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Chris Potter: Raising the Bar

By Published: April 17, 2006
CP: Never as much as I'd like. When you're on the road a lot you really don't get a chance to play except at the gig you get to play and that's also another kind of practicing, in a way. It's like getting used to that performance feeling and reacting to the moment other than reacting to the other guys in the band. That can be more important to making really satisfying music than to use a certain kind of scale you've been working on. But yeah, I'm always practicing. Every time I pick up the horn for a minute I find a bunch of stuff I can't do, so I try to work on that.

AAJ: Is there anything that you do to prepare for a tour, to take care of yourself or take care of your chops... any kind of routines you're aware of?

CP: Not really a routine. I've never been that methodical, in a lot of ways, in my approach to practicing or writing. I have a feeling of saving up my energy because i know I'm going to be out there working very hard. It's important to get away from music, and when you're on tour, you're either trying to work or you're trying to to sleep. You're just in motion to the next gig so you start to feel like a music machine. That's all that you do is manage to crank it up every night and make a bunch of sound and they wheel you out and the next night they do it again. It can begin to feel a little claustrophobic and a little like not really a life. It's important to have other things going on. I like to read a lot and just normal life stuff.

AAJ: Do you feel like some of the tour ends up giving you energy and some ends up taking it away?

CP: [laughs] Yeah, the travelling part is really not a lot of fun. You get up and get in the van and get in the plane—whatever. It's not what I feel like doing. At the end of the day, when you get to play and you feel like you've really made some sort of a connection with the other members of the band with the audience, with yourself it feels amazing. Like the best job in the world. So it depends on what time of the day you would ask me, whether it's worth it or not [laughs].

AAJ: Would you say you have a definable philosophy of music?

CP: I try to think about what exactly is the function of music. Why do people listen to music? It's a pretty irrational activity, in a way. It's just sound waves vibrating, but clearly it kind of brings a vine together in some kind of way. Or it has that kind of ability. It's just amazing to me all the kind of feelings and subtlety and emotions that you're able to convey from sound. And there's something that I really like, too, about the way the music doesn't have words. If you add words that's a whole other level of being able to evoke things. I really love lyricists that are at a high level. I really appreciate that art form.

But for me I feel that's not what I'm working with. So it's just sound. And the way that it can mean one thing for one person at one time and something else for someone else at another time... I guess that's actually the same as with lyrics... it can mean one thing at one time in your life and another at another time. That's what the art is about... it's a way of sharing the experience of your life with other people.

AAJ: I know exactly what you're saying and I think you said it well. It's like when you're reading a book and then you finally go to see the movie

CP: Yeah, right.

AAJ: And you see one person's vision of what that book was, and you're thinking all kinds of things... "well, I didn't see it that way the first time..." and you come away with "well, the book's better, of course." And they left this out and changed that. All the editing you can see, and you can become kind of hyper aware of that. Do you think that musicians these days have any sort of social responsibility or responsibility beyond the music?

CP: Hm. I think it's up to every individual musician to decide how they want to live as a person and what they want to say. The way that I see it is that the music itself involves a sort of social vision. Like the kind of music that I want to make has a lot to do with group interaction and trying to find that balance between the individual and the group, and how much ego is going to be submerged for the good of the group. When you should step out and say something. I think that a well-functioning jazz group is an idealized form of society. Like there's some project you're working on—this tune—and then how you go about negotiating it is a pretty democratic process once you're in the middle of it. A lot of improvisation... a lot of different ways it can go.

AAJ: So when do you get back from tour?

CP: We get back in April, then we go out with Dave Holland's band for a while, then come back from that, then my band goes back to Europe in the summer.

AAJ: What are the future projects in the works?

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