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Interviews

Chris Potter: Way Above Ground with Underground

By Published: June 29, 2009
"Jim Hall
Jim Hall
Jim Hall
1930 - 2013
guitar
is a very special musician. He's quietly subversive, in his way. He has this beautiful soft kind of sound, but the content of what he's doing is always very free and adventurous. That was a lesson too, that it can be both adventurous and pretty. It doesn't have to be jarring and loud to be creative. It's not the same thing.

CHRIS POTTER"More recently, getting a chance to work with Herbie. He's such a master of the piano and harmony and everything. Having the chance to solo with him comping back there. The way that he reacts, the way that he chooses to set certain things up or start to take it in a different direction. The level that he's listening on is very inspiring. Having a chance to work with someone who listens that well and get into their thought process. I've been lucky to have a chance to work with all these people."



He even got a taste of the grandiose world of pop/rock when he caught on with Steely Dan

Steely Dan
Steely Dan
b.1972
band/orchestra
in 1994. He played on two of the albums and even toured with the group that made its name in the studio and very seldom finds itself on the road.



"The experience of working with Steely Dan and seeing that side of the music business was quite a trip. They are very serious musicians and huge jazz fans, of course. That was a lot of fun," says Potter. "The work that I did with them on the road [1994] was the first they had done on the road since the early '70s. It was kind of a funny situation where the band leaders had far less experience in playing live than the rest of the band. At the beginning, I think they were kind of like deer in the headlights. It was, 'Wow. We don't have the luxury of doing as many takes as we want in the studio. We've got to deliver.' But the music was so strong, the songs so strong, and their musical sensibilities so strong that it worked."



Potter's continued development, the strength of his playing, the great feel he has for the idiom and music in general, are such that he is becoming a saxophonist that young players look up to. Aside from the "golden era" players, he stands alongside the late Michael Brecker

Michael Brecker
Michael Brecker
1949 - 2007
sax, tenor
, Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
Joe Lovano
b.1952
saxophone
and Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
Joshua Redman
b.1969
saxophone
as perhaps the most influential of the wave of sax players from the 1970s and on.



The relaxed, yet confident, Potter takes it in stride. "It's nice to feel like you might be able to be a part of that lineage and that whatever I'm able to do may be adding to that. That's what I'm hoping. I guess you do feel a certain kind of pressure because you think, 'Wow. I have so much respect for those guys. How can I ever be in that position?' But then I just do what I do. My job is to get as good at what I do as I possibly can and just put it out there. If there are some people who get something from it, that's a great feeling."



That status also leads to plenty of work. But with the growth of his own group on his mind, Potter is cutting back on projects with other people. Not entirely, however.

In addition to continued work with Holland, he is writing music for a big band project with the Danish radio band which sought him out. "I figured that might be a good occasion to get into some larger group writing. There was an album I made a few years ago called Song for Anyone (Sunnyside Records, 2007), with an ensemble with a few strings and woodwinds. Very different sounding than Underground. This is more conventional big band, which I haven't wanted to tackle so much, there's so much baggage. (So much great stuff done and inevitable, unfair comparisons). But the situation presented itself and I wanted to see what I could do.



"I'm working on that music now and trying to figure out what balance I want to strike between the traditional big band sound and how to make it my own," he said. "There are a whole bunch of projects I can imagine doing that I'd like to set up in the future, but nothing is set in stone now because there's enough going on with Underground.



"It's hard to turn down a situation that's musically creative with people I enjoy being with and that also makes money. Why would you say no? I've tried to cut back [on sideman work] a little bit because there are so many hours in a day, so many days in a year. I've found that to do justice to my own vision of what I want to do, I have to take a long time to think about that and to work on it at home."



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