Bucket of Blood

By Steve Potts with Michel Edelin
Lenka Lente (in French)

Best known for his quarter century as the second reed voice in soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy’s bands, American saxophonist Steve Potts had notable musical experiences before and after his stint with Lacy. Episodic and somewhat poetic this slim volume puts into perspective the career of the Columbus, Ohio soprano and alto player who has made his career in France since 1970.

Written in numerous short chapters framed by the frequent gigs Potts played at the legendary Rue de Rosiers Jazz club 7 Lézards, the narrative is more lyrical than linear, strung together like tales players would tell on and off the bandstand. Likely helped by the poetic sensibility of collaborator Michel Edelin, who is a French scholar as well as a first-class Jazz flutist, Bucket of Blood ranges through Potts’ lifetime experience and decision to expatriate to a country where his music could be appreciated with less of the racism and hustling that was endemic in the American Jazz scene, Related on his father’s side to the classic Swing tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate, who influenced Potts to start playing reeds, his appreciation of traditional sounds has means that Potts is comfortable working in mainstream situations with the likes of prototypical R&B honker Hal Singer as well as probing exploratory sounds with Lacy and others.

Initially based in New York, Potts came into contact with many of the major players of the late 1960s from Wayne Shorter to Sonny Rollins. Mentored by saxophonist Charles Lloyd he was soon able to establish himself stateside and recorded with, among others, drummer Chico Hamilton. In France his residency allowed him to observe first-hand the development of avant-garde saxophonist/composers like Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill, who resided in France for greater or lesser periods. At the same time his lengthy stint with Lacy, outlasting many of the band’s drums-and-bass teams, was ideal because it provided him with steady work throughout the world as well as the freedom to pursue his own projects. Musical freedom was also paramount. Not only did the Lacy group work out associations with dancers, theatre people and non-Jazz musicians, but he got to play Lacy’s compositions which were sophisticated and well-constructed, and also allowed him to solo in his own way. Potts would frequently perform a capella duets with Lacy, sometimes simultaneously playing both his horns as he first observed in the work of George Braith and Rahsaan Roland Kirk stateside.

Potts maintains that Jazz flourishes best in intimate nightclub settings and that’s why over the years he has guested with a variety of groups playing different styles from Swing to African to pseudo-Rock and has continued to lead his own bands, featuring a couple of generations of French Jazzers. He also constantly welcomed sitters-in. Despite his accomplishments and adventures, Potts is so self-aggrandizer like Miles Davis. But he has no doubt of his worth as a Jazz innovator. Asked once after a festival set if he has played with Wynton Marsalis, he replied “No it was him who played with me.”

If this volume has a drawback it’s that while it rightly lists most of the musicians who gigged with Potts at 7 Lézards, it has no discography listing his leadership sessions. Although it’s no definitive tome, the book imaginatively offers up tales of the life of an improviser who has achieved some success and acclaim, yet his struggles and experience parallel those of many non-superstar players.

—Ken Waxman