I can hear Chris Potter’s sound even before he starts to improvise.” These are the words of Ravi Coltrane, Potter’s fellow saxophonist and contemporary, in a November 2005 Blindfold Test for Downbeat. The track Coltrane heard was “Sintra,” from David Binney’s 2004 release Welcome to Life (Mythology). Potter states the initial melody in a calm yet resolute tenor voice–nothing fancy, just 10 or so legato notes, but enough for Coltrane to identify him. This is perhaps the ultimate compliment for a saxophonist, who invests his very breath in the instrument and strives for a personal tone above all else.
Potter’s tone has served him well. He is a figure of international renown by age 35. He’s the youngest musician ever to win Denmark’s JAZZPAR Prize. His discography, from a creative if not a commercial standpoint, is pure platinum: over a dozen albums as a leader and counting, plus sideman credits with Dave Holland, Dave Douglas, Steve Swallow, Paul Motian and many others. In David Liebman’s estimation he’s “one of the best musicians around.” Motian calls him “one of my favorite saxophone players.” Holland calls him “a great craftsman on the instrument.” Swallow calls him “a complete musician.” Others just call him.