Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jerry Bergonzi's No Embouchure

Though I had seen a number of these Jerry Bergonzi videos that Rico put together, I saw this particular one just recently. The way Jerry Bergonzi explains embouchure here is pretty much exactly how I conceptualize embouchure and it was really cool to hear someone else saying the same things. Enjoy!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Phil-Tone Eclipse Tenor Mouthpiece

Following up on a review of Phil-Tone's Equinox mouthpiece, today I'm reviewing his Eclipse model. It's designed to be a traditional straight ahead jazz mouthpiece, and it fits that role fantastically.

Mouthpiece: Phil-Tone Eclipse 7*
Reed: Rico Jazz Select Unfiled 3 soft
Ligature: Standard Metal 2 screws on the bottom
Tenor: Mark VI

Straight Ahead?

So, what does a mouthpiece need to be able to do to play straight ahead jazz? Sound wise it needs to blend well with acoustic instruments, or, in other words, it needs to have enough depth and breadth that it doesn't sound too strident or out of place. The Eclipse accomplishes this while also retaining enough highs to sound crisp and clear. This is pretty much my personal preference in a mouthpiece of any type.

The mouthpiece also needs to have flexibility and ease of inflection to be able to work in a range of situations, ranging from ballads to uptempo tunes. The Eclipse has both the flexibility and the ease of inflection needed. In fact, it feels a little easier to inflect than the average mouthpiece, not something I'd recommend for a beginner who is still getting their embouchure together. I actually fatigued slightly faster on this mouthpiece than on the average mouthpiece, similar to my experience on the Equinox. I feel like this experience is simply an adjustment to the mouthpiece on my part, and it does not necessarily represent any fault in the mouthpiece.

Technical Stuff

The mouthpiece is a great player. It feels and sounds even throughout the entire range of the horn. It has a great balanced level of resistance, meaning it doesn't feel restrictive but doesn't break up if given too much air. It responds great to articulation and dynamics. It definitely meets my personal playing demands, and many mouthpieces, especially traditional style tenor mouthpieces, often don't live up to those demands.

Here are a couple clips of me playtesting the mouthpiece:
Ballad Polka Dots and Moonbeams - Ben Plays Phil-Tone Eclipse Polkadots.mp3

Conclusion: A great playing straight ahead mouthpiece with a lush clear sound and a high level of flexibility.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Morgan Fry's Rhodium Lrg. Chamber Mouthpiece

beautiful, right?
So many of the current high priced metal mouthpieces shoot for the ultimate modern sound, but usually go too far one way or another. Morgan Fry has created, by contrast, a flexible, middle of the road mouthpiece that could fit in well in many playing situations. Today I'll be reviewing his rhodium plated large chamber tenor mouthpiece, and I'll divide the review up by sound and playability.

Mouthpiece: 7* Rhodium Plated Large Chamber Tenor Mouthpiece
Ligature: metal Florida era Ottolink ligature
Reed: Rico Jazz Select unfiled 3-soft
Horn: Selmer Mark VI


The best comparison I can give for this mouthpiece's sound is the sound of a metal Ottolink. To my ears it has more core and brilliance than a modern Link, and a little less core but possibly more brilliance than the average Florida era Link (Side note: I usually get more core out of any mouthpiece using my vintage link ligature vs. any other ligature). Fry advertises the piece on his site as flexible, brilliant, balanced, and rich, and I found all those to be true.

The flexibility of this piece is one of its stronger assets. It's able to both cut and do a very full bodied subtone. More on that later. While flexible the overall sound of the piece has a warm vibrance to it giving the piece its own unique signature sound.


Fry's mouthpiece feels easy and fun to play. It does have a very quick response to articulation, dynamics, etc. In other words, it is in good working condition, and doesn't leave the player hanging in any particular category. In terms of resistance, blowing through the mouthpiece feels nice and balanced, not too resistant and not overly free blowing. There is a slight trend in the resistance with the bottom of the horn feeling the freest and the altissimo register feeling a little less so. Having said that the altissimo register is fully functional, though it requires a bit more air control than some mouthpieces in that register.

The freedom of the bottom register is the advantage that comes out of the aforementioned trend. The bottom end tends to be super responsive and subtoning in the lower register is lush and easy to do. Also important to the mouthpiece is its openness to inflection. The construction of the piece seems to invite inflection, and the easy feeling of bending and inflecting is consistent throughout the different registers of the horn.

Play Test

Here is a clip of me play testing the mouthpiece. Towards the end I make it through a couple of A sections of Body and Soul.

Ben Plays Morgan Fry.mp3

Conclusion: Morgan Fry's Rhodium plated Large Chamber Tenor Mouthpiece is an overall warm yet brilliant sounding mouthpiece. Its bottom register is free and super responsive though its altissimo register is slightly resistant by comparison.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The One Man Band

One of the best practice tools I've found for improvising is playing through a tune all by your lonesome, but still keeping the time, harmony, and structure all consistent and feeling good.  This is something I've spent a good deal of time doing and I feel has definitely payed off. As good as it is for you it should still be balanced with playing with a rhythm section and locking in with other musicians.

Here are some experiments to do while practicing this:
  • Keep the time by beating your foot on 1 and 3. This has been very helpful in my development.
  • Carry one idea throughout an entire chorus (painful at times, but worth the focus).
  • Try the tune in a different key.
  • Work with contrasting tempos. Try a slow tune fast, or fast tune slow.
  • Put in your harmonic substitutions, and see if you can carry more advanced harmonies all by yourself.
  • Record your performance and see what your strong and weak points are.

Here is my latest effort. Certainly not perfect, but a good document of where I am with this kind of practice: Ben Plays Green Dolphin Street.mp3

Friday, May 4, 2012

Shaping Your Sound

Michael Brecker: Sound Shaper Extraordinaire
Today's post is possibly the last one on saxophone sound for a while. I generally write about things I'm experimenting with myself, and after my recent overtone find and air support realization, this seems to be the fitting conclusion.

At one point in the recent past I was doing my various tone exercises, and I wasn't arriving to my ideal sound. I was a little frustrated, but I was patiently working through it. My son asked me in his four year old way what song I was playing. I told him I wasn't really playing a song and that I had been playing exercises. He suggested that I should play a song. I took his advice, really just to humor him, and began playing with a record. Then, within a relatively short period of time I arrived to my ideal sound.

 What's the Point?

As saxophonists and as musicians in general we need to be engaged in shaping our sounds from the first note of the day. No amount of warming up, overtone exercises, etc. will automatically sculpt or shape your sound. Those exercises serve to strengthen and increase your abilities, but you will need to make the conscious effort to put your abilities to work.

The Shapes Your Sound is Made Of

Here is a short list of things to pay attention to which will help you shape your sound:
  • The beginning of each note: articulation, intonation, clarity of sound, and inflection
  • The end of each note: supporting the note to the end, intonation, and inflection
  • Vibrato: speed, depth, and where and when you choose to use or not to use it
  • Inflection: bends, subtone vs. full tone, and any other shaping that affect pitch or tone color
  • The connection between successive notes, relates both to articulation and air support
  • Dynamics
I find myself mainly focusing on inflection, and vibrato, which are related, but really all of these, and probably others I'm not thinking of, fuse to become the style of your sound. Again, long tones, overtones, bending exercises, etc. will not force you to pay attention to these moving parts of your sound. They will simply make you more able to control them.

A Few Practical Ideas

Following are a few ways I incorporate sound shaping into my warm up. They have resulted in an increased awareness of the subtle details of sound and greater consistency in sounding how I want to.
  1. The first thing I play is music. Generally I'll improvise in the lower and medium register of my horn making a conscious effort to shape my sound. Starting my practice this way gets me into the right mindset from the get go.
  2. At some point during my warm up I'll play a melodic overtone exercise like the bugle call in this post, or the first chorus of the main theme from Michael Brecker's Delta City Blues notated below. These more musical exercises help me be extra cognizant of sound sculpting while accomplishing my technical goals.
  3. Depending on where you are in your development as part of your practice you might consider trying to imitate the sound of saxophone players you are drawn to. This will help you engage those sound shaping abilities with a very focused goal.
The overtone and register jumping make for a great workout.

This is a video of Brecker performing a solo version of the song. I've cued it up to where the theme begins.

I find that I sound my best as I both have the correct tools and make musical expression my goal throughout my practice. My understanding of the overall process of sound creation has evolved and refined over the past month, and this has been the last piece of the puzzle so to speak, at least for the moment. (If this is the first sound post of mine you have encountered, I would suggest also going over the posts I linked to in the beginning of this article and combining the information in them.)