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Shaking up the status quo is no easy task. The status quo usually has but two goals:

1. To stay the same.
2. To keep those trying to change it, out.

Also, the concept of status quo, changes. During the 1970s, black men shaving their heads bald was radical. Today it's commonplace. There was a time when only hardcore bikers sported tattoos. Today, you see them on school teachers and librarians. 

If you are one of those adventurous souls who finds him or herself going against societal norms, here are three (3) stages of acceptance you might want to keep in mind.


Stage 1: First, they DOUBT you.
Stage 2: Then they LOVE you.
Stage 3: Then they IMITATE you.


Ornette Coleman fits this idea perfectly. When he first appeared at the Five Spot in 1959, it was hardly a hero's welcome. He was yelled at, physically assaulted, and someone even set a car on fire in front of the club in protest.

However, some critics and few forward-thinking musicians praised his adventurous explorations. And soon many started to come around. This was quickly followed by a whole free jazz movement inspired by his musical vision.

 So as I said:

Stage 1: First, they DOUBT you.
Stage 2: Then they LOVE you.
Stage 3: Then they IMITATE you.

If you are shoving at the shoulders of the status quo or knocking over a few pins of everydayness, and folks are doubting you, just remember that stages 2 and 3 may not be far behind.


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I’ve always felt that playing music is an ongoing juggling act between total awareness, losing yourself in the music, and all of the micro-steps in between.



Here are three levels of consciousness we want to always have at our disposal when playing music--especially improvised music.


1. Self-consciousness

2. Group-consciousness

3. Sub-consciousness



Let’s unpack this further.


Self-consciousness: This is the first place we want to start—with an awareness of what YOU can create musically. The more clearly you can define YOU and what YOU do, the more easily others can negotiate what YOU do in a group context. 


Group-consciousness: Here, you’re moving away from ME-centered ness to WE-centered ness. It’s not solely about what you can do individually, but collectively. It's about taking your energy and creating synergy with others.


Sub-consciousness: Now, we’re getting into a space of just being. It’s not about ME-centeredness or WE-centeredness, just simply being Centered. 


Losing oneself in the music with little to no awareness takes practice. And the best practice is simply playing. I usually say, “If you’re thinking about being in this state, then you’re probably not.”


Ultimately, what you want to do is bounce back and forth between the three. Each will enable you to tap into a different dimension of your artistic expression. And most of all, have fun!

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Being in the music industry is difficult. This is something on which most can unanimously agree.  In some ways it’s easier today than it was 20 years ago: (1) the business side is more democratic, due to the internet explosion, and (2) we don’t have a select group of gatekeepers deciding who gets picked and who doesn’t. We can pick ourselves.

Today, it’s more difficult in that we now have more folks who've tossed their hats into the build-a-career-for-themselves ring--with the filtering process fully removed. And with more competition for performance and recording opportunities comes more bitterness towards those who are indulging in "our" slice of career pie. 

None of us want to end up like this. And you don't have to.

I’ve found that there are three (3) ways NOT to end up a bitter lemon in the drink of life. This is a regressive rabbit hole none of us want to find ourselves inside of. Oh, and I'm speaking from experience.

No. 1. By becoming more successful than your peers. 

No. 2. By doing your own thing so that you don't feel like you're competing with others.

No.  3. By enjoying the journey. Focusing more on the life lessons learned than the pocket money earned.

No. 1: This seems like the most obvious and maybe the most difficult to pull off. If you are considered as being at the top of your field, then you’re are less inclined to feel bitterness towards and jealousy of others. Nothing gives one contentment like having gotten yours. But here’s the kicker: For this to work, you have to stay at the top. This can fluctuate at any time, due to many variables, especially if you’re using metrics like critics polls, reviews, record sales, and concert bookings. The downside is that in your effort you maintain your number 1 status, you might lose your way. 

No. 2: This might be the easiest to do as far as implementing, but the most difficult as far as developing the courage to do it. Those who follow this path are usually too focused on their own thing to care what someone else is doing. It’s like parenting. If you’re really doing your job, you’re not much focused on what’s going on in other folks’ homes--unless it begins to infringe on yours.

No. 3: I’ll admit, this is difficult, but doable. It’s not easy aiming for something and being content with only the process. The key is to focus on the micro-goals and have the macro-goal be the icing on the cake. 

Macro-goal: 
  • winning a race


Micro-goals: 

  • physical conditioning
  • team comradery
  • representing your organization with dignity and pride


None of these are supreme law. But each does offer a unique perspective on internalizing our issues regarding success—ours and those of others. 
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Getting someone’s attention is not a big deal these days. Keeping it and earning their trust...that’s a different story. We can make most folks look our way at least once. But because we often squander their trust, like most, they, too, will eventually ignore us.

I've often said that this period in time will be known as "The Great Period of Squandering." We have access to millions of people for free, and what do we do? Show up empty-handed. Show up with nothing to say. Show up with no reason to be let in again.

The problem with most folks today is that many don't know life without all of these modern conveniences. I do. And let me tell you, our opportunities are limitless. 

Back in the 1990s, folks would pay several hundred dollars for mailing lists containing only a few thousand.  Today, we have access to Twitter, with over 126 million active users. You can post as many words (280 characters), pictures, and videos as your heart desires. And it’s FREE.

Don't look back on this day and say "should have,"  "would have."

To quote Charlie Parker, "Now's the Time."  And it's free.



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We often seek the guidance of teachers and role models. Even though I'm sure I could greatly benefit from a teacher, at this point in life, I'm more interested in role models. 

Here are a few reasons why:

  • Teachers give us maps to follow;
  • Role models provide us with a compass.

  • You can only have a limited number of teachers at a time;
  • Role models can be unlimited. 


  • Teachers often cost money for their guidance;
  • Roles models are often free.


  • Teachers take us through their specific methodology
  • Role models allow us to find our own methodology.


  • Teachers show us their way;
  • Role models help us find ours. 


Lastly:

  • Teachers often make us feel like students;
  • Roles models inspire us to also try and make a difference!




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Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that inspirational aphorisms are more of my thing than boasting of my most recent accomplishments. There’s some of that but in small doses.

I usually post issues and thoughts I’m wrestling with, using Twitter as the medium through which I work them out.

My most recent madra addresses contentment.

Goes something like this:
Everything I have all that I’ll ever have; Everything I have is all I’m ever need.

Now, what does this all mean?

I came up with this after someone expressed to me they felt I should be doing more as far as festivals and things of that nature. I simply told them I did not know if those things are in the cards for me--at least in great abundance. And that’s ok. Not that I won’t continue trying.

I see it like this: Anybody can get booked on a gig. But not everybody is out here doing work that’s making a difference. I’m not sure if I am either. But in aiming to do so, I’m more likely to than not. 

Some may even ask, what defines making a difference? The best definition of making a difference came from Seth Godin, who said that making a difference is doing work that if you stopped doing it, it would be missed.

I’d like to think that there’s a small but appreciative audience who would be saddened if all of a sudden, I stopped my experimental endeavors and began pursuing a more conservative path.

But back to my original mantra:

Everything I have is all that I’ll ever have; Everything I have is all I’m ever need.

At its core, this means two things: 1) being content with where you’re at in life, and 2) embracing a musical value system that’s more about better than more. More simply put, quality over quantity.

Regarding the latter, I do long tones because I want to play better notes, not more notes. I associate with only certain folks because I want to have better colleagues, not more colleagues. I’m selective about bookings because I want to play better gigs, not more gigs. You see my point. I’ve simply taken greed out of the equation and replaced it with satisfaction.

And besides, contentment is not easy. It’s difficult aiming for things while being ok with not realizing them. The two can seem at odds. What helps me is to be focused more on the process than the result. Becoming more focused on the giving, rather than the receiving. Or as I like to say: The life lessons earned, not the pocket money earned.

Everything I have is all that I’ll ever have; Everything I have is all I’m ever need.

Say it until you believe it. Say it until you begin to live it.
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Since becoming a soprano saxophone specialist over 20 years ago, to say that I’m sound-focused is a significant understatement. As a tenor saxophonist, I was overly concerned with what came out of my horn. Now, I’m more concerned with how it comes out.

Regarding sound production, I’ve discovered that there are basically three layers to playing a note. Each with a specific function. I call it "The Note Onion Theory."

Layer 1. Making the note sound (simply making it audible).
Layer 2. Making the note ring (having it have a strong presence).
Layer 3. Making the note sing (having it move the listener).

Layer 1: Making the note audible. Pretty basic stuff. Move sound through the instrument. Make the reed vibrate. Voila!

Layer 2: Making the note ring. This requires more thought, more effort, and more purpose. This is like taking a blank sheet of paper and drawing a picture on it—or at least decorating it. Layer 1 lets the listener know what the instrument sounds like, Layer 2 enables the listener to hear what you sound like.

Layer 3: Making the note sing. This is similar to Layer 2, except on a deeper level. Here, not only do you let folks know who you are, but the note can take on a new purpose, depending on the impact it has on the person who encounters it. It goes from being about the INSTRUMENT to being about YOU to being about the LISTENER.

I know this can sound like some pretty heady stuff. But we experience it all the time. We’ve probably just never compartmentalized in such a way.

The bigger picture with all of this is to remember that no we’re doing, there’s always another layer. You might say life, like sound, really is like an onion!
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I've always thought of prayer as a positive thing, in general. There is something comforting about surrendering to a higher power. At every age, young and old, we all need to feel that someone has our back. Prayer also has a centering effect. Creating similar physiological responses as practicing yoga and meditating.

Regarding prayer, we're familiar with the practice of praying before bed or before we eat. How about before we create? As I like to say: "We prayed before we ate, now let's pray before we create." Hence, my "Creativity Prayer."

As you'll soon figure out, it's loosely based on the very popular "Serenity Prayer" by Reinhold Niebuhr. 


CREATIVITY PRAYER

CREATIVITY, grant me the wisdom
to accept the things I cannot play,
the courage to play the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Playing one day at a time;
enjoying one gig at a time;
accepting musical challenges as a pathway to peace.

Taking, as ALL THE GREATS did,
my musical ideas as they are,
not as how I’d like them to be;
trusting that YOU will make all things right
if I surrender to YOUR will;
so that I may be reasonably happy while creating, and supremely happy while performing, whenever I’m blessed with the opportunity.

Amen


So there you have it! Now, let's go put it to good use.
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My latest experimentation may be the radical of all. And certainly not something any reputable instrument repairman would recommend.

Here,  I'm stuffing small jingle bells into the bell of the instrument and sealing them in with aluminum foil. Of course, this particular sound has its limitations. And this is OK. One of the mistakes that some make with certain experimentations, is that they only imagine using them in the macro sense. Meaning only thinking of them as sounds that one can potentially exploit for the full duration of a piece, or perhaps and the entire set.

Here's something else to consider: Imagine developing something that only intended to be used in the micro sense--meaning a short duration of time.

At this point, I think I can say with certainty that I've done more solo saxophone concerts than most. One issue that I'm constantly confronted with is how to keep my sets interesting.

This gets back to my most recent experimentation.

As a stand-alone entity, blowing through a soprano saxophone filled with small jingle bells, and using shaking the soprano saxophone as a sound option, may not necessarily hold one's attention for an entire tune, and certainly not an entire set. However, in the context of a 45-minute solo set, this could be a 120-second sonic interlude that could breath new life into a set.

Numerous times, I've thought about removing balloons from my arsenal of sound options, but whenever I pull them out during a concert, they always seem to be just what was needed at the time. So I'm inclined to believe this new experimentation will prove equally invaluable.

So this piece is called "Conical Shaker."

Materials needed:

(a) As many small jingle bells that will fit into your instrument.



Exhibit 1:



(b) Medium size piece of aluminum foil. 


Exhibit 2:

"CONICAL SHAKER"

"Conical Shaker" - Prepared Saxophone Series - YouTube





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Some of you may have seen some of my video demonstrating my extended techniques and prepared saxophone preparations.

I thought here, I’d explain things that I do in the context of a live performance, and in the context of group performance.

The following performance took place on Monday, June 3, 2019, as a part of Bushwick Improvised Music Series, curated by Stephen Gauci. Here, I’m heard with my trio Newsome, Morris & Lee. 



My style is based on two principles:

1. If you want unconventional outcomes, the process through which you create must also be unconventional

2. I constantly change my sound every two to three minutes. This is not something I consciously do, it just so happens that this is how I instinctively do it.


Below is a minute to minute,  second to second account of all of the different ways I'm changing up the sound and utilizing different extended techniques and horn preparations.


Sam Newsome, Joe Morris, Charmaine Lee - Bushwick Improvised Music - June 3 2019 - YouTube


LISTENING GUIDE

00:00 – Improvisation interspersed with extended techniques: flutter, double, and slap tonguing and multi-phonics.

03:37 - Switched to my short tube extension. This enabled me to get more of a double reed texture. Mixed with circular breathing, it results in a very interesting effect. 

07:12 - Switched to the playing-without-mouthpiece technique. This allowed me to get almost an airy brass texture.

08:24 - Switched to medium tube extension with the flugelhorn bubble mute placed into the bell of the soprano saxophone. Again, with circular breathing, it allowed me to get to some very interesting textures

11:05 - Removed the flugelhorn bubble mute. This enabled me to get more projection.

11:55 - Began playing the soprano saxophone unprepared.

12:55 - Began playing the soprano saxophone unprepared with balloons. Dry rice was placed inside of the balloons to give them the rattling effect.

14:15 – Placed Vuvuzela horn inside the bell of the soprano saxophone. Along with circular breathing, this is excellent for creating a drone effect.

16:05 - Began playing the soprano saxophone unprepared.

16:49 - Began playing the soprano saxophone unprepared with hanging metal chimes.

20:00 - Went back to only playing the soprano saxophone unprepared.

23:00 – Placed a plastic noisemaker into the bell of the soprano saxophone.

24:00 – Began playing the soprano saxophone without mouthpiece while the plastic noisemaker remains inside.

24:15- Began playing the soprano saxophone without mouthpiece with finger cymbals.

27:00 - Began playing the soprano saxophone with hanging wood chimes.

29:00 – Went back to playing only the soprano saxophone with a plastic noisemaker.

31:24 - Began playing the mouthpiece only.

31:44 -  Began playing the medium plastic tube alone.

32:00 - Began playing the medium plastic tube with the flugelhorn bubble mute.

32:27 -  Began playing the soprano saxophone with the medium tube extension and plastic noisemaker.



So there it is. All laid out in plain sight. Stay tuned for more.



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