Monday, November 24, 2014

Building Your Saxophone Library

When you begin playing the saxophone, or even if you've played it for a while, it's only natural that you begin looking at and for all the books, articles and other information you can find about it.  Before I ever picked up the saxophone, I remember that my father had more saxophone books and sheet music than I would know what to do with. He had them all tied up in bundles and stored in his "junk" closet.  After I started learning the saxophone, I remember asking my father if I could pull out those bundles and look through them and see what he had.  He agreed as long as I tied them back up and put them back.  He had quite the collection of books and sheets, and I know he wanted them on a shelf for easy reference, but I also remember my mom not allowing that because to her, it looked messy, and my mother always wanted everything in the house to look neat and nicely arranged, and granted, a lot of those books and sheets looked very well worn and would have looked a bit messy and droopy on a shelf.  He had everything from method books to jazz and classical etude books, lots of interesting stuff that I would imagine is out of print, like a whole set of German saxophone studies with excellent material for polishing tone and technique. He had big band charts, and even a stack of his own hand-written arrangements. He had books and sheets of most of the standards that every sax player should know.  After my father passed away, my mom inadvertently threw them away, which I was very unhappy about. 

However, living in New York City, I had access not just to music libraries, but also to a variety of music stores, some of them dedicated to just selling books and sheet music.  For me, going into any of these shops was like when I went into any library or book store.  I would spend hours and hours looking through everything and never leave without at least one book or piece of sheet music in my hands.  At one point, I accumulated quite a number of books and sheets myself, but then as I started traveling and living in different cities and different countries, it wasn't possible to keep them all, and so I gave them away to other musician friends, just keeping a couple of books which could easily be kept in my case.  

These days it is easy to find all kinds of information on the internet, like this blog, but there is still something about a real book that cannot be replaced.  A book is easy to carry and can be taken anywhere, doesn't need to be plugged in or online.  Also just the feeling of holding it in your hands gives it a special quality that makes you feel that you are literally holding the keys to knowledge.  However, there are aspects of modern technology that are quite helpful, like when you combine a book with a CD or DVD, and can play along or see how something is done, hear how it is played, and then refer back to the book again.  This is especially helpful if you live in a place where access to a teacher is difficult or non-existent.  

Building your own saxophone library is really a personal thing, and it can be a fun endeavor and an adventure, discovering a whole world of information and knowledge, as well as a variety of approaches to the instrument.  The library you build doesn't need to be big, just have the books and material that you need and are interested in the most.  I will show you the books that are currently in my library, and I'll explain why. Some of these books I consider essential, some pertain strictly to the alto sax because that is what I play, and others that are more generalized and suit any saxophone or any other instrument.  Basically, choose the books that you find helpful or you can relate to.  For example, if you're a tenor player, you would naturally get books related specifically to that.  While I listen to all saxophone players, as well as players of every other musical instrument, the books of transcripts that I like to study for instance are all of alto players.  Anyway, here are the books I have in my library, and you may find something here that you could use, but also look at all the other books out there and decide what is interesting to you.  I will provide links at the bottom of the page for saxophone books and sheet music.

Method Books

I have only two saxophone method books in my collection, because between these two, there is everything for the beginner to learn, and then some.  The Universal Saxophone Method is really the Bible of saxophone books.  Although originally published in 1905, this is still the most comprehensive method book ever printed.  All of the beginning exercises are designed to bring you up slowly but very surely in developing good tone and technique. It begins with the rudiments of music and systematically gets you started, laying out the basics in a way so that you develop a good command of the sax fairly early.  The book is 320 pages, but after page 62, you are given far more advanced exercises and songs that by themselves constitute a whole field of study.  If you can get through this book alone, you will have achieved a very high level of playing.  I have used the Jimmy Dorsey Saxophone Method as a companion to the Universal Method because since it is geared to jazz and big band, it contains information and exercises useful for that style of music. There is an excellent section on improvising and learning chord sequences that help you develop improvisational skills. The end of the book has some tunes that Jimmy Dorsey played, but two in particular, Beebe and Oodles Of Noodles are pieces that require a high degree of speed and agility to play.  I found that just these two books together contain a treasure trove of material to make any saxophone player achieve not only a high level of playing, but also a good deal of versatility.

Saxophone Reference Guides

These are books that provide generalized information about the saxophone, like how to select one, saxophone accessories, saxophone care, etc.  Some of the books contain some basic exercises as well, but not enough to be considered like a method book.  

The Art Of Saxophone Playing by Larry Teale, who was a well-known teacher is considered a type of classic in the field.  It presents a rather technical approach to saxophone tone production and technique, plus a few exercises.  It does have an excellent fingering and altissimo fingering chart as well.  The other two books pictured here contain the usual tips and information on the sax, as well as sections on maintenance and repair that provide tips on how to do minor adjustments and what tools are good to always have with you.  

Exercise Books

These books cover a wide range of exercises designed to facilitate various aspects and levels of saxophone tone, technique and general knowledge. I tend to jump from one book to another to study different things and keep my practice interesting. These are books I don't practice from cover to cover, but rather grab one and open it randomly and play whatever, and so on. 

Sigurd Rascher was a famous saxophone teacher, and his book Top Tones for the Saxophone was the first book to really deal with overtones and the altissimo register.  158 Saxophone Exercises is just that. The exercises are written atonaly and have no explanation as to how to play them. This actually allows you to play any exercise in a wide variety of ways. 
These books by famed Berklee School instructor Joseph Viola are among my favorites. They contain a wealth of exercises designed to facilitate a wide variety of saxophone techniques. I feel these are a must in any sax library.

25 Daily Exercises For Saxophone by H. Klose is a classic in its field, but if you have the Universal Method then you will find much of what is here in there. Saxophone Altissimo is a very comprehensive guide to that field of study, and goes into more detail than any other book on the subject. It contains excellent fingering charts, as well as alternate fingerings for each type of saxophone that may work better on your particular horn than on another for example.  The Jerry Bergonzi book helps you take the play chord sequences by thinking of them as numbers, not notes, in that there are three to four notes per chord, and there are 24 permutations for each chord, so that if you play one chord, for example, then, and so on until you have played all 24 permutations, you will be able to develop an automatic reflex to playing those chords in different ways.  Famed Jazz Tenor saxophonist, Oboist and teacher Yusef Lateef's Repository Of Scales and Melodic Patterns is already a modern classic in its field. It is exactly as the title suggests.  Selected Studies was by H. Voxman who also was the author of the Rubank Saxophone methods which many beginning students and schools still use today. This book was written as a supplement to those books.  Amazing Phrasing comes with a CD so you can play along with all of the examples. Nothing really new here, but still very useful.

Jazz Transcriptions

Transcriptions are taken note for note from a recording of a particular player and put in print, making it an excellent source of study. The recordings the transcripts are taken from are referenced so you can find the recording and then hear it as you read along on the page, then play it yourself.  It is also, I found, another way to improve your sight reading as well as hearing different approaches to improvisation.

As you can see that since I play the alto, the transcription books I have are from my favorite alto players.  It goes without saying that the Charlie Parker Omnibook is the most popular of all transcription books, and is available for all instruments, not just the alto sax or Eb instruments.   


 Want to hone your chops with a real rhythm section but don't yet have the confidence to go to a live jam session? Or do you just want to lay back and chill and play some tunes with a band without the pressure of an audience or even the band itself?  Play-A-Long books can be used by players of any instrument.  Find the section that is pitched to your instrument, find the track, and then just play along.  A great way to develop improvisational skills too.  I have taken play-a-long tracks with me with a boom box when I would go busking in the park, and have a band behind me as I played for my supper. The most popular Play-A-Longs are the Jamey Aeborsold series, because they are not just to play along, they contain lesson points, are great learning tools.  

I also enjoy the Hal Leonard Play-A-Long books because they have a wide variety of musical styles and artists from which to choose, from Dixieland to modern music, including pop and rock.  It's always good to try and play in other styles, especially if you're a gigging musician. 

This represents my current library, and only a small portion of what I once had.  Provided below are links to sources for books and other media with which to build a saxophone library of your own.  Have fun with it, and there is always something useful in almost every book.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

It's Never Too Late To Play The Saxophone

Every day I encounter adults who express their interest in wanting to learn a musical instrument, or say how they wish they started learning an instrument when they were young.  There is a good reason to do so at any age even if you never intend to any more with it than just lay back and play a few tunes for relaxation.  Scientific studies have shown how learning to play a musical instrument makes you smarter, and when you're playing an instrument, your brain is going off like a fireworks display, more synapses in the brain are being created and connecting like a complex set of wires.

All too often, when I mention to people that I meet that I play the saxophone, many of them respond like "oh I love the saxophone, I wish I could play it", and my response always is, "well, if you really want to, then do it!"   The excuses run anywhere from "I don't have the talent", "I don't have the time" "I'll never be famous doing this" to "I'm too old to start learning".  Most of the players I know, myself included, "don't have the talent". What that really means is that I and the other players that I know didn't just pick up the saxophone and we had so much talent that we could just play it without all the practice involved, that we didn't have to work out the technical and other aspects of mastering the instrument. To this day, I never felt like I mastered it, so that it's always brand new to me and there's always something to discover. As for time, think about the things you do or don't do during your day when you're not at your job or business that is wasted time, like sitting in front of the TV, or just aimlessly surfing the web.  I'm not a famous player, though I learned from and know many famous players, but that hasn't stopped me from doing something that has benefited my life in more ways than just musically.  The last great excuse for adults always is "I should have started when I was younger, I'm too old to start now".  To this last one especially, I say "It's never too late! Never!!!"

I don't care what age you are, what you do for a living, or anything, if you really want to play the saxophone, or any musical instrument for that matter, then there should be nothing from stopping you.  No excuse should be a barrier to your learning something that can only impact you and your life in positive ways. Since this is a saxophone blog, I'll discuss only the saxophone, but it really applies to any musical instrument you wish to learn.  The first step is deciding to do it and then make the necessary commitment to it. Don't let the word "commitment" scare you.  Being committed to something just means that you'll be doing it with enough regularity so that you can make progress.  How much time you want to put into it is entirely up to you, but I suggest that in whatever time you devote to it, just give it 100% of what you've got, and don't measure your 100% against someone else.  Just apply yourself to it and you will see, feel and hear results.  Perhaps you are someone that once played but gave it up for whatever reasons, and have decided that you want to really get back into it. I say, welcome back!

Okay, so now you have made the decision to start learning the saxophone.  What's the first step? Well, it's getting a saxophone.  This is where the beginning student of any age really needs the guidance of a good teacher, or friend who is a player, or this blog.  Too many new players may think that because a sax looks good and is cheap enough, then it is good to learn on, one of the biggest fallacies in music. I realize that for many it may be difficult financially to lay out money for a new or used saxophone, but it's very important that you get the best saxophone you can afford.  If you don't want to make the commitment to own one, you may want to start out by renting one.  Whether you rent or buy, make sure you do so from a reputable dealer that also has a liberal return or exchange policy and a service department where the instrument can be checked and maintained in good playing order.  I have seen too many people buy an inferior instrument that had no warranty or other back up, and played so badly that the student thought it was them and not the instrument and so gave up completely.  If you buy a used one, also make sure you get it from the same reputable dealer, or if it's a private sale, take your teacher or musician friend along to look at it with you and try it out so you're sure you're not buying a piece of junk.

I am an advocate of buying the saxophone over renting one, simply because psychologically, buying the instrument gives you pride of ownership, so that you will justify the expense by actually practicing and playing it, and with a "this is mine" attitude, you'll also take better care of the instrument.  I have always found this to be true when someone has decided to learn and then buys it. By purchasing it, they have already made the commitment to spend time with it and learn to play.  You don't have to spend a fortune to get a saxophone that will play in tune and will be well-built, but it's very important that you don't go too cheap either, otherwise you'll get a saxophone that will be good only as a wall decoration or to make a lamp from. Look at my article on student and intermediate saxophones to get an idea on what is available.  If you have a music store in your area, make sure they sell quality instruments.  There are lots of small music stores that sell off brand instruments and do not have a service department.  As much as I love to support mom and pop businesses, when it comes to musical instruments, I insist you buy from an established professional music dealer with a liberal return and exchange policy and professional service department.  Any instrument, regardless of cost needs to be checked and set up properly before anyone can play it. If you are not familiar with the best brands of saxophone or the best dealers, here are some links:

Recommended brands:

The following links are for proprietary brands of saxophones that are made specially for and sold by dealers under their own brand who also happen to be expert repair techs, and while such a saxophone will not have a good resale value because it is not a famous brand, they are nevertheless well made instruments that are properly set up, play and sound good and come with all the appropriate guarantees. They are worth checking out if you are not hung up on the name and just want a quality instrument that you can play on for a long time.

It's recommended that as an adult, you either start with an alto or tenor saxophone, as they are easier to begin with.  The baritone can be an unwieldy beast if you're new to it, and the soprano's intonation is a bit tricky and difficult for developing your embouchere when you're starting out because of its smaller size.  However, if you've already had playing experience and you want to play the soprano or baritone, then by all means do so. 

Okay, so now you have your saxophone and are raring to go. The first thing to do is find suitable instruction.  It's important to find a teacher that will give you the necessary guidance and encouragement to raise the level of your playing, whatever that level may be. The best teachers will ask you about what your goals are, what kind of music you like, etc.  If you do not have a teacher available where you live, the internet is a great place to find instructional web sites.  With Skype, you can have personalized one on one lessons with an instructor no matter where you live. I personally recommend Skype lessons from my friend and former teacher Tim Price.  I've learned from him, and besides from being one of the nicest guys, he is an instructor who will guide you and create a lesson plan based on your goals and tastes in music.  There may be other guys out there, but I think Tim is among the best.  Check him out!

Okay, so now that you've decided to play the saxophone or are returning to it, I wish you the best of luck with your studies, and stick to it and never give up, but have fun with it, don't sweat it.  It's one of the best things you can do for yourself. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thank You World!

When I first started this blog, I was merely doing it as a hobby, a way to relax and write about my favorite instrument to pass time. I figured that at most, some of my friends and the odd web surfer would see it, but that would be about it. Finally, I decided last week to check the stats that are provided on the blogger dashboard and I was surprised that so many people world-wide were reading my blog. I have well over a million readers world-wide.  I also have a nice group of supporters and have gotten many positive comments from readers all over the world which pleases me to no end.  I was also surprised to find that often, as I was Googling something about saxophones, I often saw this blog come up on the first and second pages. So I guess it's time to get a little more serious and devote more time and attention to writing more and better articles and to provide more and better information.

Some of my regulars may have noticed that I have deleted a few of my older posts. The main reason was that I felt that many of my remarks were just a little too opinionated, which may be fine when discussing a subject like teachers for example, but really didn't make sense when discussing or comparing vintage and modern saxophones. Of course, I can still be opinionated about certain "brands" like the crap you see flooding eBay, but in general I decided I really needed to be more objective when discussing saxophones and saxophone equipment and accessories.  By being more objective I feel I can give my readers better and more reliable information. After all, many of my readers are novices or just hobby players, and they are looking for more reliable sources of information in order to make more informed decisions on what to buy, what to practice, what to do in general. Of course, the one place where I remain opinionated is about music itself, and sometimes some of the players, and always about self-important educators.

I had and have the privilege and pleasure of knowing and having known and being friends with and the student of many of the greatest saxophone players in the world, as well as many other instrumentalists and vocalists. I guess one of the advantages, minus the expense and hustle of living in New York City is the fact that so many great artists of all persuasions make it their home, and the greatest from everywhere else come here often to play. This has given me the opportunity to not just see these greats play, but to learn directly from them, to be able to sit down and talk with them, and by doing so, gained so much insight about them, the music and life itself.  It's been and is a pleasure to know all these fine artists, and it has been a fantastic learning experience and continues to be.

I want to thank all the readers around the world who have stopped by to read and comment and encouraged me by their kind remarks.  Knowing this, I want to improve this blog and make it a truly reliable source of information as well as try to be entertaining as well.  I am really now looking forward to creating an even better blog, and hopefully to encourage more people who are interested in the saxophone and music in general to pick up an instrument without fear and just have fun playing.  Thank you world!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Review: Chateau TYA-753ANE3 and TYA-760E3 Alto Saxophones

Recently I visited the home of my old friend who has been repairing and servicing my horns for nearly 31 years now. He had a great shop in New York City, but unfortunately, landlord greed and escalating commercial rents in New York forced him to close up shop, and now he works only out of his home and by appointment only.  He also trades, buys and sells many vintage saxophones and flutes. Occasionally, he will get slightly used new horns and sell them. He recently got hold of these two alto saxophones and said I had to try them, because he said I would be in for a pleasant surprise! He already had buyers for the horn, and so he wanted me to try them out before they left his home. Naturally, he tweaked them up, and when he fixes a horn, it will always play better, even if it's a cheap Chinese made horn with no name,  

The saxophones he had me look at are a brand named Chateau, made by the Tenon corporation in Taiwan. I believe that they also make the saxophones for the Steve Goodson models. For those of you who don't know Steve Goodson, he is a preeminent repair person based in New Orleans and sells his own line of top notch saxophones that he has designed, as well a complete line of accessories and all things related to saxophone.  I was aware of this brand for a while, but never had any opportunities to try out any of their horns because my shop didn't carry them, and I didn't know any other shop that had them, so I was looking forward to trying them. I always like to be on the lookout for professional grade horns that sell at intermediate prices. There are some great ones out there, but there are also those horns that have the look of a pro horn with all the embellishments, but still sound like student grade horns and are not very well made. It's always a joy to find a well-built professional grade saxophone that is moderately priced and plays and sounds as good or better as any saxophone double the price and with a prestigious name.

The two models he had were the Chateau TYA-753ANE3 with a vintage copper finish, and the TYA-760E3 which is solid nickel, both pictured above. I will review each one separately, but I will say right off the bat that just by the looks of them, they were stunning to see. Beautiful engraving all over, giving them a very classy look. Both saxophones were solidly built, sturdy and slick keywork, which of course was tweaked by my friend, but he said that he didn't have to do much tweaking, just a few adjustments here and there. I could not find a single little defect in the way the keys and posts were soldered to the body, and the finishes were clean and even throughout the vintage copper horn, the other being solid nickel, but even there, it was a satin finish and was perfect. Both saxophones have rolled tone holes like my old Conn and on various horns from P. Mauriat and some other new manufacturers. Rolled tone holes, as far as I'm concerned, seal the pads better and also allow the pads to have a longer life, because with rounded edges, they do not cut into the leather the way straight tone holes do. Also, these are tone holes rolled from the existing metal, not soldered on tone hole rings, which if not put on correctly can be warped or uneven and cause leaks in the horn. The only way to fix that is to remove the ring and put it back on, and that can be costly. They both had double arms for the Bb, B and low C keys, to keep these keys in better adjustment. They also have a G# stabilizer to keep the left pinky cluster in better adjustment. It did not look like any shortcuts were made to produce this horn. I was impressed with the looks and feel, now to get down to the meat and potatoes, which is the sound and playability!

 This saxophone is made with 93% copper content. Every horn I have ever played with a high copper content has always sounded richer, fuller and warmer than saxophones made from other materials. This horn was no exception. This was a joy to play. I prefer a darker, lusher tone on my altos, especially because I am especially fond of playing slow blues and ballads, and whenever I try out a horn, the first thing I always do is play these kinds of tunes because it gives me an immediate impression of its tonal and tone shaping capabilities. I used my usual setup, which is a Meyer 6M mouthpiece with Rovner dark ligature and LaVoz medium reed and also a Legere Signature 2 1/2 synthetic reed. I was completely blown away by the sound. Rich and lush, the kind of horn I can sink my musical teeth into. Even with my Legere synthetic reed, it maintained a full, rich tone. The key action was slick and sure. Of course my friend's adjustments helped, but like I pointed out earlier, he said he didn't have to do much with either of these horns. The action was fast and precise, and even when playing fast passages, the scale remain balanced and even throughout. Altissimo was a snap, without sounding ear splittingly shrill!  I can say without hesitation that this horn was as good as the best horns I've ever played. Projection was great, dynamic and tonal range impressive. This is a saxophone that can play many genres, although I think it's best suited for classical and jazz, but with a different setup, will probably be capable of playing pop and rock also. I can tell you that it is a great ballad horn. With precise key action and that full lush sound, I could make this horn sing, and sing it does. It is a horn that plays every bit as good as it looks, and it really does have a great look. This is a horn I could easily make my primary horn if I owned it. It has everything I look for in a saxophone. 

This saxophone was identical to the TYA-753ANE3 in style and layout, but with a solid nickel body with gold lacquered keys and abalone pearls, which added to the beauty of this horn. It had all the attributes of the other sax, but with the solid nickel bell, body and neck, had a brighter tone, yet it was still full without the shrill edges. This is a horn that may be better suited for jazz, fusion, rock and pop, but can still handle whatever else you want to do with it. The satin finish was flawless, the key action was solid, a beautiful looking, feeling and sounding instrument. Another saxophone that has a classy stage presence.  

I believe these horns are going for around $2300 or so brand new, with used ones going for around $1600 or so. If these two saxophones are any indication, these are excellent saxophones at any price and will compete with anything out there. I was totally impressed with both saxophones. Chateau has other saxophones with other finishes as well, like a dark lacquer model similar to these horns. All of their horns, regardless of finish have a high copper content. These models are 93%, and their standard models 85% copper content. By the looks, feel and sound, they did not skimp on quality of materials and workmanship. I am now eager to get my hands on their other models and see what surprises I am in store for. I highly recommend these horns to any student or pro looking for a quality, high grade saxophone that is also priced at an intermediate level. I kid you not when I say that these saxophones were as good as anything I've ever played. 

For more information, click on the following links

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Been A Long Time, But I'm Back

Dear Friends and Followers,

I've been away for some time because a lot of things in my personal life just overwhelmed me for a while and I had to get things straightened out.  I'm sure a lot of you know how it is.  Sometimes life takes over and you have to do things other than what you love to do. I'm no longer working in music retail because the money just wasn't there, and it seemed that each year sales on band and orchestral instruments seemed to be go steadily down until I had to consider what is going to pay my rent and put food on the table. However, I still spent a lot of time this past year trying out many new horns as well as a few vintage horns.  Also, despite the fact that at least for now, I see a downturn on saxophone sales, I am still encouraged to see many new models of saxophones with a variety of finishes coming from the established and newer manufacturers, as well as a greater number of quality student level horns for players on a budget. It's also good to see that many manufacturers have professional level horns at intermediate prices, making it possible for the working and amateur musician to have a high quality instrument that won't break the bank. Okay, so they're not Mark VI's or other high level horns from Selmer, Keilwerth, Yamaha or Yanigasawa, but they're still good instruments and play just as well when properly set up and with the right mouthpiece reed combination that fits the player.

The technology today makes it possible to offer quality instruments at budget prices.  However, I still maintain that you should only buy instruments from reputable companies or dealers. EBay saxophones for $250 are not worth the money, even at that price.  If you buy from EBay, buyer beware, and also make sure it's a name you know, otherwise get what you pay for, which is an inferior instrument that can sometimes feel like it's coming apart in your hands.  Make sure that they have a return policy and also that they back up their instruments from any defects in materials or workmanship. Even the best saxophones occasionally have a lemon in the bunch, but most no-name brands are all lemons.  I don't care if the horn is made in China, as long as a known company backs it up and maintains quality control.  Yamaha makes their student and intermediate lines in China, but since they maintain strict quality control, the instrument is still just as good as always. Saxophones made in Taiwan have really come up in quality, and I will venture to say that many of them are as good as anything made anywhere else. I will later review a few of these, as I was impressed with what I tried from Taiwan lately from manufacturers that haven't quite established themselves here yet, but have already made saxophones for reputable makers. I recently tried two altos from a brand called Chateau, which is made by Tenon in Taiwan.  I believe they also make Steve Goodson's saxophones, The Super 400 and The Voodoo Rex, but unless I can make it down to New Orleans and get my hands on them to test them out, I can't review them. However, my next post will be a review of the two Chateau Altos, the TYA-753ANE3 with a vintage copper finish, and the TYA-760E3 made from solid nickel. Both horns impressed me a lot!

Sad to say that the Powell Silver Eagle had to be discontinued. The market just wasn't there, and product development became too costly, as was the horn itself. However, for the few that have been made and in the hands of players, it will no doubt become somewhat of a collector's item.  It's a shame really that the market wouldn't support a high quality instrument made in the US, but that is the reality. This is why we still have to rely on Asian manufacturers in order to get new quality instruments that we can still afford. Maybe one day again, we can build a great saxophone here and bring back the spirit of companies like Conn, Buescher, King and Martin, which at one time built some of the finest saxophones ever made. Oh well!

I want to thank all of my friends and followers for their support and kind comments. This is the main reason I keep up this blog. I love the saxophone, and I like to also help people make the right choices when they are in the market for a horn so they get the best for what they can afford.  Thanks again everyone, and now that I'm back in action, I hope you'll continue to enjoy my reviews and articles!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Powell Silver Eagle Saxophone

For me this is rather exciting news and perhaps for anyone who is a fan of the classic American saxophones.  For the first time in over 20 years, a new premium grade professional saxophone is being made in the USA.  This new saxophone is designed by Mike Smith, who by the way had a hand in the design of the Buffet 400 line, with parts manufactured by Powell, the eminent flute maker, and the the body, bell and neck manufactured and the assembly to be done at the E.K. Blessing factory in Elkhart, Indiana, the center of brass and woodwind manufacturing in the US, and the original home of the great companies like Conn, Buescher and Martin. 

The Silver Eagle resembles the classic King Super 20 Silversonic in appearance.  Like the King and also The Martin, the tone holes, rather than being drawn from the existing metal of the body as most saxophones, are soldered onto the body and bell from holes cut into it.  Both King and Martin did this.  This adds weight to the body and increases its resonance, and it is also what Powell does with their flutes.  However, The Martin used soft solder, and the drawback is that over time, moisture can cause what is called galvanic corrosion, which eats away at the soft solder and forms cracks where the tone hole meets the body, which cannot be detected with the eye and often even with a leak light.  Quite often, all the keys of The Martin must be removed and the body put in a bath in order to see where the air bubbles are escaping in order to detect the leak, a costly and lengthy procedure.  When this happens, the tone hole must be removed, the tone hole cleaned before it can be re-soldered onto the body.  The Powell Silver Eagle, like the King Super 20 and Powell flutes, braze the tone hole onto the body, or in other words, hard or silver soldered, which prevents galvanic corrosion from occurring.

Like the classic King Super 20, the neck utilizes an underslung octave key, which means that when the neck is put on and removed, there is no contact,or should be no contact with the octave key, preventing any damage or misalignment.  Yanigasawa also employs this type of octave key.

The Powell Silver Eagle, like the King Super 20 Silversonic, has a Sterling Silver bell and neck.  The inner bell is a gold wash, like many of the classic American horns of the 20's-50's.  There is also an all gold lacquer model that is available.
It comes with a high quality hard case, and high quality accessories such as key retainers, Rico reed case, a box of Rico Jazz Select reeds, Rico neck strap, Rico cork grease, and a Meyer 6M mouthpiece, which has been the mouthpiece I've been using for nearly 30 years.
There is more I could say, but you can get more detailed information from the links below.  What I will say is that it's about time that a first class saxophone is once again being made in the USA.  I am itching to play one of these, and I can't wait to.  If I get the chance, I will do a complete review.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The State Of Jazz As I See It

I listen to most styles of music, and have recordings of these styles in various increments in my collection.  Jazz, Blues, R & B (mostly from the 50's and 60's), Rock, Folk, Country and Bluegrass, Reggae, Latin, International, Classical, and a few oddities that would be difficult or impossible to categorize.  However, I have more jazz recordings in my collection than any other style of music.  From the 1920's to the present, I have most major jazz styles represented in my collection.  I say most, because there are some styles of jazz I have had difficulty listening to.  To put it simply, if it doesn't move me, doesn't speak to me, I have no interest.  Like any kind of music, it all comes down to a matter of personal taste, and this article is not about disparaging anyone's taste in music, but more about what I see and feel about the current state of jazz.  Realize that these are just my opinions and if you feel differently, that's okay.  This is the kind of article that would invite comments from others, and I encourage anyone to do so and allow my readers and I the benefit of your outlook.  However, as stated in my very first article, any flaming or name-calling of myself or any other reader commenting will not be tolerated and will be deleted, so don't waste your time.

I have many friends who are musicians of various styles,and many are jazz players while some play jazz but wouldn't call themselves jazz musicians per se.  Most of my friends certainly play for the love of the music, but also realize that love alone doesn't pay the bills, so they play all kinds of gigs, weddings, bar-mitzvahs, other various social functions, commercials, studio work, playing with bands that do not play the style of music they are best at and even playing in the park and on the street or whatever else it takes to earn the extra dollar.  They may not be getting rich, but they are able to keep working by doing what they love.  These players really have to hustle and go out there to get a gig.  They really are to me the epitome of  the independent spirit, because unlike those who have a 9 to 5 job that most hate going to, these cats usually thrive and excel at living in the moment.  They continue to do this as the number of paying gigs, at least in New York City, are dwindling.  They have grit and determination and keep plugging away despite the odds against them. 

Those who consider themselves purely jazz artists are a unique breed.  They play for the sheer love and joy of playing so they say, and never would stoop to either commercialism or showmanship to make a buck. They sometimes do play on the street or in the park, but they never take a gig that goes against their "principles".  At the same time, they are in my experience, the loudest critics and decriers of more popular styles of music and of musicians that play music to make money.  Yet they complain constantly about not getting gigs, or if they do have gigs, the house is nearly or completely empty except for the staff.  This of course never has anything to do with the music that they play, but with the public just not being on the same wavelength with them.  The public just doesn't understand, just doesn't get it is one of their laments.  Whenever a jazz artist has some commercial success, which is very rare, they will be the first to cry that they "sold out".  It is selling out only if the music one plays is related to a political or social movement or agenda, in which case, keep playing it, make your statement and promote your agenda, and leave the rest of us to make music we love and enjoy, that the public does get, and have our share of the filthy lucre. 

Many jazz players will constantly disparage players like Kenny G.  Well, to be honest, I'm not a big fan of Kenny G myself and I do not have any of his recordings, but on the other hand, I know he really can play and people like him and buy his recordings.  Also, like it or not, it has been popular artists like Kenny G, David Sanborn, Chuck Mangione,etc., that have inspired many young players to pick up a wind or brass instrument, and play other music than what they were normally listening to.  In the process, they learned about the scope and range of music, opening their minds and expanding their musical horizons and learning about the great players who originated the art form of jazz.  I heard jazz players disparage "fusion", calling it the worst of rock and jazz put together.  In some cases this may be so, but in most cases it brings a lot of instrumental music back to its melodic and rhythmic roots, and people like it and buy it.  Maybe they just don't get it, or they actually do. I remember in the 90's when the Neo-Swing bands like the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Cherry Poppin' Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, etc., were popular.  Once again I heard the jazz purists bellow "that's not real jazz", "those guys aren't jazz players", something none of these players ever claimed to be by the way, but jazzers were saying this as if it was a terrible and sacrilegious thing. I had to remind some players that swing was the jazz of its time, and that time does not diminish that.  Again, I remember that the popularity of these bands led more young people into not just this music, but jazz and beyond.  What can be wrong with that?  Well, to the jazz purists, it was because they were entertaining people and making money.  They seem to hate that even when they complain they're not making money.  You know, we just don't get it.

A common thing I hear from many musicians and laypeople today is that there are no more innovators in jazz, that most players today are merely playing regurgitated Coltrane, Miles, Ornette, etc.  There are way too many players who think jazz began with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie and ended with the aforementioned players, at least in terms of what they are playing.  In jazz, just like any other style of music, there is an evolution of sound and style, but just like all music, there is a limit to how far it can go.  The solution to that problem, for many jazz players, just as it was for neo-classical players was to reharmonize existing tunes, and new music would go so far "outside", that to many ears, mine included, that it was cacophonous, dissonant.  The rhythm was buried in the flurry of noise, and if there ever was a melodic base, it was blown to pieces beyond recognition.  Jazz musicians began intellectualizing the music to the point of losing the audience.  Much of it too was tied to many political/social movements and so if there was an audience to be had, it wouldn't be the kind that paid or came to be entertained.  While this isn't political commentary, to me, all the music I ever heard that was ever tied to political or social movements always tended to be heavy-handed, boring and dreary sounding, and to pardon my language, the biggest crock of bullshit and pretension I ever heard.  Some of these types of players would play in wild, loud flurries of sound, but if they tried, they could not play a simple melody with an even tone and pitch.  Jazz has had a few of these charlatans. 

Then there is jazz education.  To me it has always been a double-edged sword.  On one side, it helps the student hone and sharpen their musical skills and knowledge and on the other, it has turned out mostly cookie cutter players, all playing those Coltrane and Parker licks, all sounding the same, which in turn has confined the music.  Like classical players, there is a certain way to play something, a certain way to sound.  I hear one player to the next, all from the best university programs in the country, and I can't tell one player from another.  They know every chord and scale pattern inside and out, up and down, all around, and when they play that knowledge becomes obvious.  What I often do not hear is a discernible melody, a sound that tells me who the player is.  I don't get that from any of the modern jazz players today.  I hear one, I hear them all.  On the other hand, when I hear a modern horn player that does not play strictly jazz, I can hear who it is.  Yep, maybe I'm not a big fan of Kenny G, but I know it's him when I hear his recordings.  David Sanborn too.  Unfortunately the list of modern players whose sound is recognizable is getting smaller and smaller.  Up until the sixties I would say, you could tell by the first few notes who the player was.  Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Desmond, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, etc.  Even players that derived their styles from Charlie Parker like Cannonball Adderley had their own sound that was recognizable. 

This brings me to another point.  What made jazz what it is, or rather what it used to be, was its individuality.  Each player had their voice, their way of doing things that made the player stand out from the others.  Even the way they would play a melody, its chord sequence, scale patterns, and including their technical approach was unique to them.  I  have heard modern players ripping out scales and chords with amazing speed and dexterity, displaying great technique, but I haven't heard one of them that had the kind of technique or subtlety of touch that I've heard Johnny Hodges, for example, playing "Prelude To A Kiss", or Frankie Trumbauer with Bix Beiderbecke playing "Trumbology" or "Singing The Blues".  Listen to them and hear what I mean.  Just click on the links below to hear these tunes.

Another complaint from modern jazz players that I hear quite often is that they get tired of playing the same old standards over and over again.  I'll say first that the standards that have been played have all stood the test of time, and in the hands of a sensitive player, they'll never get old.  Having said that,what is stopping any player from taking more recent popular tunes and turning those into standards?  Miles played Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson tunes.  Many players have played the Beatles "Michelle" and "Yesterday" to death, but there are a number of other Beatles songs that would be as good or better. Some examples would be "Here, There and Everywhere", "Norwegian Wood" ( Buddy Rich did this tune on his recording "Big Swing Face"), "Good Day Sunshine", "For No One", "Fool On The Hill", "Lady Madonna", "Something",etc.  I'm sure you've heard at least a jazz version or two from one of these tunes, and maybe you can think of others.  I have also started making sax and band arrangements based on Jimi Hendrix tunes. He has a treasure trove of material for the horn player that wants to find more modern and interesting tunes and Gil Evans did some big band arrangements based on his tunes, as well as nice renditions by Tuck and Patti.  There were many jazz elements in Hendrix' songs.  The songs I've chosen are "Third Stone From The Sun", "Up From The Skies", "One Rainy Wish", "Purple Haze", and "The Wind Cries Mary".  There are more, but with a little imagination and a wide open mind, you can find some modern tunes to jazz up.

This now brings me to the final points of this article.  This will mostly be my opinion, but I'm sticking to it, because this is the way I feel jazz can survive as a viable musical and commercial force.  Yes, I said commercial, because all the love in the world won't mean anything if people aren't buying your product and coming out and paying money to hear you or purchase your recordings.  Maybe the first thing is to stop calling it jazz.  Everyone has their own idea of what that means.  There are those who want to dispense of the name jazz completely.  Some are part of a new movement called BAM.  I won't address what this is here, you can look it up.  Suffice to say that if some players want to create this new definition, by all means it's their right.  I do not agree with their motive, and have had serious disagreements with a couple of adherents as to why.  It's just using music to promote a political/social agenda, as well as instill some guilt in some of us.  Anyway, I really believe that the player's main role is to convey their love of music by showing that love to the audience.  Ever watch a performer smile when they're playing?  You can bet the audience is smiling too.  Players should relate to their audience.  Listen to any live recording of Cannonball Adderley, and listen to how he always spoke to, not down, to the audience, and how he related to them.  This was one of of the reasons for his popularity, aside from his brilliant playing.  He always played in an uplifting manner.  People loved seeing him play, and you could always hear that joy in his recordings.  Dizzy Gillespie always entertained the crowd, no matter what he was playing.  He was never afraid to clown on stage, tell jokes, act funny.  Of course Louis Armstrong always entertained, was a first-class showman while still maintaining his place in jazz history as an innovator. The audience needs to be entertained, that's what they pay for. 

Finally, for the players out there.  I know this isn't easy to do, but I challenge you all to try.  Rather than playing the same old Parker, Coltrane etc., licks and patterns, try finding your own voice.  Search out a few tunes, ballads and blues, and play them listening to how you sound.  Do you like it?  If not,what sound are you looking for?  I know tone is a subjective thing, but if you pay attention, you may at that moment hear it, and then you'll find that your technique and approach will change a little, and just enough to start singing in your own voice.  Put away the exercise books and just concentrate on a sound and a song.  It will work if you let it.