Sam Newsome first came into prominence on the New York jazz scene as a member of the Terence Blanchard Quintet in the early 1990s—whose core members consisted of Mr. Blanchard on trumpet, Bruce Barth on piano, Tarus Mateen on bass, Troy Davis on drums, and Mr. Newsome on the tenor saxophone. The group toured all over the world as well as recorded several CDs for the Columbia/Sony label, including the critically-acclaimed “Malcolm X Jazz Suite.”
From tenor to soprano:
Newsome, who was feeling uninspired by his sound on the tenor, along with his inability to shake his early influences, seemed to find hope and inspiration in the sound of the soprano saxophone, which, consequently, lead to his radical change in 1996 that resulted in him trading in the big tenor saxophone for the smaller, more difficult soprano saxophone. When asked why he made the switch, Newsome said, “The sound of the soprano allowed me to play with the freedom of not having to carry on my shoulders, decades of the great tenor saxophone legacy. I felt that the sound that I was producing was my own. That was very liberating.”
Consequently, this lead to Newsome broadening his musical palette as he began studying music from North Africa, Japan, and the Middle East--incorporating non-Western scales into his musical vocabulary. He soon formed Global Unity, which was to become his working band for the next seven years. Global Unity consisted of a wide range of musicians from all over the world: vocalist Elisabeth Kontomanou, oud player Amos Hoffman, guitarist Marvin Sewell, pianist Jean-Michel Pilc, bassist Ugonna Okegwo, and percussionists Gilad and Satoshi Takeishi. They released two CDs: Sam Newsome & Global Unity (Columbia/Sony) and Global Unity (Palmetto).
After a seven-year commitment to honing his band sound with Global Unity, Newsome decided to take a hiatus from performing as a leader to develop a musical concept that was more specific to the soprano saxophone—solo saxophone. This lead to diligently studying the solo works of Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Anthony Braxton, where he learned how to approach solo saxophone as a musical concept and not just him playing minus a band. Mr. Newsome prefers to think of himself as a “jazz recitalist.”
“Many people,” exclaims Newsome, “view solo saxophone as some kind of novelty. Something you do just say that you’ve done it. But I see as something much deeper than that. I see it as a viable format worthy of the same respect and hours of preparation that goes into performing with full orchestra.”
Jazz writer Nate Chinen, from the New York Times reviewed one of Newsome’s solo performances at the University of Streets where he wrote: “He has an outsize command of the horn, especially in the realm of extended technique: split-tone multiphonics, slap-tongue articulation, seamless circular breathing.”
Newsome’s second solo saxophone outing, Blue Soliloquy: Solo Works for Soprano Saxophone, was featured on NPR, and was given the prestigious five-star (★★★★★) rating by Downbeat magazine as well being named as one the “Best CDs of 2010” by All About Jazz-New York.
In 2011, Mr. Newsome was one of the nominees for “Soprano Saxophonist of the Year” by the 2011 Jazz Journalists Association. In addition, he made very strong showings in the 2011 Downbeat Critics Polls in the “Soprano Saxophone" category.