If jazz wasn't heady enough, Chris Potter wrote an entire album inspired by The Odyssey

Categories: Profiles

Going to back to when you first started playing jazz, I read that hearing a Paul Desmond record sort of got you going on the jazz path.

That was that first time I had heard the saxophone playing anything like that, you know, where it was a beautiful sound. That was the thing that kind of inspired me to ask my parents for a saxophone, and then I was off and running. There were a few other records that my family had -- some Miles Davis records with John Coltrane on them. There were some Charles Lloyd records. But I think the first thing I heard was Paul Desmond. That was made me go, "Wow, maybe there's some real possibilities for this instrument." Maybe I should learn how to play it.

You had been playing guitar before then, right?

Yeah, probably even more piano. Both. I can kind of remember from earliest memory whenever there was a piano in a room, I would just kind of go to it and just try to figure out how it worked, how the notes fit together and what it sounded like if you put different groups of notes together and all that kind of stuff. I think I was very interested in music from a very early age. I was interested in listening to it. It was always the focal point of my attention.

I'd imagine playing with Red Rodney when you were fairly young must have been quite the experience as well.

Oh yeah. It was a great experience to have a chance to play a lot of Charlie Parker music with the guy who was on the original record. And to see how he thought about things and how he operated and hear him play every night. It was a direct kind of connection to that whole musical world, which isn't around any more. The situation was very different for music back then. The music has changed a lot. So, I'm really glad I had that opportunity to kind of see firsthand someone from that era and the way that they played and the way that they thought about everything.

How would you say your playing has changed or developed over the last twenty or so years since you've playing professionally?

I feel that it's developed a lot, that it's still developing. I mean, it's that often where I go back and listen to things that I recorded a long time ago. But it is kind of interesting every now and then to hear. I usually feel that I was kind of going for the same things back then that I was going for now. I didn't quite have the skills to be able to execute it. I just wasn't quite fully formed.

But I think that can be kind of interesting thing. You know, someone who knows my playing now might be able to hear those earlier records now in light of what I'm doing now and kind of realize what the path was. It's really hard for me since every record that I make I have the feeling like, "Oh, this is a work in progress. This is maybe cool, but this isn't quite it. Just wait until the next one. I'll finally get it." I think that's sort of a common feel that a lot of musicians have.

I feel like it keeps growing and growing. At this point I think I've absorbed a fair amount of the technical information that I need to make a lot of music. I just have to keep figuring out how to use it in new and creative ways, and ways that feel like they express what I want to express.

I would imagine it's just a constant path.

That is the amazing thing about music. This is something that I've seen now having had the chance to get to work with a lot of great musicians who were even in their late sixties and seventies: They're still discovering. They're still learning. And you realize that it affects their whole outlook on life, that even if you're in your seventies, you don't have to be old. You don't have to think old. I think jazz music... that's one of the positive things about it, too: There's always a feeling of discovery, and that makes every day exciting. You wonder what you're going to find in music that day.

I don't know if it's specific to jazz, but it's one of things where the more you learn something, the more you realize how much more there is to know.

Oh yeah. I still feel that. Even simple things like how to play a melody really well. There are just so many different ways, little shades of meaning that you can give it depending on your sound or articulation or things you do to it. It's never going to end. So I've just tried to accept that. If you try to have it be perfect then maybe you won't reach that other level, which is that joy of discovery thing. If let go of the, "Oh, it should be perfect..." Because it's not ever going to be perfect. There is no perfect.

Then there's that whole concept of technical versus soulful, and sometimes being too technical can get in the way of what you're trying to say...

To me, that seems like a little bit of a false way to look at it. The more you're able to do, what that ideally should do is make you more free to express whatever it is you want to express. But I do think, as musicians when you're focusing on these little details, and jazz is such a complex language, and there's a lot of little details to focus on, you tend to lose sight of the big picture.

I think that creates the effect that it's too technical and not soulful. I know for myself, soul is definitely the key ingredient. But I also know that, during the journey, you're trying to execute things and say what you want to say that there is a danger of missing the forest for the trees.

I recently interview Joe Lovano and he said, "there's free jazz, but what I do is play jazz free."

Yeah. That's a good way to put it. I've always had that feeling that I'd like to play... I mean, if I'm playing a tune that has changes, that has a form, that I'd like to completely free on it. And I'm playing music that's free I want to spontaneously compose a form so that it's not just a formless thing. It's like you're always kind of looking for the best of each part of that. You're looking for the freedom within the form.

You'll be playing Dazzle with your trio and without Craig Taborn on piano. Are you still going to be playing material from The Sirens?

Yeah. It just sort of turned out that there was no one that seemed to make sense to fill the piano chair. As accomplished as Larry Grenadier and Eric Harland are, I think there won't be any shortage of music up there even though there's only three of us. I'm sort of curious what that will be like since it's the only stop on the tour where it's at trio.

And that's a real challenge but I'm looking forward to it and those are definitely those are two extremely strong musicians to do it with. I'm curious how some of this music from The Sirens sounds without some chords. I think we'll be able to make something interesting out of it. We'll probably vary the repertoire a little bit and add some other things, too.

Location Info

Dazzle Restaurant & Lounge

930 Lincoln St., Denver, CO

Category: Music

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