Saturday, October 7, 2023

The Return Of The Prodigal Son


It's been three years since I last posted an article.  I went into a kind of retreat after the beginning of the "plandemic", and it seemed that the world had not only gone into a collective panic but also a collective insanity.  The political and social climate had gotten uglier, and it's even worse now.  While music was my refuge, the needless lockdowns prevented me from seeing my favorite players, and some have passed on since.  My own health issues cropped up again and I had to go into the hospital twice and have two more surgeries.  It was not related to Covid, and in fact, I never got Covid despite living in one of the areas with some of the largest rates in NYC.  Just the same, I wasn't really able to get around much and even after places were allowed to open up again and other restrictions were lifted, there were too many negative changes in the whole music scene, and now, with inflation at an all-time high, I can't afford to go out anymore with a social security income.  I had hoped that my blog could get ads and I could generate some revenue this way, but for reasons Google never explained, they wouldn't allow this blog to get ads and claimed I violated some policy, which they also never explained exactly what that violation was.  

If there was a bright spot, it has been my frequent correspondence with Alex Mingmann Hsieh, the president and CEO of P. Mauriat saxophones.  I had lived in Taiwan for two years, just before Taiwanese built saxophones really made a splash in the US and world market.  Today, Taiwan is in the forefront with Japan in producing world-class saxophones, and the P. Mauriat brand was instrumental (no pun intended) in making that happen.  Alex and I often discuss the current geopolitical situation, especially as it relates to Taiwan.  Of course, we talk saxophones as well, and he always offers to set me up in Taiwan if I ever return there.  

The other bright spot, and for me the only one in New York City right now, which is now experiencing a crime surge as well as social disaster, is the saxophone shop of my friend John Leadbetter, which is now, in my opinion, the premier sax shop of New York City, and John has earned a reputation as a first-rate sax technician.  Aside from his ability as a tech, his shop is a one stop store for new, used and vintage horns, as well as mouthpieces, reeds and all the accessories you need.  He carries the top names in new saxophones, as well as a good selection of vintage horns.  Check out his website

If you're in New York City, you really need to check out his shop.  Last year a friend of mine from Texas visited NYC, and on my recommendation went to see John.  He ended up buying a Forestone tenor saxophone.  For those who may not know, Forestone is a Japanese sax builder of excellent saxophones.

For me this blog has been a labor of love, both for the instrument I love and for the people who have played and play now.  I never meant to stay away so long, but now I have decided to get back in the game, start producing some more articles and begin checking out all the new models of saxophones that have been released since my last post, which was about the passing of alto great Richie Cole.  I want to review the horns, as well as look at some of the new saxophones for students and hobby players, such as Jay Metcalf's Better Sax, and Jean Paul, both which have gotten rave reviews from other players and allows a player to have a good horn on a budget.  I also want to start adding my own videos as well as videos of sax players and ensembles of all musical styles.  In good time.  I always have a special interest in directing the new student to whatever will keep their interest and want to be able to partake in the joy of music without having to worry that they're playing a piece of unplayable junk because they don't have the bucks for a top brand. 

So here I am again, and I want to keep providing sax enthusiasts with articles and reviews that will be of interest and of use to you.  Until next time, keep on saxin'!


Saturday, August 15, 2020

Trubute To Richie Cole

Richie Cole and I at the Selmer Week exhibition at Steinway Hall, NYC, 2011

I only recently learned that alto saxophonist Richie Cole passed away on May 2nd at the age of 72.  He had apparently died in his sleep of a heart attack.  At the time of his death, he had relocated to Pittsburgh and had reset his career.  I had the pleasure of meeting Richie in 2011 when Selmer displayed their newest line of saxophones as well as the final incarnation of their Reference 54 "Bird" series saxophones.  I was trying out the various saxophones and Richie had introduced himself to me as I was playing random tunes on the dozens of saxophones that were on display.  A large number of other players and people in musical instrument sales were there as well, and Randy Jones of Tenor Madness was there and had set up a table for quick adjustments of the saxophones if needed. Richie had asked me which horns of all the horns I tried, which one I liked best.  He was just an all around nice guy, great sense of humor because we also joked about a lot of things, and of course, one hell of a great alto player.

Cole was born in Trenton, New Jersey.  He began the saxophone at age 10 encouraged by his father who had owned two jazz clubs in New Jersey.  This gave him the opportunity to meet some of the greats in the music.  At 16 he attended a jazz camp being taught by the late great Phil Woods, who was a mentor to him.  He had won a scholarship from DownBeat magazine to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Before finishing however, he had joined Buddy Rich's Big Band, no small feat for such a young man since Buddy was known to be a perfectionist and tough task master.  After working with Lionel Hampton's Big Band and Doc Severinsen's Big Band, he formed his own quintet and toured worldwide, developing his own "alto madness" bebop style in the 1970s and early '80s. He formed the Alto Madness Orchestra in the 1990s.

 Cole performed and recorded with Eddie Jefferson, Nancy Wilson, Tom Waits, The Manhattan Transfer, Hank Crawford, Freddie Hubbard, Eric Kloss, Bobby Enriquez, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, and Boots Randolph.  It was his relationship with Eddie Jefferson which was his primary focus until it was ended by the singer’s murder in Detroit in May 1979, which Cole witnessed.  For Cole, Jefferson’s death touched off a long battle with alcoholism.  He spent much of the ’80s and early 1990s living a nomadic existence, stopping off for periods in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Chicago. In the late ’90s, he returned to the East Coast, where he formed a new seven-piece band, the Alto Madness Orchestra. Cole made his final move to Pittsburgh, where his daughter lived. He quickly became an advocate for the city’s jazz scene, working and recording with local musicians and supporting them tirelessly in his interviews and album notes. His first album for his self-formed label, Richie Cole Presents, was titled Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh version of his Alto Madness Orchestra accompanied Cole on all of his final six albums, the last of which was 2018’s Cannonball.

Cole is survived by his two daughters, Annie Cole and Amanda (“Amy”) Marrazzo, and by four grandchildren: Ricky and Julian Barajas and Emily and Abby Marrazzo.


As leader

  • Trenton Makes, the World Takes (Progressive, 1976)
  • Starburst with Reuben Brown Trio (Adelphi, 1976)
  • Battle of the Saxes with Eric Kloss (Muse, 1976)
  • New York Afternoon with Eddie Jefferson (Muse, 1977)
  • Alto Madness with Eddie Jefferson (Muse, 1978)
  • Keeper of the Flame with Eddie Jefferson (Muse, 1979)
  • Hollywood Madness with Eddie Jefferson, The Manhattan Transfer (Muse, 1979)
  • Side by Side with Phil Woods (Muse, 1980)
  • Cool 'C' (Muse, 1981)
  • Tokyo Madness (Seven Seas/King [Japan], 1981)
  • Alive! at the Village Vanguard (Muse, 1981)
  • Return to Alto Acres with Art Pepper (Palo Alto, 1982)
  • The Wildman Meets the Madman with Bobby Enriquez (GNP Crescendo, 1982)
  • Yakety Madness! with Boots Randolph (Palo Alto, 1983)
  • Alto Annie's Theme (Palo Alto, 1983)
  • Some Things Speak For Themselves (Muse, 1983)
  • Bossa Nova Eyes (Palo Alto, 1985)
  • Pure Imagination (Concord Jazz, 1986)
  • Popbop (Milestone, 1987)
  • Signature (Milestone, 1988)
  • Bossa International with Hank Crawford (Milestone, 1990)
  • Profile (Heads Up, 1993)
  • Kush: The Music of Dizzy Gillespie (Heads Up, 1996)
  • West Side Story (Venus [Japan], MusicMasters, 1996)
  • Trenton Style (Jazz Excursion, 1998)
  • Pure Madness (32 Jazz, 1999) compilation
  • Come Sunday: My Kind Of Religion (Jazz Excursion, 2000)
  • A Tribute to Our Buddies (Fresh Sound, 2004)
  • Back on Top (Jazz Excursion, 2005)
  • A Piece of History (Jazz Excursion, 2006)
  • Rise's Rose Garden (Jazz Excursion, 2006)
  • The Man with the Horn (Jazz Excursion, 2007)
  • Live at KUVO 2/11/08 (Jazz Excursion, 2008)
  • Bebop Express (Jazz Excursion, 2008)
  • The KUVO Sessions, Volume 2 (Jazz Excursion, 2009)
  • Castle Bop with Emil Viklicky (Multisonic, 2011)
  • Vocal Madness with Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet (House Cat, 2014)
  • Breakup Madness (Akashic, 2014)
  • Mile Hi Madness (Akashic, 2015)
  • Pittsburgh (Richie Cole Presents, 2015)
  • Plays Ballads and Love Songs (Richie Cole Presents, 2016)
  • Have Yourself an Alto Madness Christmas (Richie Cole Presents, 2016)
  • The Many Minds of Richie Cole (Richie Cole Presents, 2017)[5][6][7]
  • Latin Lover (Richie Cole Presents, 2017)
  • Cannonball (Richie Cole Presents, 2018)
  • The Keys of Cool with Tony Monaco (Richie Cole Presents, 2019)

As sideman

With Greg Abate

  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (Candid, 1995)

With Les DeMerle

  • You're the Bop! A Jazz Portrait of Cole Porter (Summit, 2001)

With Allan Harris

  • The Genius of Eddie Jefferson (Resilience Music Alliance, 2018)

With Jim Holman

With Freddie Hubbard

  • Back to Birdland (Real Time, 1982; Drive Archive, 1994; West Wind, 2002)

With Eddie Jefferson

With Vic Juris

With Peter Lauffer

  • Keys to the Heart (Peter Lauffer/CD Baby, 2010)

With The Manhattan Transfer

With Karen Marguth

  • A Way With Words (Wayfae Music/CD Baby, 2013)

With Mark Murphy

  • Bop For Kerouac (Muse, 1981)

With Oliver Nelson

With Anita O'Day

  • Big Band at Carnegie Hall (Emily, 2009)

With Don Patterson

With Buddy Rich

  • Keep the Customer Satisfied (Liberty 1970)

With Red Rodney

With Janine Santana

  • Soft as Granite (Janine Santana/CD Baby, 2008)

With Sigmund Snopek III

  • Virginia Woolf (Gear Fab, 2000)

With Sonny Stitt

  • Just in Case You Forgot How Bad He Really Was [live; rec. 1981] (32 Jazz, 1998)

With James Van Buren

  • Live at the Kasbah (Van Buren Records and Tapes/CD Baby, 2003)

With Patrice Villastrigo

  • Golden Orchid (Skinny Llama/CD Baby, 2010)


  • From Village Vanguard [includes both the Johnny Griffin Quartet and the Richie Cole Group (a quintet) in two separate sets/performances; recorded 1981] (2004)
  • Eddie Jefferson in Concert Featuring Richie Cole: Live from the Jazz Showcase Recorded at Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase in Chicago on May 6, 1979 (50 minutes)
  • Jazz Legends Live! – part 9 of 13 in this series, starring Dexter Gordon, Gary Burton, Billy Cobham, Ahmad Jamal, Carmen McRae, and Richie Cole (1 song - "Confirmation" - 4 minutes)
  • Cool Summer [includes both the Stan Getz Quartet and Alto Madness (Richie's quintet with Bobby Enriquez) in two separate sets/performances at the Paul Masson Winery in California as part of the "Harvest Jazz" TV series; recorded 1981]

Thursday, August 13, 2020

I Got Dem COVID-19 Lockdown Blues

This past year I had to deal with more health problems but finally two weeks before Christmas I finally had surgery that fixed the problem that had been plaguing me for the last few years.  I was quick on the road to recovery and ready to get back out there and play again and visit the music retail and repair shops to try out more instruments to review and recommend when the world changed seemingly overnight.  As this is not a scientific or medical blog, so I won't go into things that I am not qualified to write about as far as that goes.  I may however get a little political here because it is that apsect of this whole lockdown that is effecting every musician, music student, club owner, concert promoter, theater managers, and music patrons, etc.

This "pandemic" put an abrupt halt to just about all the musical activity in the country, as well as the world.  Working musicians have found all their gigs, present and future cancelled with no indication of when they can begin to play again.  Music teachers had to cancel lessons,  schools shut down so music studies or activities shut down with them.  The only bright spot for students is that it's possible to have music instruction live online via Skype for example.  There are also plenty of online resources for music lessons and information.  

I find it a little ironic that as soon as I took care of my health problem and was ready to get back into action that other people were getting sick and I was finally feeling the best in years, and still do.  The lockdown here however was pretty severe, and for a while most stores were closed, and just a couple of markets were open and you had to stand on long lines and also find you couldn't always get what you needed because they were out.  The toilet paper run was one of the most absurd things that people did. 

In New York City, as well as in many other cities, things got worse when riots broke out and businesses were looted, burned and destroyed, and it's still happening in these cities.  This is the nail in the coffin of any city not just economically, but socially as well.  In New York City alone, many businesses not looted or burned still went out of business because they no longer had money left to operate. 

As businesses here start to re-open, they are facing obstacles from a political front as the mayor and the governor, whose names I won't mention because I despise them and they are not worthy of mention, are fining and revoking the licenses of establishments that have "violated" their rather arbitrary and not well defined rules.  Add to that, there has been no guidance from the state as to when things can get back to normal.  They keep moving the goal posts.  Some places have already closed permanently, and others will likely close soon because they can't sustain their business under the circumstances.

On the musician side of things, I know a few players who are getting back to the odd gigs, playing under limited conditions, but at least they're getting back into it even if it's a little bit.  Some players I know are doing podcasts and other online programs to keep active and to keep their name and their music out there.  Some have re-opened their repair shops and see clients by appointment and have expanded their online mail order businesses.  Then there are players who have started doing online lessons via Skype or other online sites. 

One of my old teachers Tim Price, a top player, has been doing Skype lessons for 22 years, and if you need lessons and can't see a teacher personally, or there is no one available where you live and you are serious about wanting to learn from a genuine pro, I highly recommend him.  You can inquire at:

If you are serious about learning and playing, he is the man to learn from, and as long as you have an internet connection, it doesn't matter where you are.  

If you are needing information about saxophones as well as buying saxophones and saxophone accessories, music, etc., I recommend the following:

Saxophone sales, service and repair:

Saxophone music:

Saxophone Manufacturers:

These links should keep you busy.  No reason to let a lockdown or limited movement keep you from pursuing your musical goals.  

I will continue to write more articles now that I am back in action I hope soon to find a way to arrange to try out new models of saxophones and revisit previous models to see how they've held up over the years.  I will also keep looking for what I consider the best saxophones that fit whatever your budget allows.  I still believe that a beginner needs not just good guidance on how to play, but that they can play on something that will not fight them but instead allow them to develop their musical skills, talent and ideas.  Of course, I will also continue to write about my opinions on various subjects, keeping in mind that they're just opinions.  

Until next time, here's hoping that you are all coping with this pandemic and lockdown as best you can!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review: Yamaha YAS-280 Alto and YTS-280 Tenor Saxophones Europe/Japan

YAS-280 Alto Saxophone

YTS-280 Tenor Saxophone

I have been out of circulation for a while as I have been spending time regaining my health and fitness, and fortunately, I am feeling better than I have in years, and so as a result, getting back out more and can now once again play music and trying out new and old horns to review here.

By now it is established that Yamaha raised the bar on student saxophones with the 23 series.  They were the best by virtue of their focused sound, the solid build quality, and while more expensive than other student horns, also had the best resale value of them all.  The higher price tag was justified by it's reliability and its durability along with its resale value. It was followed by the 26 series, which kept up all the virtues of the 23 series, with some improvements, but otherwise was much the same, which is a good thing.  When I learned that Yamaha had updated their student line in Europe and Japan into the 280 series, I was excited to see and play them, but disappointed that it was only for Europe and Japan.  However my old friend and repair tech who travels frequently to Japan always manages to find something that cannot be found here, and then ships them by freight from there to his home to become part of his private sax collection.  He literally has a basement that is filled with horns, some one of a kind prototypes.  Anyway, he always tells me that I am welcome to visit and play his horns. So last week I called and asked him if by chance he had the 280, and sure enough he had both the alto and tenor.  He told me they were great horns and I should try them.  I brought my two mouthpieces, a Meyer 6M with Jean Louis ligature and a Legere Signature 2.5 reed for the alto, and a Jody Jazz Red with Rovner Dark ligature and also a Legere 2.5 reed for the tenor.

Before I begin, I just like to reitrate that my reviews as always are devoid of a lot of technical details, especially when the majority of my audience are hobbyists and beginners, and I don't like to confuse them with all these details since their main interest is deciding on what saxophone to buy, its general qualityand how much they would have to pay.  The same for working musicians or semi-professionals who are good players, but still are on a budget while still needing a good, reliable instrument to make their living or extra income with.  


The first thing that is the same as in previous incarnations of this line is the build quality.  There can be no question that Yamaha has always from top to bottom built them with the highest quality of craftsmanship and materials and that all of their saxophones will provide many years of reliable music making.  The keywork, as always along with all the higher end saxophones in my opinion was always the best in the business.  One thing I always found with all Yamaha saxophones is that the keys always responded to the touch with speed and accuracy, and when you pressed that key with whatever amount of pressure you put on it, was solid and snapped into place.  The 280 also has the same bell keyguard that is one piece that covers low B to low C on the alto. 

What is different?  Previous versions used nickel silver for the keys and key guards and octave key.  The yellow brass had a clear lacquer applied to it.  This time all the parts are yellow brass, and the horn now has a gold lacquer finish and looking like a professional horn.  The only giveaway that it's not is the lack of engraving on it.  The other big difference is the inclusion of a high F# key, which was absent on previous versions.  This was a little puzzling to me as cheaper student horns not as good as a Yamaha all had those keys, so this is an important addition.  Aside from the higher cost of the 23's and 26's, I am sure one of the things that may have swayed some to not get them was the lack of this key.  So now Yamaha allows the student to play a wider range than before like any professional horn.  What is also new is that they now offer both alto and tenor models with silver plate.  As far as I know, there is no other student saxophone with this option.  


Having played many 23's and a fair number of 26's over the years, I expected this incarnation to have the same bright but focused tone and the same solid keywork as is typical of Yamaha saxophones in general.  As I said before, I believe from experience that Yamaha's keywork is the best in the business.  First, I picked up the alto.  Just the feel of the keys before I even blew my first note told me that it was going to be responsive and quick.  I warmed up playing long tones chromatically, then do a ballad, my favorite always being My One and Only Love and a slow blues.  I always prefer hearing tonal characteristics first, whereas so many players immediately play fast scales up and down, play altissimo notes until my ears ring and split and never really spend the time to hear the more subtle aspects of the horn.  I was truly blown away by what I was hearing.  Yamaha states in their catalog that these horns have a bright tone, and in a way they do, but this had a tonal richness and depth I never recall in the 23's and 26's.  The low notes down to Bb spoke easily, and for a student is one of the more difficult aspects of playing to get right.  Then I did some quick playing of various scales and chord sequences and true to form, keys snapped in place and the response was sure and intonation on target.  No flubbed notes because of loose keywork.  I even played one of my favorite classical pieces for the sax, The Old Castle from Pictures At An Exhibition by Mussorgsky, and even though I was using a Meyer with a synthetic reed, still got that smooth classical tone from it.  I switched to the tenor and again, great keywork, great mechanics, great tone. Again, when I played the tenor part to Ravel's Bolero, even with a jazz mouthpiece, still got a smooth classical tone from it.  Here are student horns that have a versatility along with a quality that really no other saxophone in their class can match.  Here is another thing that makes these saxophones really stand out.  Since these saxophones are made with the usual Yamaha build quality, reliability and durability as they always have, but now their appearance, their improved keywork with the addition of the F# key, as well as their tone,  can also be used by professionals as a back up horn, and even as their main horn, they are that good.  As for the students, they can now have a sax that can take them from their first baby steps to even a professional level if they go that far, without having to invest in a more expensive horn later if they choose.  


With the 280 series, Yamaha has raised the bar on student saxophones head and shoulders above the rest of the field.  While they are more expensive than other student horns, the advantages are again, build quality, reliability and durability and the best resale value of any student saxophone.  Also, as I said before, these saxophones are also very capable of being played professionally as well.  I rate this as not just a great saxophone on its own, but hands down the best student saxophone, period!

For more information I include the link to a PDF of their European/Japanese catalog.  It's too bad that it's not available in the US, but then many of my readers live in countries where this model is available, so if you have a chance, you need to check them out.  As for my readers in the US and Canada, if this model interests you, you can go to Sax Co. UK and they ship internationally.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Selmer Announces Significant Price Reductions

Selmer Conn has recently announced significant price reductions on several Selmer Paris models.  It seems that they finally realized that they were pricing themselves out of the market.  The majority of saxophone players, as well as all other musicians on all instruments are mostly semi-professional, students or hobby players.  The saxophone market is very tight, and with all the top quality saxophones on the market at significantly lower prices, it is a wise move on their part, giving them the chance to reconnect with players who always wanted a Selmer but could never afford one.  For more information, visit the Conn Selmer website

Here is a short video about it

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Happy New Year!!

I have been away for a while dealing with personal family issues and planning a move out of country.  I want to wish all my readers the happiest for the new year and hope that all your dreams are realized.  I will be preparing some more articles for the future once I can resolve some of my more pressing personal issues.  Thank you everyone who have found this blog helpful and informative and I will try and be back soon  Thanks to all of you for your support.