The Prize Winner 2000
Chris Potter | Photo |

American saxophonist, flutist, bass-clarinetist, bandleader, composer and arranger. Born January 1, 1971 Chicago USA.

   His music - Potter exceeds expectations
   Still not 30, Potter is the youngest JAZZPAR Laureate so far. He is also the first JAZZPAR Sideman to reappear, this time as The Principal Performer of The Project. As a key member of The Jim Hall 1998 JAZZPAR Double Quartet, Potter impressed everybody by playing with the authority and inevitability of the born improviser.
   Potter is one of the sharpest new saxophonists of today. He can play with a powerful tone full of surprising stylistic twists. He combines classic bop with new adventure and is always concerned with the sound of his instrument. Potter can play naturally in all kinds of odd time-signatures. His virtuosity, his restless flow of ideas matches any of the soloists he has been involved with. His reluctance to go too far out for effect and the thematic weight applied to all of his improvisations single him out.
   Potter's, being quiet and modest, has nevertheless by the sheer expressiveness of his music established a reputation as probably the most accomplished and innovative of the under-thirty-generation of saxophone players.

   He sucked up everything like a sponge
   Chris Potter grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, where his parents taught at the university. An early dream of his was to become a blues guitar player like Buddy Guy or Muddy Waters. At the age of ten he started playing the saxophone. He had his first professional gigs in Columbia while in high school at 13. In South Carolina he also met and played with the veteran trumpeter Red Rodney.
   In 1989 Potter moved to New York to attend, first, The New School and, four years later, to graduate from The Manhattan School Of Music. He evidently took full advantage of this education. During the same period he was a member of Rodney's group, learning bebop firsthand. At that time the alto sax was his main instrument. Rodney on Potter: "He sucked up everything like a sponge, but his sound is original; his articulation is different from anybody's; his harmonic knowledge is profound."

   A sideman and recording artist with "big ears"
   Potter has scored invaluable experience, as a sideman playing and recording with many reputed jazz artists. Technically proficient, he is in full command of his instruments. Having "big ears" he adapts without problems to different musical situations - and still keeps a clear identity. He is quick-minded and has the ability to immediately pick up any musical idea presented to him.
   Potter's insight as to harmony and textures is highly developed. Another characteristic - especially of Potter the tenor player - is a big, firm, solid sound: muscular but not heavy, fluent but not ponderous. The various tone colors are applied in accordance with a steady succession of original ideas - often arresting - in between surprising even himself: stock phrases and borrowings from other musicians' vocabulary few and far between.

   Incorporating any point in music history
   Today Potter's playing is not limited to the music of the 40s or any other decade. He is aware of what came before and what is going on in other music worlds. Potter acknowledges his roots and is fully aware of their multiplicity and what seems to be the incompatibility of some of them.
   Lately Potter has pushed into a less conventional idiom that merges the energy of bebop with novel harmonies, unusual scales, unpredictable rhythms and unflinching use of dissonance. His recordings document a successively more audacious use of harmony, modes, odd melodic intervals and a fervent sense of swing. Now and then he ventures into "free" territory.

   Jazz classicism plus
   This attitude includes an awareness of the European contribution to the development of jazz. For one thing, Chris Potter - as many of the younger American musicians - as well as his intrinsic insight into US jazz, is trained in the classical tradition and is also familiar with the important "serious" composers of today. Touring Europe he has experienced the difference between the jazz scene in his country and over here. Potter may very well be in the process of taking the better of both worlds.
   Potter is versatile and not extremist, rather a representative of jazz classicism plus.
   Many jazz masters have been mentioned as his sources of inspiration: Hodges, Carter, Young, Parker, Mobley, Rollins, Coltrane, Shorter, Henderson, March et al. Potter acknowledges most of these primary influences. Once asked whom he listens to, his answer was: "Messiaen, Bartok, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis, Sonny Stitt, Gene Ammons ..." Open-minded and serious about his art, Potter listens receptively to all his predecessors. At the same time he attaches great importance to telling his own story.

   A remarkable authority
   "Listening and just thinking without the horn in my hands is valuable" Potter observes, adding that he has not tried to push the process in his own case. "It's actually pretty easy to do something new. But to really hear what's in your head, what you feel really expresses you, that rises in an organic way and takes a lot of time and a conscious effort toward that goal". Pointing to Rollins, Coltrane and Shorter as examples Potter adds: "Most players don't really come into their prime until they're in their thirties," and then - as to prime - adds: "like when you go back and listen to Lester Young, and hear a voice not forced, a voice singing."
   The importance of all these influences and their remarkably integrated unity cannot be too strongly emphasized. What from the start has been copied and borrowed is completely digested. Any appearance of his has an exceptional authority.
   Chris Potter is also a gifted composer. Sometimes reflecting influence from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, Potter has written rhythmically vivid and seductive originals with thematic substance and changes to take inspiration from.

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