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Chris Potter (jazz saxophonist)

Chris Potter (jazz saxophonist)

American musician
The basics
Occupations Composer Clarinetist Jazz musician Saxophonist
Countries United States of America
Gender male
Birth January 1, 1971 (Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, U.S.A.)
Education Manhattan School of Music
Authority Discogs id ISNI id Library of congress id Musicbrainz id VIAF id
The details

Chris Potter (born January 1, 1971) is an American jazz saxophonist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His main instrument is tenor sax, but he also performs on soprano and alto saxes, bass clarinet, flutes, guitar, 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."

— Kenny Wheeler, Canadian composer, trumpet- and flugelhorn player

"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."

— Joe Lovano, Jazz saxophonist, on Potter's album The Sirens

"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..."

— Richard Cook, Brian Morton, Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.

“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.”

— The New Yorker


As leader

  • Presenting Chris Potter (1994, Criss Cross) 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
  • This Will Be (2001, Storyville) Jazzpar Prize concert
  • 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
  • Transatlantic (2011, Red Dot) with the DR Big Band
  • The Sirens (2013 ECM)
  • Imaginary Cities (2015, ECM)
  • The Dreamer is the Dream (2017, ECM)

As sideman

With Joey Alexander

  • 2016 Countdown (Motema Music)

With Burak Bedikyan

  • 2013 Circle of Life (SteepleChase/Lookout)

With Joanne Brackeen

  • 1998 Pink Elephant Magic (Arkadia Jazz)

With Dave Douglas

  • 1998 Magic Triangle (Arabesque)
  • 2000 Leap of Faith (Arabesque)
  • 2002 The Infinite (RCA)
  • 2003 Strange Liberation (Bluebird)

With Antonio Faraò

  • 2000 Thorn (Enja)

With Fleurine

  • 2008 San Francisco (Storyville)

With Urbie Green

  • 1997 Sea Jam Blues (Chiaroscuro)

With Billy Hart

  • 1997 Oceans of Time (Arabesque)

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)
  • 2010 Pathways (Dare2)
  • 2011 Archive Series Volume I (Dare2)
  • 2016 Aziza (Dare2)

With Joe Martin

  • 2009 Not by Chance (Anzic Records, 2009)

With Pat Metheny

  • 2012 Unity Band (Nonesuch)
  • 2014 KIN (←→), by Pat Metheny Unity Group (Nonesuch)
  • 2016 The Unity Sessions (Nonesuch)

With Mingus Big Band

  • 1993 Nostalgia in Times Square (Disques Dreyfus)
  • 1995 Gunslinging Birds (Disques Dreyfus)
  • 1997 ¡Que Viva Mingus! (Disques Dreyfus)

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 Ben Patterson Jazz Orchestra

  • 2016 Vital Frequencies (Bonecat)

With Red Rodney

  • 1992 Then and Now (Chesky)

With Mike Stern

  • 2012 All Over the Place (Heads Up)

With Steve Swallow

  • 1996 Deconstructed (Xtra Watt)
  • 1999 Always Pack Your Uniform on Top (Xtra Watt)
  • 2001 Damaged in Transit (Xtra Watt)

With Scott Tixier

  • 2016 Cosmic Adventure (Sunnyside)
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