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Chris Potter (born January 1, 1971) is an American jazz saxophonist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His main instrument is tenor sax, but he also plays alto sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, flutes and piano.
Potter came to prominence as a sideman with trumpeter Red Rodney, before stints with drummer Paul Motian, bassist Dave Holland, trumpeter Dave Douglas and others. He recorded his debut album in 1993 and according to critic Steve Huey, "quietly became one of the more sophisticated and respected stylists of the '90s and early 2000s."
Chris Potter was born in Chicago, Illinois, but his family soon moved to Columbia, South Carolina, where he spent his formative years. Potter showed an early interest in a wide variety of different music and easily learned several instruments including the guitar and piano. He quickly realized after hearing Paul Desmond that the saxophone would be the vehicle that would best allow him to express himself musically.
He played his first professional jazz gig on alto sax at age thirteen after mastering the complex musical language of Charlie Parker. He developed a devoted local following while performing with the Columbia jazz musicians Johnny Helms and Terry Rosen, as well as with others in the jazz community.
After leaving Columbia upon his graduation from Dreher High School, Potter attended college in New York City, first at the New School, and later at the Manhattan School of Music. Upon his arrival in New York he began performing with Red Rodney and gained a reputation as a rising new star of the saxophone.
Potter has released over 15 albums as a leader and performed as a sideman on more than 150 CDs with many leading musicians including Red Rodney, Pat Metheny, Marian McPartland, Patricia Barber, Kenny Werner, the Mingus Big Band, Paul Motian, Ray Brown, Jim Hall, James Moody, Dave Douglas, Joe Lovano, Wayne Krantz, Mike Mainieri, Steve Swallow, Steely Dan, Dave Holland, Joanne Brackeen, Adam Rogers and many more.
His 1998 CD Vertigo was named one of the year's top ten jazz CDs by both Jazziz magazine and The New York Times. The album was inspired by a bout with Ménière's disease that caused severe dizziness and damaged his hearing in one ear. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for his work on the Joanne Brackeen recording Pink Elephant Magic. His 2004 CD Lift: Live At The Village Vanguard was named one of the year's ten best new jazz recordings by Fred Kaplan of Slate. His 2006 release, Underground, on which he records with an electric, more "groove"-based ensemble featuring Craig Taborn on keyboard; Wayne Krantz or Adam Rogers on guitar; and Nate Smith on drums, was followed closely by the 2007 release Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard, featuring Adam Rogers on all six of its tracks. Another Underground group recording was released in 2009, Ultrahang.
Potter has appeared many times in the Down Beat Critic's and Reader's Polls, and received the top prize as 'Rising Star' for 'Best Tenor Saxophonist' in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. He was recently honored as Tenor Saxophonist of the Year 2013 by the Jazz Journalists Association.
In the December, 2014 issue of Down Beat, which featured the results of the annual readers poll, Potter was named the number one tenor saxophonist in the world.
"Chris was in my composition class at the New School [for Jazz and Contemporary Music, NYC] for about a year. When he called me for a private lesson, I had no idea how he played. We started with a bebop tune; but he went further out on the second thing we played, and on the third tune he was playing in the language of my contemporaries, guys who grew up following all of Miles' bands and aspiring to the kind of spiritual strivings that defined Coltrane's music. By the fourth tune, I wanted to take a lesson from Chris."
"He has a real special maturity all his own. He plays with a lot of trust and he really explores his dynamics within the music. He has beautiful rhythm and flowing ideas. [...] He's real versatile and he has a strong presence in his tone and articulation and he can fit in a lot of settings because he's very free rhythmically on his horn. That's why you hear him with everyone from Steely Dan to Pat Metheny. He is definitely a disciple of Michael Brecker in a certain way, and he's gone in a direction that has led to those gigs."
"Potter is growing into one of the major saxophonists of today. [He is an] astonishingly confident and full-bodied player and shows prowess on any of his chosen horns, each of which he plays in a muscular post-bop manner that are full of surprising twists..."
"A tenorist who can remind you of Joe Henderson at his craftiest, Potter employs his considerable technique in the service of the music rather than spectacle."
Presenting Chris Potter (1994, Criss Cross Jazz) with John Swana, Kevin Hays, Christian McBride, & Lewis Nash
Concentric Circles (1994, Concord)
Sundiata (1995, Criss Cross) with Kevin Hays, Doug Weiss, & Al Foster
Pure (1995, Concord)
Moving In (1996, Concord) with Brad Mehldau, Larry Grenadier, & Billy Hart
Unspoken (1997, Concord) with John Scofield, Dave Holland, & Jack DeJohnette
Vertigo (1998, Concord) with Kurt Rosenwinkel, Scott Colley, & Billy Drummond
Gratitude (2001, Verve) with Kevin Hays, Scott Colley, & Brian Blade
Traveling Mercies (2002, Verve) with John Scofield, Adam Rogers, Kevin Hays, Scott Colley, & Bill Stewart
Lift: Live at the Village Vanguard (2004, Sunnyside) with Kevin Hays, Scott Colley & Bill Stewart
Underground (2006, Sunnyside) with Adam Rogers, Craig Taborn, Wayne Krantz, & Nate Smith
Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (2007, Sunnyside) with Adam Rogers, Craig Taborn, & Nate Smith
Chris Potter 10: Song for Anyone" (2007)
Ultrahang (2009, ArtistShare) with Adam Rogers, Craig Taborn, & Nate Smith
This Will Be (2001, Storyville)
Transatlantic (2011, Red Dot Music) with The DR Big Band
The Sirens (2013, ECM)
Imaginary Cities (2015, ECM)
With Dave Douglas
1998 - Magic Triangle (Arabesque)
2000 - Leap of Faith (Arabesque)
2002 - The Infinite (RCA)
2003 - Strange Liberation (Bluebird)
With Dave Holland
2000 - Prime Directive - ECM
2001 - Not for Nothin' - ECM
2002 - What Goes Around - ECM
2003 - Extended Play: Live at Birdland - ECM
2005 - Overtime - Dare2
2006 - Critical Mass - Dare2
2007 - Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival - Monterey Jazz Festival Records
2010 - Pathways - Dare2
2011 - Archive Series Volume I - Dare2
With Paul Motian
1994 - Reincarnation of a Love Bird - JMT
1996 - Flight of the Blue Jay - Winter & Winter
1997 - Trio 2000 + One - Winter & Winter
1998 - Play Monk and Powell - Winter & Winter
2005 - On Broadway Vol. 4 or The Paradox of Continuity - Winter & Winter
2006 - Live at the Village Vanguard - Winter & Winter
2006 - Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. II - Winter & Winter
2006 - Live at the Village Vanguard Vol. III - Winter & Winter
2010 - Lost in a Dream with Jason Moran - ECM
With Red Rodney
1992 - "Then And Now" - Chesky
With Urbie Green
1997 - "Sea Jam Blues" - Chiaroscuro
With Antonio Faraò
2000 - Thorn (Enja)
With Billy Hart
1997 - Oceans of Time (Arabesque)
With Pat Metheny
2012 - Unity Band - Nonesuch
2014 - KIN (←→), a 2014 album by Pat Metheny Unity Group - Nonesuch
With Mike Stern
2012 - All Over The Place - Heads Up International
With Burak Bedikyan
2013 - " Circle of Life " SteepleChase/Lookout
With Steve Swallow
1997 - Deconstructed' - ECM/XtraWATT w/ Adam Nussbaum, Ryan Kisor, Mick Goodrick
2003 - Damaged In Transit - ECM/XtraWATT w/ Adam Nussbaum
Biography from the Sunnyside Records website
Chris Potter Leader Discography
Chris Potter Sideman Discography
"Twelve Essential Chris Potter Performances" by Jacob Teichroew, (Jazz.com).
The Official Chris Potter Transcription Book, Chris Potter Plays Acapella Solo Standards