Chris Potter is one of the most talented young saxophonists
in the current jazz scene. He met Arturo Mora in the hotel
hall the morning before his appearance at Vitoria Jazz Festival
with the Dave Holland Quintet and they talked about composing,
soloing, the Dave Holland band and other topics.
ARTURO MORA: How's the current tour going?
CHRIS POTTER: We’re almost at the end
of it. Our first gig was in Montreal at the end of June, then
three and a half weeks and we have one more gig tomorrow in
San Javier. It’s good.
ARTURO MORA: And after San Javier?
CHRIS POTTER: A little bit of vacation, and
then some gigs at the Newport Jazz Festival with different
bands, then going to Israel with my band at the end of next
month, a busy fall with my band and with Dave Holland’s
band and with some few other projects.
ARTURO MORA: How do American and European audiences
CHRIS POTTER: Wherever there’s an audience
that it’s enthusiastic about the music is a good place
to play. It can be 1,000 people, it can be 15 people, it can
be South America or Japan, here or the States. If you feel
the energy, that the people are receptive and excited about
hearing it then that’s a fun place to play.
ARTURO MORA: Regarding the Dave Holland Quintet,
Steve Nelson, Robin Eubanks and yourself have composed songs
for the band, and they all feature the band’s unique
sound. Is it a challenge for you to compose in that group’s
CHRIS POTTER: Yes, it’s not the same as
writing for my own groups, because I am thinking about the
sound of this band and the direction of this music, so I try
to combine what I do with something that fits the group. And,
of course, it’s an unusual instrumentation also, so
you think about what these instruments would be good to do,
you know, the vibes, the trombone, using that the best way.
ARTURO MORA: Does the use of odd meters influence
you when composing for the band?
CHRIS POTTER: Yes, that was an area that I was
beginning to explore before I joined the band. I think it’s
a sort of a process from where we’re evolving, growing.
Someone would bring in a tune in a certain meter, it feels
uncomfortable for a while, and then we figure out we can get
more and more comfortable with it, more free, and that adds
to our vocabulary for the next song. I think it’s grown
over the years.
ARTURO MORA: I suppose improvising on these
odd meters must be a challenge too.
CHRIS POTTER: Yes, it’s sort of a nice
way to challenge ourselves, I think, just because you can’t
play the things that you already know, you have to find something
new that would work over this, so it’s a good challenge
in a way, yes.
ARTURO MORA: The leader of the Dave Holland
Quintet is, of course, Dave Holland, but how does the collaborative
aspect influence the band?
CHRIS POTTER: It’s very useful to have
a leader, someone that’s the final word: “OK,
we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna go here”,
that can usually work the best. But within that there’s
a lot of freedom, and I like it. He gives us a lot of freedom,
a lot of input and makes us all feel important, and we appreciate
it. It’s a good situation.
ARTURO MORA: You’ve got your non-bass
Underground Quartet with Wayne Krantz, Craig Taborn and Nate
Smith. Which is the feeling about playing with the Holland
Quintet and with your own quartet?
CHRIS POTTER: I think there’s a little
different focus on the music. Maybe the Underground group,
the way it’s developed, it’s a little bit less
about... I mean, there’s some odd meter and some forms
that are complicated, but in general I think I’m trying
to think more about the textures, and kind of finding a more
organic storytelling way of playing, I think that’s
kind of a different focus. And it’s also maybe more
in the funk thing, you know, with the sound of the electric
guitar and the Rhodes. For the past couple of years Adam Rogers
has been playing guitar, and we have a new CD coming out also
that was recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York, that’s
kind of a document of how it’s grown too, I think it’s
grown a lot, in the past couple of years.
ARTURO MORA: I guess the absence of bass makes
you compose a different way too.
CHRIS POTTER: Yes, I’m thinking a lot
about how Craig will voice it. The reason that we do not have
a bass is because of the talent of Craig that he’s able
to do this, it’s a very unusual thing. I really like
how he approaches the Rhodes and the sound of the Rhodes and
that he’s capable kind of like an organ player of playing
some staff on the bass and also soloing and adding, but he
doesn’t play in any kind of traditional organ-based
way, it’s a different way of thinking, but it has that
strength down there, so that’s why the band works that
ARTURO MORA: Jason Moran (piano and Fender Rhodes)
recently replaced Steve Nelson (vibraphone and marimba) in
some concerts of the Dave Holland Quintet. What has changed?
CHRIS POTTER: Since there were four out of five
of the normal members, it still fell like Dave’s band
to me. Steve Nelson is one of my favorite musicians, I really
love the way he plays, and we missed him, but I think Jason
did a great job, he’s an amazing musician also, and
he found a way to fit in in a way that made a lot of sense,
because he also doesn’t play like kind of a normal piano
player all the time, he can find some different way of getting
to the same place.
ARTURO MORA: You’re 36, which is a very
young age. When you think about your life-long career, which
are your ambitions, your objectives, where would you like
to reach as a musician?
CHRIS POTTER: I would like, of course, to have
the freedom to do more and more of my own music. I have many
things written that I haven’t had a chance to hear.
The last few years I’ve been kind of trying to balance
playing with Dave’s band and doing my own projects,
spending a few months out of the year doing both of those
things, and also I do enjoy playing in other situations, I
recently played in Paul Motian’s band, and did some
gigs with Herbie Hancock, various things, you know, and I
got a fresh new perspective from that, so I wouldn’t
ever want to never do that, but I would like to concentrate
more and more on my own music. There’s also another
new CD of mine that’s coming out, kind of a dream that
I had for a long time, it’s kind of a larger ensemble,
chamber ensemble kind of thing: three strings, three woodwinds,
nylon string guitar, rhythm section, me. It was kind of an
opportunity for me to explore writing a lot, having kind of
a bigger palette to write.
ARTURO MORA: Did you write the whole score,
the whole arrangement?
CHRIS POTTER: Yes. It’s gonna be out in
the Fall, I think.
This is in the short term, but I’m just hoping that
I’m able to continue to be able to grow as a creative
musician and be fortunate enough to have an audience who want
to hear it, that’s all I can ask.
ARTURO MORA: In 1994 you toured with Steely
Dan. What did you get from that experience?
CHRIS POTTER: I grew up listening to that music
along with other musics, but I never expected to play with
them, they never played live until then. That was a very illuminating
experience, just to see how that whole world works at that
ARTURO MORA: In terms of production or in musical
CHRIS POTTER: Production. Musically it was like
another gig, they’re very serious musicians, they want
the music to be as good as possible, that was comfortable
and fun to play those tunes, I really like those tunes. Eventually
it was a bit limiting, just because it was a big band, and
not so much of an opportunity to express myself, that’s
why I had to leave, to have more freedom, but I was happy
to be there. Also I was 22-23, I just kind of had moved to
New York, so it was great.
ARTURO MORA: You offer online teaching in your
website. How’s this experience working out for you?
CHRIS POTTER: It’s going well. I honestly
don’t really monitor it so much, I kind of talked into
a recording device, kind of like this [pointing at the interviewer’s][laughs],
and I think that the people that are administering the website
figure out how to make it into a coherent thing. But it’s
kind of useful just because there are many students who ask
me for lessons and I don’t really have time, so it’s
a way to get my philosophy about music.
ARTURO MORA: What do you look for when you start
a solo, do you think in its structure, the harmony, the scales,
do you just let yourself go?
CHRIS POTTER: It’s always difficult to
describe, I think partially because when you’re thinking
in music you can describe it in words later, but it happens
so fast, it’s an immediate thing, so you’re thinking
in musical terms, you’re not thinking in language terms.
The best solos always have that feeling that the music is
playing itself, and I’m just there as something that
is going thru, a lot of musicians described this process,
and it’s difficult to know how to get to that point
everytime, you know. You have to be very, very comfortable,
and you have to forget about everything, and not have a plan.
You practice all these things, you think about these concepts
very, very deeply, how to play the instrument, how you develop
a motive, how to understand harmony, you know, all this kind
of technical things, you have to master them to be able to
play, but then, when you’re actually playing, you can’t
think about any of these things to have to let it all go and
let it be, what it is.
ARTURO MORA: I still remember a memorable solo
of yours with the Dave Holland Big Band in Madrid a few years
ago. Even today people talk about this solo. Is it possible
that playing in a big band situation (having only a solo in
the whole night) may push you deeper into its construction,
in a better way than when you know you’ll play a few
CHRIS POTTER: Yes, yes. I think that there is
a tendency to kind of think different if you just have one.
For me I kind of prefer having a whole evening to try to tell
the story, to have a lot of room, so that some of it can be
a little bit like this, and there can be high points. But
it’s a challenge to be on a bigger scale, if you have
one shot to do it you have to focus everything on that one
thing. But it’s also different from night to night.
Of course I don’t remember that at all, so I don’t
know what I played [laughs].