It’s time for another in our occasional series looking at great saxophonists, and we’re turning our attention to Chris Potter.
I believe that Chris is one of the best saxophone players in the world today. He has a modern take on the Coltrane style of playing and is highly rated by today’s professionals. He appears at all the big jazz festivals around the world and is regularly invited to play with other jazz and pop legends.
Photo credit for caption: (By Bjørn Erik Pedersen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Born in Chicago, his family moved to South Carolina, where Potter learned several instruments including guitar and piano, but it was when he heard Paul Desmond (the alto sax player with Dave Brubeck’s group – and composer of ‘Take Five’) that he chose the alto saxophone. He started playing professionally at just thirteen, and built up a loyal local following, before moving to New York for college, where he is currently still based.
He has performed on more than 150 albums, in the band, or as leader or sideman, performing with many names that may be familiar to you: Pat Metheny, the Mingus Big Band, Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan’s late albums are just a few of them.
In his formative New York years in the late 1980s, at the age of eighteen, he played with bebop trumpeter Red Rodney (who had himself played with Charlie Parker). Moving on he played with Paul Motian’s Electric Bebop Band, Motian was known as a drummer and percussionist, and pioneered new techniques for drummers and new guitar rather than piano-led band structures featuring multiple saxophonists, and was to prove a long-lasting influence on Potter.
He is very much a musician’s musician as composer and bandleader, alongside being a world-class soloist and improviser. Although a veteran sax player, he has remained a multi-instrumentalist, which allowed him to play everything on his new album, There is a Tide, recorded in lockdown (and out in December).
The tenor setup he uses is similar to Coltrane’s, Selmer MKVI tenor, with an Old Otto Link metal mouthpiece but opened up to an 8*, with 3 medium or 3 hard filed Rico Jazz Select reeds. This is a common set up for lots of saxophonists of his generation. Younger players of thirty and under are leaning back towards a softer sound, like that of Stan Getz.
You can read more about his career and influences on his own website here: https://www.chrispottermusic.com/ Meanwhile, here are some links for you to watch and listen to this great saxophonist:
The 14yr old Chris Potter soloing on ‘Moment’s Notice’ by John Coltrane. https://youtu.be/Q8uo-FpzN6E
Compare and contrast the older Potter performing the same track – with video this time https://youtu.be/OJxGmD7ePME
16 yr old Potter performing Thelonius Monk’s ‘Straight, No Chaser’. https://youtu.be/Ljdf9Azld0M
Any others you’d like to add.