Chris Potter

Chris Potter is a world-class soloist, composer, and formidable leader of his band. He has been called a “leading light” in his generation. Down Beat called him “One the most studied and copied saxophonists in the world” while Jazz Times called him “an international figure of international renown”. Dave Liebman, a jazz sax legend, called him simply “one of the greatest musicians around” and Down Beat readers voted him second to Sonny Rollins in its 2008 Readers Poll. Potter is a skilled improviser and was the youngest person to win Denmark’s Jazzpar Prize. His impressive discography includes 15 albums as leader and over 100 sideman appearances. For his solo work on “In Vogue”, a track on Joanne Brackeen’s 1999 album Pink Elephant Magic (nominated for a Grammy Award), Potter was featured prominently on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature, which was released in 2000. He has recorded or performed with many top jazz musicians, including Herbie Hancock and Dave Holland, John Scofield and the Mingus Big Band. Ultrahang is his latest recording. It’s the culmination of five years of work with his Underground quartet, which includes Adam Rogers on guitar and Craig Taborn on Fender Rhodes. Nate Smith plays drums. It was recorded in the studio in January 2009, after extensive touring. The recording showcases the band’s free-wheeling and cohesive best. Potter, an 18-year old bebop star who burst onto the New York scene with Red Rodney in 1989, has been a steady growth as an instrumentist and composer-arranger. Through the ’90s, he continued to gain invaluable bandstand experience as a sideman while also making strong statements as a bandleader-composer-arranger. He was praised for his 1997 album Unspoken, which he co-produced with Dave Holland, Jack DeJohnette, John Scofield, and John Scofield. His 1998 release Vertigo, 2001’s Gratitude, and 2002’s Traveling Mercies were all acclaimed. This show a willingness to take risks and bend genres. He says, “It just seemed like it was a way to open up the music to some other things that I had been hearing but hadn’t really come out in my own music before.” Potter explored new territory with 2004’s partially electric Lift: Live At the Village Vanguard (with keyboardist Kevin Hays, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Bill Stewart). Then, he pushed the envelope on Underground (2006) (with guitarist Wayne Krantz and electric pianist Craig Taborn, and drummer Nate Smith). Jazz Times spoke to him that he wanted to do funk-related music, music that is all around him. It should be as open as possible. With 2007’s Follow The Red Line Live at the Village Vanguard, he continued to groove in an electrified and rhythm-oriented manner (with Adam Rogers taking over from Krantz). Potter describes the new, adventurous path he has carved for himself with his Underground quartet. “There was a time when I felt that the context I used before wasn’t working to express my desires or move me forward in any way.” Bird, Lester Young, and Sonny Rollins have always been the foundation of my aesthetic as a saxophonist. They have taught me a lot about rhythmic phrasing and sound. Music is a living thing, it must keep moving. I have been influenced by many types of music such as funk, hip-hop, country, folk musics, classical, and so it would be unnecessarily restrictive to not allow these influences in my music. These sounds need to be incorporated naturally and unforced. This is the problem. It reminds me that I want people to feel the music and be able dance to it without feeling compelled or complicated. Potter shows his ability to arrange original material for a larger ensemble that includes strings and woodwinds, if I can do it well. He describes the triumphant tentet project as a “learning process” because he had never done anything like it before. It was a simple decision to write and it was very satisfying to see it translate into live performance. Potter reflects back on his 20-year journey to New York and says that he has learned a lot from the leaders he’s worked with. Each of them gave me a different perspective on how to organise a band and make it stand out. It taught me that any approach is possible, provided you have a clear vision of what you want. Red Rodney’s first gig was an eye-opening experience for the young saxophonist. “I wish that I had the ability to see Red Rodney in a bigger light.” Potter’s time with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band was a completely different approach than Rodney’s traditional bebop style on stage. The saxophonist says that Motian had a profound influence on how he thinks about music. He approaches problems from an anti-analytical perspective. It’s very different from many other musicians I have had the opportunity to work with. Motian’s aesthetic sensibility and instinct are more important to him. Motian is a simple man who trusts his instincts and can make it work. It takes courage to do so.” He learned from Dave Holland, bassist and bandleader, the importance of focussing on the task at hand and using his willpower. Potter, who has been part of Holland’s bands for 10 years, says that Dave is determined to make his music strong and present it in the most effective way. “Playing with him gives you the sense that there is a mountain behind you that you can rely on.” His years of experience has allowed me to see the value in believing in what I do.” Potter also credits his time with Jim Hall, guitarist legend, as an inspiration. He says that “the way he can be both melodic, sweet, deeply inventive, and open-minded at once made a huge impression on me.” Further insights were gained from touring and recording with Walter Becker (Steely Dan), the mysterious duo Donald Fagen/Walter Becker (Steely Dan). Potter says, “They completely went their own path.” Potter says that he has great respect for his parents and their dedication to their art. His family was born in Chicago, January 1, 1971. They moved to Columbia, South Carolina at the age of 3. He began playing piano and guitar at the age of 10, before he took up the alto-saxophone when he was 10. His first gig was at 13. Marian McPartland, a piano legend, first met Chris when he was 15 years old. She told him that Chris was ready to go on the road with a band like Woody Herman’s, but that finishing school was his priority. Potter, now 18, moved to New York at the age of 18 to attend Manhattan School of Music and New School. He also began his career as a professional musician and immersed himself in New York’s jazz scene. Potter is a well-respected veteran and a father. He continues to be a bandleader as well as a featured sideman. There are many more chapters to come. His longtime friend, Dave Binney (alto saxophonist and composer), told Down Beat that Chris is open to doing whatever he wants. From here on anything could happen.” Bill Milkowski from

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