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Stars Of Today: Chris Potter

Stars Of Today: Chris Potter

Stars of Today: Chris Potter
The jazz star of today we’ll discuss in this video is Chris Potter, a tenor saxophonist and
composer born in 1971. Potter has recorded 19 albums as a leader and has appeared on
more than 100 albums in his career. Emerging from the tradition of John Coltrane and
Michael Brecker, Down Beat magazine calls Potter one of “the most studied and copied
saxophonists on the planet.” Jazz Times magazine described him as “a figure of
international renown.”
Potter, along with other tenor saxophonists of the early 21st century, has extended the
range of the tenor saxophone even further than Michael Brecker did. He also possesses
great technical virtuosity and fluency in all ranges of the instrument. Potter has developed
an extended, and sometimes dissonant, improvisational vocabulary.
So as well as the additions he’s made to the jazz vocabulary, Potter has written music that
features innovations in form and rhythm. And he’s incorporated funk and fusion genres in
his band, called the Underground Quartet.
This next selection demonstrates one of those innovations in form. I’ll talk about that in a
minute.
The song title is a number. It’s named “7.5,” off an album called Lift, Live at the Village
Vanguard, recorded in 2004. The opening cadenza at the beginning of this recording
demonstrates Potter’s virtuosity in his use of the entire range of the saxophone. He starts
his first two phrases in the very lowest register of the instrument and quickly works his
way up from there, jumping back and forth between the low and the very high registers.
Here it is:

So hopefully, that gives you an idea of his great technical ability.
In our next excerpt, the bass, the drums, and a keyboard playing a sound that resembles a
touch-tone telephone enter playing a loose groove. And Potter joins in for some
improvisation:

It’s a very interesting combination of instruments there.
Now we’re arrived at the innovation on form as referenced by the title “7.5.” The form of
this song is a repeating 7 and 1/2 measure phrase. That’s seven measures of four beats
followed by one measure of two beats. So we’ll listen to this and I’ll indicate the measures
with my fingers.
So notice I want to get to eight, that measure only lasts half as long as the other measures.
So we’re going along 1, 2, 3, 4: 2, 2, 3, 4: 3. And going into the end of the form, 6, 2, 3, 4:
7, 2, 3, 4: 8, 2: 1, 2, 3, 4: 2, 2, 3, 4. And then we repeat again.
So let’s give it a try. Here we go:

And that form repeats over and over. That went by pretty quickly. It’s rather tricky to
hear. So let’s do it again, listen to the same excerpt. And I’ll count along again and then
you can count along with me if you like:

That song has the title “7.5.”
Next, we’re listening to a portion of Chris Potter’s improvisation. It’s quite a bit later in
the song. At the start of this clip, all the rhythm section is playing. And then after a few
seconds, you’ll hear the piano drop out and then the bass drops out, leaving the tenor and
drums in a duet situation that should remind us of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones. Potter
demonstrates amazing range and flexibility in this section. Here it is:

You might have heard near the end there where he climbs into a register that saxophones
didn’t go to until a lot of this last decade or so, way high there.
We’ve got time to was in a small portion from one Chris Potter’s most recent recordings.
This is an excerpt from the song titled “Wine Dark Sea” from the album The Sirens,
recorded in 2012. Here we’re listening for Potter’s very angular, complex language with
rapid notes.
Near the end of this clip, there’s a section where Potter plays rhythmically on one high
note. That section contrasts with the other portions of the solo that feature many different
notes. Notice also that we’ve got a rock groove being played with acoustic bass and
acoustic piano:

Great contrast there between the phrases. It had many notes all over the whole register of
the instrument and then that one phrase that had just rhythmic action on one particular
high note.
Chris is also a member of guitarist Pat Metheny’s Unity Band that won a 2012 Grammy
for the best instrumental jazz album.
So from listening to the Chris Potter and others, we can hear the today’s jazz is alive and
well, with younger players taking the influences of jazz greats and adding their own
twists and turns.
On our next video, we’ll look at another star of today. See you then.

Summary

  • Chris Potter, tenor saxophonist, has been called “one of the most studied (and copied) saxophonists on the planet”
  • Potter has made contributions to the jazz by extending the range of the tenor saxophone with virtuosity and fluency, and developing an extended, sometimes dissonant improvisational vocabulary
  • The song “7.5,” written by Potter, features innovations in form and rhythm, and includes a saxophone and drum duet reminiscent of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones
  • Potter’s extended improvisational vocabulary can be heard on the song “Wine Dark Sea” from the album The Sirens

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