Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

January/February 2014: Neil Coligan

Chris Potter

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Chris Potter is one of the greatest saxophonists alive today. He has performed and recorded with the who’s who in jazz—Pat Metheny, Kenny Werner, Ray Brown, Paul Motian, the Mingus Big Band, and countless others. The jazz elder statesman Dave Liebman has called him simply “one of the best musicians around.”

Chris was born in Chicago in 1971, though he grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. He began playing saxophone at age 10 and his progression was so impressive that by the time piano legend Marian McPartland first heard him when he was 15, she told Chris’ father that he was ready for a position in Woody Herman’s band. Potter finished his schooling and upon graduation moved to New York to study at the New School and later the Manhattan School of Music.

Shortly after his arrival in New York, Potter was asked to join trumpeter Red Rodney’s quintet. This was a great early experience and exposure for the young saxophonist. Throughout the 1990s Potter continued to gain invaluable sideman experience with the likes of Paul Motian and others, and became a bandleader in his own right.

In the late 1990s, Potter joined bassist Dave Holland’s quintet, beginning a musical relationship that continues to this day. This quintet is where I first encountered Chris Potter when they performed at the Winnipeg International Jazz Festival in 2005. I was blown away with his playing, which led me to check out some of his work as a leader.

His 2004 release Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard is one that I believe everyone should check out. The album features a range of styles from interesting odd metre grooves to beautiful ballad playing to a wonderful tune called “Okinawa” with a folk-like melody.

For me, listening to Chris Potter is like listening to a great speaker. His command of rhythm and harmony, and his sheer technical ability on the saxophone, leave me both astonished and inspired. I hope he continues to make music for decades to come.

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