Regarded as one of the best tenorists of his generation, Chris Potter played his first professional Jazz gig on alto sax at the age of thirteen after mastering the complex musical language of Charlie Parker. Since then he has recorded 15 albums as a leader and performed as sideman on over 150 different albums. Chris has a huge following in the Jazz community and will be a welcome addition to a fantastic JZ Festival line-up this year.
What's your favorite jazz festival around the world to play at and why?
It's hard to say, some of the big festivals like Northsea, Umbria and Montreal are fun because a lot of my musician friends are there. Often it's a rare chance to see friends since everyone is on the road so much of the time. Which one is my favorite, I can't really say; it depends on the music and the feeling from the audience on that particular night more than the location.
What do you enjoy most about playing festivals and what are some particular challenges of playing big outdoor festivals compared to playing in clubs? Which do you prefer?
Playing big outdoor concerts is always a challenge, because you have to try and focus the audience's energy over a large space with a lot of distractions. At the same time, it's fun when it's a nice night and everyone is having a good time. It's a lot easier to play in clubs, it's much more intimate.
What will you be performing with the JZ Big Band? Your own compositions? How much time are you going to have to prepare with them?
I'll be doing a few of my own compositions, and some arrangements of Wayne Shorter's compositions that the band has prepared. We'll have a little bit of rehearsal time together, I'm hoping it will come together pretty quickly!
Who are you excited about seeing at the JZ Festival this year?
I don't know how much time I'll have to check out the other concerts, I see Ron Carter's playing, he's a real master of the bass, I hope I have a chance to see him.
How long were you in Shanghai for last year? What was your impression of the city and the jazz scene here?
I really enjoyed having a chance to see the city a little last year. I enjoy walking so I went on a good 8 hour walk to see some of the city's neighborhoods and markets. It's a very intense place! I didn't have a chance to get to know that much about the jazz scene there, although we did go hang out at the Peace Hotel and heard a really good young group playing there.
Do you ever hear about the Shanghai jazz scene in the States?
China is still a bit of an unknown frontier to a lot of us musicians in New York, a lot of people were asking me questions about it when I came back.
The bass clarinet is such an awesome instrument, why don't we hear it more often?
Maybe because it's so hard to play!
Do you think being in China inspire you to bring out the Chinese flute again like on Gratitude?
That's a good idea, maybe I'll bring it. I'll have to figure out a way to use it...
You're described on your site as one of 'the most studied' sax players – how does it feel to know that there are musicians out there going through books of your transcriptions?
I always feel like telling students to make sure and check out all the great players who came before me if they want to understand what I'm doing. Of course it's very gratifying to know that someone might be getting something valuable from my music, and it also makes me feel a certain sense of responsibility to keep putting out good notes!
What can you tell us about your upcoming album that you've described as a 'jazz odyssey'?
It’s funny how it happened, I reread Homer's Odyssey for the first time since high school, then I quickly wrote a bunch of musical sketches based on the book, and that's what we ended up recording. It's coming out on ECM in February I believe.
Looking at Unity Band, it seems that this is the first Pat Metheny album featuring a tenor player in 30 years - What does he have against tenor players?
I don't know! He's always been nice to me...
Chris will be playing with the JZ Big Band at the East Theater stage of the JZ Festival at 9 o'clock on Sunday, and on Thursday as part of the Master's Hall series at the Shanghai Center Theater
WORDS: PETE J / CHRIS POTTER
PICTURES: CHRIS POTTER