Playing the learning curve

49-year-old American jazz saxophonist Chris Potter comes over here, to join Israeli counterpart Eli Degibri for a bunch of shows at Tel Aviv’s Shablul jazz venue.

CHRIS POTTER (left) and Eli Degibri.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
CHRIS POTTER (left) and Eli Degibri.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Chris Potter is no stranger to these shores, although it’s been a while.
“It’s probably 10 years or more since I played in Israel,” he says. “But I’ve been there a few times.”
I can vouch for that, having attended several of his gigs here over the years, all of which provided musical and inventive value for money, and packed in the audiences. And that is clearly going to be the case when the 49-year-old American jazz saxophonist comes over here, to join Israeli counterpart Eli Degibri for a bunch of shows at Tel Aviv’s Shablul jazz venue. The two were due to play four shows, two each on January 23 and 24, but with all four rapidly selling out, an additional slot has been arranged for January 25.
Potter is, naturally, excited about the forthcoming Shablul run, but is equally moved at the prospect of passing on some of his accrued knowledge and experience to students of Hebrew University’s Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance (JAMD) – Degibri runs the Jazz Department – while he’s here.
“It’s always good to make contact with some students, and see what they’re up to,” he says.
But it’s not just a matter of curiosity. Potter feels there is a continuum to be preserved, too.
“I guess you get to a certain age, and certain stage in your career, when you start thinking that it is important to think what’s going to come after you, and to kind of keep it going.”
Potter has certainly been keeping it going for a few years now. He first fell in love with the sound of the saxophone at the age of 10, after hearing Paul Desmond, who is best known as a member of pianist Dave Brubeck’s quartet and for composing “Take Five,” the group’s biggest-selling number. The youngster quickly hit his stride and landed his first gig at the tender age of 13. By the time he was 19, he was appearing at New York’s fabled Village Vanguard jazz club, when he played alongside iconic trumpeter Red Rodney. Last week, 30 years on, he had a run at the very same location, at the front of his own band.
Joining forces with Rodney gave Potter almost a direct link with one of the founding fathers of modern jazz.
“That was great,” Potter recalls. “That was a chance to play some Charlie Parker tunes with the guy who was on the record.” Rodney played on three Parker discs, recorded in 1949 and 1950. “That did feel like a very direct connection with that time.” 
The Rodney slot brought the teenager into contact with some of Jazz’s royalty.
“This week, at the Vanguard, I was remembering the very first time I played at the Vanguard, with Red. The first night of the week they were giving him some kind of award. All kinds of people came down, and in the front row, right in front of me, were [iconic saxophonist-flutist] James Moody and [legendary trumpeter and band leader] Dizzy Gillespie.”
All these years later, Potter is now, himself, one of the veterans of the global jazz scene with over 20 releases to his name, and many more sidemen recording berths with the likes of bassists Dave Holland and Steve Swallow, drummer Paul Motian,  the aforementioned Moody, guitarist Pat Metheny and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. All are full members of the jazz pantheon and all had a telling impact on Potter’s creative evolution.
“I have been so lucky to have worked with many of my heroes,” Potter notes. “People like Moody, Dave Holland, Paul Motian and Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner. That made a huge difference to my personal and musical outlook. That’s something I am very grateful for.”
It’s not just those beneficial confluences that have informed and enriched Potter’s artistic growth. He says his life experiences also come into play when he puts it out on the stage, or puts pen to paper.
“I think it is just a function of the fact that I am interested in music, and in hearing things I haven’t heard, and trying to figure out how it works – listening to different kinds of music. I check out whether there are aspects of music from other cultures that I can use in my own music, too. And there are the people I come across, too. I think it is a big factor in any kind of art, and certainly in jazz, where all the people that are my friends, my peers and people I work with are all excited to share the things they are listening to, and want to talk about it.”
Potter, presumably, will want to talk about it at Shablul and the JAMD later this month, and we will want to listen.
For tickets and more information: and (03) 546-1891.