Critics can up with the arbitrary labels such as free jazz or experimental, primarily because they had no clue as to where the music was coming from or the "construction" behind it. How do you describe your sound?
M.S. - "I try to avoid labeling music beyond "good" or "the other kind" to paraphrase Duke Ellington. Using more genre labels and/or sub categories may make it easier to describe, quantify or market the music, but to me it is often inaccurate and can trigger preconceptions in the listener that keep them from hearing the music with an open mind, which is paramount, I feel. Also, on a certain level it's impossible to completely accurately describe sounds with words, as eloquently as some can be, just due to the limitations of verbal language as a form of communication. In the end you have to hear it for yourself. Describing the sounds of music isn't a concern for me, and I'm often flustered when people ask me to describe it. It's something I'd rather let the listeners, critics, writers and reviewers do."
I seem to notice either a rehash of the classics or some of the younger players playing with a more academic and less soulful or heartfelt approach i.e. no passion. Do you find yourself going through any special mental gymnastics to get ready to play and are there tenor players today that are especially influential no matter how subtle?
M.S. - "I couldn't agree more, I think there is too much of both. Especially in the last 30 years I'd say, there have been waves of musicians sounding like people who have come before them. The irony in that is that generally the people are imitating or sound like they were very unique, and probably would encourage people to find their own sound rather than imitate them.
And because of the influx of academic music programs, there's more and more of a premium of playing the "right" way, or a way that can be graded and academized, which is creating wave after wave of players who seem more preoccupied with getting all the "right" notes/rhythms than being themselves or being spontaneous/creative. I think that contributes to some music and playing that can be frankly boring.
To address your other questions, to play my music and the music of other bands/musicians I've been playing with, any mental gymnastics are done at home in the practise/rehearsal room. I think if you're thinking about those types of things or technical things while on the bandstand it'll mess you up and get in the way of being able to just communicate and express anything.
In terms of current tenor players or saxophone players in general who have influenced or inspired me, I'd have to start with Steve Coleman, who has been a huge influence not only as a saxophone player but also his ideas about music and overall conception. Getting to see him play and attending his workshops at the Jazz Gallery really opened me up while simultaneously reaffirming a lot of ideas i already had. Mark Turner is a huge influence as well, and someone I go to study with for a few semesters while at New School. Steve Lehman has been a constant inspiration and someone I've gotten to hang with and become friends with. Logan Richardson is a close friend and the first person I met and played with upon moving to NYC. He's also been a big influence and someone I've bounced a lot of ideas with back and forth over the years. Loren Stillman and Jeremy Viner are also guys I've drawn a lot of inspiration from. And Ben Wendel has not only been someone who's inspiring, but has been a great teacher and friend to me since I was 15."