 in New York City.
On Thursday night, Potter will bring a new quartet to Scullers and, he says, push beyond the straight-ahead approach of "Lift" to "something more reflective of this time."
The new group will include Adam Rogers on guitar, Nate Smith on drums, and Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes electric piano. They'll play a mix of Potter originals and covers of tunes by Radiohead, Beck, and Billy Strayhorn.
Potter began playing saxophone professionally in South Carolina by age 13. "It was kind of a good situation," Potter says. "There weren't a lot of saxophone players down there, so I got a lot of the calls from the time I was fairly young, which is something that wouldn't have happened if I'd grown up in New York."
At 18, he moved to New York for college (the New School, followed by the Manhattan School of Music) and began touring with a onetime Charlie Parker sideman, the trumpeter Red Rodney. That led to gigs with Marian McPartland, Paul Motian, Renee Rosnes, John Patitucci, the Mingus Big Band, and Steely Dan.
The Steely Dan gig came about, Potter says, when Walter Becker caught a Mingus Big Band set. He and partner Donald Fagen hired Potter for Steely Dan's first concert tour in 1993.
"I was pretty familiar with their music," Potter says. "I just never expected to actually play it. No one expected to play it — they had never played live."
He soon doubled back to jazz. "I got a call to do a Paul Motian tour in Europe," he says, "and there was a Steely Dan thing coming up. . . . I decided to work with Paul, which was a really good move in retrospect, just in every way. And the interesting thing about that is that [Becker and Fagen] really respected that, and they ended up calling me later to play on `Two Against Nature.' "
Potter was recording CDs of his own by then, including an all-star session with Holland, John Scofield, and Jack DeJohnette that led to his gig in Holland's quintet and big band. But at age 26 his career hit a nasty speed bump: A case of Meniere's disease cost him 90 to 95 percent of the hearing in his left ear.
"It was definitely not an easy thing to go through," Potter says, but it was "actually kind of useful in the long run. It made me that much more determined."
In 1998, he began playing regularly with Holland, Douglas, Motian, and Jim Hall. Joanne Brackeen's CD "Pink Elephant Magic" was recorded that summer.
A 1999 Grammy nomination for best jazz instrumental solo for the tune "In Vogue" followed, though Wayne Shorter ended up winning that year. ("I thought he played very magically on that solo," Brackeen says of Potter. "It wasn't just a matter of technique.")
Putting his technical chops at the service of simplicity is something Potter plans to emphasize in his new band.
"I want to experiment more with thinking of a solo as storytelling," he says, "and not feeling like I have to play a lot of notes, or not even feeling like it has to be a solo. Just kind of getting more into the texture of the music — less concentration on complicated forms and more concentration on storytelling and texture."
© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company