Shying Away from Comfort Zones with Adam Kolker

Adam KolkerOver the course of his storied career as a sideman, Adam Kolker has worked with the likes of The Village Vanguard Orchestra, the Maria Schneider Big Band, Bruce Barth, Judi Silvano, Kenny Wheeler’s Large Ensemble, Ben Sher, Bobby Previte, Gunther Schuller, and others.

On the solo front, his latest album, Reflections has the Grammy-nominated sax and woodwind stalwart avoiding safe ground and instead steering the project towards his gifts as a visionary improviser, composer, and arranger. Joining him on this album are heavy hitters, John Abercrombie,  Billy Mintz, and Judy Silvano, not to mention a host of other gifted and ubiquitous musicians. His four other solo albums feature names like Billy Hart, Ray Barretto, Paul Motian, and John Hébert.

The Interview

Doron Orenstein: What was it that inspired you to make music your life?

Adam Kolker: Can’t really identify one specific moment or thought that inspired me to “make music my life.” It’s been a continuous stream of inspirations, from early friends and teachers, particularly Joe Allard and Dave Liebman, and listening to so many great players and great music.

DO: What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?

AK: Been practicing a lot of different things lately: trying to get more comfortable on bass clarinet, solo playing, piano, and trying to spend time composing.

DO: What have you been listening to lately?

AK: I must admit, I haven’t been doing a lot of concentrated listening lately; these days I find myself listening to a little of everything, mostly classical music.

DO: What would you say is the skill or attribute that’s helped you the most as a musician?

AK: I’ve always been a good reader, though I don’t know whether that’s helped or hurt. Other than that, I like to think that my trying to always listen to what’s around me and be in the moment helps (me, at least).

DO: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve been given over the course of your playing career?

AK: Listen.

DO: What’s the next musical frontier for Adam Kolker?

AK: I’m trying to compose more – trying to translate my abilities as an improviser into composition and write more “through-composed” music.

DO: For those new to your music, which recording would you suggest they pick up?

AK: Maybe my most recent, Reflections, on Sunnyside. Feels the most natural to me. I also like Crazybird and Change Of Time, which was a recording of improvisations based on Bartok’s Mikrokosmos.

DO: What’s your saxophone equipment setup?


  • Tenor: Mark VI (83,xxx) with a refaced master link, VanDoren blue box 3
  • Soprano: Mark VI, selmer super session J, VD BB 3
  • Bass Clarinet: Selmer Series 9, VD B46, VD BB 31/2

To learn more about Adam, make sure to check out his website at .

Photo by Carmen Llussa