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Chris Potter: The Potter Principle

Chris Potter
Chris Potter
Chris Potter

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.

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Originally Published

David R. Adler

David R. Adler writes about jazz and assorted topics. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, NPR Music,, The Philadelphia InquirerThe Village Voice, DownBeat, Time Out New York, and many other publications. From 2010-2017 he taught jazz history at the Aaron Copland School of Music (Queens College-CUNY). In summer 2017, after 30 years in New York (apart from two in Philadelphia), David relocated with his family to Athens, Georgia. There he continues to write about music and perform solo as a guitarist/vocalist.