Monday, October 8, 2018

Instrument Materials Can Make a Difference

There has been a long going debate about whether the type of material an instrument is made out of makes a difference in the produced sound. Some great musicians have argued that they hear a difference, but there have also been studies that have not been able to prove or corroborate that. In terms of saxophones, this debate affects discussions on hard rubber vs. metal vs. other types of mouthpieces, lacquered vs. delacquered vs. relacquered saxes, and whether or not the alloy of the saxophone metal matters. Basically, the discussion starts with someone saying, "I hear a difference," and then someone responding, "That's the placebo effect." Well, that conversation can now change.

  • 2003 study: demonstrated that "the magnitude of the induced wall vibration depends on the material from which the instrument is made and its wall thickness"
  • 2005 study: showed that damped trumpet bell audibly affect the sound
  • 2007 study: similarly found "big differences" in harmonics in damped bells
  • 2009 study: simulation showed that wall vibrations can affect the acoustic impedance, which affects sound
  • 2010 study found the same effect on bell damping 
  • 2013 study: demonstrated that "axial vibrations of the bells of brass wind instruments can lead to audible effects in the sound"
  • 2013 study: demonstrates that wall vibrations of the bell affect french horn sound 
  • 2015 study: found further experimental support for axial vibration of the bell affecting sound for brass wind instruments
My guess is there are more studies that I haven't found yet, but this is enough to show that science is not only open to the idea of wall vibrations affecting the sound of an instrument, but various studies are closely examining the issue and repeatedly finding experimental support for the idea. 

As far as this discussion goes for instruments in general, from what I've read it seems like wall vibrations may make a much bigger difference in non-cylindrical instruments, especially when a bell is involved, so instruments like trumpet, french horn, trombone, and yes, saxophone! 

Last but not least, for those wondering whether lacquer could affect the sound, from back in 1981 the answer is yes. From the abstract, "the effect of lacquering an instrument, though small, is not musically insignificant."

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Transcriptions Books: Mark Turner - Transcriptions & Essays and Chris Potter - Dreamer is the Dream

For your consideration, these are two really great transcription books authored by an accomplished NYC-based saxophonist, composer, and educator (and handsomely bearded) Jeff McGregor. The books feature Mark Turner and Chris Potter, two of my favorite saxophonists, so I may have a bit of bias here.

Mark Turner - Transcriptions & Essays
This book is something like an encyclopedia of Mark Turner solos. The book's 35 solos cover his entire career, including solos from one of Turner's most recent album, Lathe of Heaven, spanning back to his first album, Mark Turner. The book also covers important collaborations like all the Fly Trio albums and Mark Turner's work with Kurt Rosenwinkel. In total there are nearly 200 pages of transcriptions here, and that is just solos as the book doesn't include the heads.

Another cool feature of the book is that besides covering albums, it also covers well-known videos too. Here is the youtube playlist Jeff (the author) assembled, putting all the solos in one easy place.

At the end of the book, there are a series of short insightful essays. Backed with plenty of quotes from Mark himself, the essays explore his approach to music, covering Turner's influences, his use of the blues, his harmonic concepts, etc.

Notation-wise the book is clean and well written. Accidentals and rhythmic content are all easy to read even in the three unmetered selections. One aspect that is a bit less easy to approach is Turner's altissimo, which he is famous for. Most of the altissimo register playing is notated in ledger lines, which some saxophonists are fairly comfortable with. Personally, I find that 8va notation makes the content easier to read, but that being said, I did find that with some practice the ledger lines were becoming more and more readable, and as Jeff pointed out to me, learning to read up in the stratosphere like that is part of Turner's world, who has no problem reading up there. Overall, the book is beautifully presented with intuitive notation and detailed chord changes.

Here is a link to pick up a physical copy of the book: Mark Turner - Transcriptions and Essays.

I highly recommend the book, as I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot working out of it. Here is me playing the first couple pages of Turner's solo on JJ from Fly:

Chris Potter: The Dreamer is the Dream - The Complete Compositions with Transcription and Analysis
Another awesomely complete book, this transcription book covers both the compositions and Potter's solos from his most recent album, Dreamer is the Dream. Each tune is presented with an analysis of the composition, a transcription of Potter's solo on the track, and Bb transposition, Eb transposition, and concert lead sheets of the tune (found in the appendix). Similar to the essays in the Turner book, the introductory essays to each tune include commentary by Potter illuminating his approach to the composition and improvisation.

Similar to the Turner book, this presentation is very clean, with easy to read notation, detailed chord changes, etc. This book makes a little more use of 8va than the Turner book, but it still has plenty of ledger line altissimo, inviting the reader to step up their game if needed.

Like the Mark Turner book, this is a very complete and detailed book, completely worth your time and study. Highly recommended!

Here is a link to pick up a physical copy of the book: Chris Potter: The Dreamer is the Dream, and here is a link to get the digital copy: Chris Potter: The Dreamer is the Dream.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Leaps and Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz Saxophone

Leaps and Sounds is an etude book by Adam Larson, a great NYC saxophonist. Before I go into any detail, here are a couple of my favorite players, Ben Wendel and Walter Smith III, demoing a couple of the etudes:

As the name implies, the etudes are inspired by larger intervals, the kind of thing you can hear in jazz saxophone as early as Coleman Hawkins. I've personally always been fascinated by the idea of using large intervals in improvisation, and I've been inspired by players like Hawkins, Eddie Harris, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, and Ben Wendel, who all have a knack for using leaps of various types. Adam Larson has been similarly inspired, which shows in his playing and compositions (see below), and in these etudes. Additionally, the etudes make good use of the extremities of the saxophone range, meaning the altissimo and the lower register. This approach, when combined with an effort to maintain good sound and control, makes for the development of some serious saxophone technique.

Each of the etudes is written over the changes of a standard, including "Take the A Train," "Cherokee," "Alone Together," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Green Dolphin Street," etc. To provide a bit more challenge, some of the etudes are in a-typical keys. For example, "There Will Never Be Another You" is usually played in concert Eb, but the Leaps and Sounds etude based on those changes is in concert E.

As far as presentation goes, the book is neat and clean, and the notation is detailed and easy to read. There are a couple of places I would have preferred more use of 8va notation, but the book does typically use 8va notation to good effect, making the altissimo notes easy to decipher.

Overall, I think the book really delivers on the premise. It provides musical and interesting practical applications of larger intervals in modern bebop improvisation. You can get the book as a physical copy or as an E-book. Also, if you're a bass clef reader, and are interested, the etudes have been adapted by a trombonist and are available in a bass clef E-book as well.

For those of you who aren't convinced yet, here is Adam Larson playing his tune McWendel (think Donny McCaslin and Ben Wendel):

Last and least, here is me giving a go on the etude based on "Have You Met Miss Jones?":

Monday, July 30, 2018

Retro Revival Mouthpieces: Tru-Res, Tru-Slant, Crescent, Super D, & Modern-Line Bob Sheppard Signature Series

This past week I had the chance to play through five of Retro Revival’s tenor mouthpieces. I currently play a “vintage” series Otto Link, which is a modern mouthpiece inspired by the 1950s  vintage Tone Edge often referred to as the Slant, so I was excited to try Retro’s high end remakes of iconic Otto Link mouthpieces. First and foremost, all of the Retro Revival mouthpieces I played are very good. As you’d hope for from high end hand finished mouthpieces, each mouthpiece plays evenly from the bottom up through the altissimo register. They all have a healthy amount of resistance that facilitates a big tone and easy altissimo. Check out the comparison video to hear how they sound, and I’ll include a short write up about each of them below.

This is the darkest of the five mouthpeices and appropriately so as it’s a remake of the Otto Link Reso Chamber model from the 1940s. The tone is thick and warm with a nice core. Despite the dark tone, it has plenty of power and volume making it comfortable to play. As I already mentioned in the introduction, this mouthpiece and all of the others feel and sound consistent throughout the registers, and the altissimo feels good and sounds easily.

This mouthpiece is a remake of the Otto Link “Slant Signature” Florida era Tone Edge. It has more edge than the Tru-Res, but the sound is still lush and warm overall as well as a bit spread. It has a little less resistance than some of the other pieces and is fairly malleable in terms of sound, meaning I can easily inflect and change the timbre. Like the Tru-Res, this mouthpiece has plenty of volume (comparably more than the “vintage” series hard rubber Otto Link that I typically play). 

This mouthpiece is a remake of a 1950s New York Otto Link Super Tone Master. Tone wise it really delivers. It has a warm sound with some punch. In other words, it has both the edge and darker timbre you’d hope for from a good vintage New York Super Tone Master. It has a fairly balanced resistance, just a touch on the heavier side. Like all of the other mouthpieces, the altissimo feels great pops out easily up through the stratosphere.

Super D
The Super D is also a remake of vintage Super Tone Master, specifically from the “double ring”  or “double band” models from the 1950s. This piece differentiates itself from the Crescent in that it is a brighter and edgier sounding piece. It has a noticeably higher baffle, and the difference in the recording is very audible (all five of the mouthpieces sound distinct from each other). The resistance feels balanced leaning just a bit towards the heavier side. There is enough resistance so that you can really push the piece to high volumes. This mouthpiece is bright enough that I’d readily recommend it for contemporary styles of music like rock, funk, etc. While this is a very nice mouthpiece, I do feel like it gets a little bit more of a contemporary sound than some of the vintage Super Tone Masters I’ve played.

Modern-Line Bob Sheppard Signature Series
The Bob Sheppard model is an original design by Retro Revival, unlike most of their other models which are remakes. The mouthpiece is somewhat brighter and has more edge than the other two hard rubber mouthpieces, but it still has a nice thick tone. Personally, I could play it comfortably in a bebop setting or a more contemporary setting. Like all of the mouthpieces, it’s even throughout the registers including altissimo. Similar to the Tru-Slant, this piece has a little less resistance than the others, and it also has good flexibility of sound.

In terms of recreating iconic vintage sounds, Retro Revival is doing a great job, though the Super D seems to be a bit more on the contemporary side. Meanwhile, their Bob Sheppard model, is a fun and solid original contribution. Importantly, all five of the mouthpieces play very consistently from low B-flat up through the altissimo register, and they all produce some serious volume. Overall, these are some really fun to play and great sounding mouthpieces.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Couple Overtone Hints for Bb and D

Following are a couple of tips to help your overtone practice, though the first will also help with your sound generally.

Low Bb and the Lower Lip
First, I'll start with overtones on low Bb, which can be sometimes be squirrelly or unstable. Essentially, overtones on low Bb can be more sensitive to embouchure pressure than overtones on other fingerings. That means if your embouchure is putting too much pressure on the reed in some form or other, the first octave overtone may be completely elusive. Similarly, the second octave overtone can also be somewhat difficult, especially for beginners.

One way to combat too much embouchure pressure is simply check your lower lip position. Often, with more lower lip rolled in against the reed, it is easier to exert pressure on the reed and there is more contact between your lower lip and the sensitive part of the reed, since the lip is necessarily closer to the tip of the reed. Try rolling your bottom lip further out then normal. For example, when you say a long "v" sound you place your top teeth on your bottom lip in the same location that would be good for saxophone playing. Try recreating that same bottom lip placement on the reed. Another method is to form your bottom lip like you're sucking your thumb. That also creates a good bottom lip placement.

Overtones on D
Various overtones on D are out of tune and difficult starting with the second octave and higher. Recently, I reviewed a manuscript by Mark Lanus on altissimo, and he suggested using the low C# key along with the D fingering to stabilize the D overtones. I've tried it on tenor, and it works really well. Thanks Mark (and thanks to Bret Pimentel for his fingering diagram builder)!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

More Fluid Improvisation: Tapping with your Left Foot

Tapping the meter, different than just tapping the beat or pulse, can help your improvisation. Tapping the meter reinforces the harmonic rhythm and the general rhythmic structure helping you to both lock in to the groove and to more intuitively audiate or predict how your improvised lines will lay on the changes.

Tapping the meter consists of tapping on the strong beats. Following is a list of common meters and their metrical emphasis:

  • 4/4, tap on 1 and 3
  • 3/4, tap on 1 
  • 6/8, tap on the dotted quarter note
  • 5/4 (most typical), tap on 1 and 4
  • 7/4 (most typical), tap on 1, 3, and 5, though I also usually add one more tap on the "and" of 6 or 7 depending on the line
Recently I've learned that meter is processed by the right side of the brain. Considering the right brain controls the left side of the body, a possible conclusion is that it would be more natural to tap the meter with the left foot. I've found this to be the case. Tapping the meter with my left foot, particularly when I could use the reinforcement like in an odd time signature, helps my improvisation sound better, more fluid and interesting. Give it a shot, and leave a comment if you find it helpful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Intonation and Your Ideal Sound

One of the most satisfying musical experiences is listening back to a recording of yourself and hearing your tone and improvisation match up to your aspirations, or come pretty close. If you record yourself on a semiregular basis, and you should, then you will notice that the most successful recordings usually have a common element – good intonation.

Intonation has an incredible effect on tone quality. To some this might sound counterintuitive, but there are number of tone problems that are directly related to intonation. It’s true that there should not be a huge difference in tone quality between a saxophone tuned to A440 versus one tuned to A445. However, the problem enters when the mouthpiece placement on the cork tunes the instrument flatter or sharper than the saxophonist’s ears and expectancy or the other instrumentalists he or she is playing with. As musicians we listen for intonation constantly, and though some are more sensitive than others, our ears constantly track it. When the saxophone mouthpiece is placed too far in or out on the cork, your embouchure responds in an effort to correct the issue. In result your embouchure and voicing is affected, which can really mess with your tone.

Luckily, there are a few indicators that can help you know if your mouthpiece placement on the cork is interfering with your technique. These include resistance, vibrato and inflections (bends), and timbre. Playing either with a mouthpiece that is too far out (flat) or too far in (sharp) can negatively affect all of these. That being said, adjusting for flat intonation generally has more pronounced effects so we will start there.

Too Far Out
Generally, musicians have a good notion of when they are playing out of tune if they are flat. For some reason, flat intonation has a very distinct and unpleasant sound. That’s a good thing because you can hear it and adjust your mouthpiece position accordingly. However, when the mouthpiece is only a little too far out, you might miss it as your embouchure will tighten and bring the pitch up. If the mouthpiece was not too significantly out of adjustment, this can partly remedy the intonation problem, but the tighter embouchure then causes other problems.

First, the added tightness increases resistance, which feels a lot like playing on a reed that is too hard or harder than it otherwise should be. This becomes particularly pronounced in the altissimo register, which becomes more difficult in result. Two, the tighter embouchure is less flexible, so vibrato and inflections sound and feel more strained. You would feel like you cannot bend notes with the same ease you usually do, and your vibrato would sound shallower and require more effort. Lastly, your sound becomes smaller and the timbre loses some of it vibrancy and brightness. So, if you feel like your reed is playing harder than usual, you are having more difficulty playing expressively, and your tone is smaller and deader than usual, it is quite possible your mouthpiece is positioned too far out on the cork.

Too Far In
Adjusting for sharp intonation has its own disadvantages. The automatic reaction in this case is to loosen the embouchure and drop the jaw in an attempt to lower the pitch. Again, if the mouthpiece is close enough to the ideal position on the cork, then this can partly remedy the intonation, but a new set of problems surface. Resistance decreases, and in some instances can make it feel like the reed is just too soft. Because the embouchure is looser, vibrato and inflections become easier. This flexibility combined with the potential for accidentally bringing the pitch too high can result in inflections sounding exaggerated and messy. Depending on the amount of embouchure adjustment, the timbre can lose its punch or definition and even become distorted and grainy in extreme examples. The key things to watch out for here are too little resistance, exaggerated inflections, and fuzzy sounding or grainy timbre.

Equipment Problems
Other problems can fight against your intonation even if you have your mouthpiece placed perfectly. Reeds affect intonation just like they can affect everything else. If a reed is too soft or so old that it plays as if it were too soft, you will likely have problems with inflections and with intonation in the high register. Softer reeds require good voicing technique in order to keep from going flat in the upper register. While players with good voicing, who have worked on techniques like overtones and altissimo, will be able to focus and keep uncomfortably soft reed in tune in the upper register, other players will find it more difficult. Beyond that, the reed will also be overly sensitive resulting in exaggerated and messy inflections. On the other hand a reed that is too hard invites a tighter embouchure, and this often results in sharp intonation, especially as you go higher.

Another potential pitfall comes in ligature placement. If the ligature is placed too far back on the mouthpiece, then the reed is more easily affected by embouchure pressure. This means that you are more likely to play sharp, even if you have the mouthpiece placed appropriately on the neck. This is particularly true in the upper register.

Intonation Practice
It’s also important to spend time periodically practicing intonation. This gives you a chance to figure out generally where the mouthpiece should be on the cork and trains your ear to detect intonation problems and keep them in check. One imperative exercise is playing with a drone. Tuners usually have built in drone features. Use your ear to work on tuning at the unison, octave, perfect fifth, perfect fourth, and then the other intervals as well. Work on jumping up and down the octave while keeping good intonation. Even better practice is to play in a small ensemble with a horn section where you can focus on staying in tune during unison and harmonized sections. Another important way to check intonation is to put on a tuner while playing normally. While you either improvise or play from memory, watch the tuner and see if you are generally flat, sharp, or in tune. This can give you a good idea if your mouthpiece placement is correct.

Working on your ears and honest practice are probably the most important factors in sounding good consistently. However, knowing what to expect when things are off and how to adjust is important too. Working out the details of intonation will help you avoid compromising your sound and technique, and put you closer to playing and sounding like you envision. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Lubing Your LIgature?

I recently got a Rovner Platinum Ligature as a gift (kinda fun, but a little dark for my taste), and I was thumbing through the information sheet of general instructions for all ligatures and noticed that it talks about lubricating the metal fittings of the ligature. It reads:
"IMPORTANT! This ligature will not perform unless the metal fittings are properly lubricated. Lack of lubrication can cause the ligature to sound stuffy or dull. Lubricate rubbing surfaces and threads of metal parts regularly with a good general lubricant (household oil) or cork grease."
So, I slapped on some canola oil, and it definitely improved the tone. More importantly, I lubricated the threads on the screws of my normal two screw ligature, and there was an immediate difference in the tone. It essentially sounded more full bodied, and it was a notable difference. Definitely recommended.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Jazz Articulation and Swing Feel

Swing feel depends on a lot more than just the rhythm of your 8th notes. Subtle accents created through tonguing are an important part of the groove too. Articulation also helps lock in the time of your lines. Following are some guidelines for adding articulation to your 8th note lines.

1. In 8th note lines, tongue the "and" or second 8th note in each beat and slur to the first 8th note of the next beat.

However, this pattern can be broken by any of the other guidelines that follow.

2. Tongue the first and last 8th notes in the line. Make sure to cut off the last 8th note with your tongue. I like to use the syllable "dat" to approximate the sound of the last 8th note because it starts and ends with the tongue.

3. Tongue and give a little more emphasis to the peaks, meaning the high notes when the line changes direction. The peaks of the line are marked in this example:

You can see two of the peaks fall on the beat, which means tonguing just got a bit more complicated. The articulation would look something like this:

In some cases, saxophonists ghost or significantly mute the note right before the peak, particularly when it's a lower note that leaps up to the peak like the E on the and of 4 in the example (the parenthesis around the note mean it should be ghosted). Doodle tonguing can help both with ghosting and making those consecutively tongued 8th notes easier and smoother sounding. Essentially, doodle tonguing is when you gently put part of your tongue onto the reed (I like to use just the very center), letting the note still sound. That creates a muted sound, and when you take your tongue off the reed it creates an accent. I use this technique for articulating the peaks that fall on the beat, and you can hear guys like Parker, Cannonball, Rollins, Trane, and Potter doing the same thing. 

4. Beside the end of the line, tongue the other arrival points that break up the line.

Above, it's an 8th rest that breaks up the line, and a quarter note would be treated the same. Any other note or rest that breaks the 8th note line would also be treated the same.

5. Despite all of this tonguing, there should be a generally legato or connected feel. Except for rests or the occasional staccato (think Rich Perry), there shouldn't be any break in the sound before each tongued note. This can be challenging to learn to do, but listen to all of the best jazz saxophonists and you'll hear that the connected sound is a vital part of their lines.

Practice Tips
Incorporating all of this can be daunting. Start by picking a transcription, one you've already played if possible, and marking the articulation. Then listen to the recording and try to catch anything you've missed. Then practice the transcription, working on getting your articulation to sound as much like the recording as possible. The more careful listening you do the easier this will be. Bebop tunes also work really well for this kind of practice.

Additionally, you'll want to practice your own lines, adding in articulation. I'd suggest improvising a line, writing it out if you need to, and then adding in the articulation. As adding articulation becomes more intuitive you'll be able to just practice improvising in real time, correcting your articulation as needed. Good luck!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review: TM Custom Tenor (Tenor Madness)

I've played on Selmer horns for some 16 years. I've owned five Mark VIs and one Super Balanced Action (SBA). Each of them were unique and fun to play, but last year I decided my sound concept had changed enough to warrant moving on from the early Mark VI I was playing. I was looking for an SBA, but I was open to other possibilities. I subsequently played a bunch of horns, including:
  • several Mark VI, including an early VI in better lacquer condition than my previous horn 
  • several SBAs a few relacquered and one original in fantastic condition
  • Selmer Reference 54 and 36
  • Selmer Series III
  • Conn 10M
  • Bundy Special (a stencil early Keilwerth)
  • Tenor Madness Custom
The Mark VIs all had a certain tone color I was looking to get away from. The SBAs came close to what I wanted, but I couldn't push the SBAs as hard as I'd like to. The Conn 10M was too spread sounding for me as was the Bundy Special. While I was at the Tenor Madness shop in Iowa, I tried their TM Custom. They had a bunch of vintage horns, and I played the majority of them, but in the end I kept going back and forth between an SBA and their TM Custom.

Voicing the Horn
An important part of trying the TM Custom is a process their shop calls "voicing the horn." This is the process of customizing the horn to the player in terms of sound and resistance. First and foremost, there are several necks to choose from, including large, medium, and small bore necks, immediately presenting a number of possibilities. You can really dial in your resistance and sound, ranging from something like a large bore Keilwerth to something with a lot more focus like a Mark VI. You have a choice between rolled or straight tone holes, with the rolled tone holes getting a more spread sound and the straight tone holes getting you more core. You can choose a horn with or without high F#, which I found affects the resistance of the horn. There are also several finishes.. From there, there are more customizations that can happen, including neck screws, thumb hooks, etc.

First Impression
After settling on the options I liked best, which were the medium bore neck, straight tone holes, high F#, and a traditional lacquer finish, I quickly realized this was a fantastic horn. In terms of resistance and flexibility, it played just as comfortably as any vintage Selmer I could remember playing, Mark VI, SBA, or BA. The sound was beautiful, resonant, and flexible. Importantly, I could really push the horn without the sound thinning out or getting uncomfortable. 

Another important test came when I played for the first time at a gig. I find a lot of times that horns that feel OK or even great in the practice room don't feel great in higher volume situations, like even just playing acoustic jazz in a medium-large space. However, the Custom played great at the gig too, and it has continues to play great in each performance situation I take it to. In full disclosure, this is now my main tenor.

Resistance, Flexibility, and Sound
For me the two most important aspects of a horn are its resistance and its sound. When I use the word resistance, I mean the resistance a horn gives you when you blow through it. Typically, a player is at their best with a balanced resistance, not too much or too little, and this can be different for different players. I personally find that I like a lower resistance, something like an SBA. As I already mentioned above, you can choose between different necks which vastly change the resistance level. The medium bore neck is a very good fit for me. It has a light resistance, which offers a lot of flexibility in terms of sound and is still feels comfortable while pushing the horn in loud performances. The resistance on the medium bore neck is also a good fit for my altissimo and overtone technique. There is enough resistance to lock into the altissimo note or overtone with some color and edge while also being light enough to play easily and feel easy and natural in terms of breath.

The sound I get with my current setup on the TM has warmth, fatness, plenty of core, and a nice brilliance. It has enough punch so that I can hear the core of my sound from behind the horn, helping me feel like I can play whatever technically challenging idea I have and helping me hear my intonation clearly. This last bit is something I find very important in a horn. Also, because of the lower resistance of the neck I'm playing on, I get a lot of flexibility in my tone, meaning I can inflect my timbre and pitch easily. The horn's overall tone is warm but vibrant (think SBA-type sound), but I can push it towards the brighter end if I like.

Ergonomics (physical comfort)
The ergonomics of the horn feel great. The key work feels similar to modern Mark VI-inspired key work. It's comfortable and gets the job done nicely. Importantly for my own taste, the palm keys, spatula keys, and side keys don't feel too big under my hands, which I've observed on some modern saxes.

I've been playing the horn for several months now, and I haven't had any problems physically. The neck angle, which feels typical, and the hand position are both good in terms of long-term comfort. The weight of the horn also feels comfortable and typical as well.  Essentially, the horn is in good shape ergonomically.

I know this is secondary to how the instrument plays, but the horn is beautiful. The engraving is ornate, clear and takes its cues from vintage instruments. Nothing is overstated in appearance. I have the cognac lacquer version of the Custom, which looks like a vintage horn in mint condition.

Neck Comparison
Besides the medium bore neck, I’ve also borrowed a GT neck, which is a new development from the TM shop. It’s has a bit more resistance than the medium bore neck but still has a malleable sound, something like an early Mark VI. I made this comparison video so you could get an idea of the difference between the two:

The TM Custom has so much going for it. With my setup, it's an SBA-like modern horn, and it does that job superbly well. This is subjective of course, but I like it better than the SBAs I've played. For someone else with a different neck it could be a Mark VI-like horn, and to another player with the rolled tone holes it could be a Conn 10M-like horn. For what I'm going for the horn is a perfect fit.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New Album Out Now!

I'm excited to share a new collaborative album that some great musicians from Rochester, NY put together. I contributed a couple compositions (Life Pass and Striving), and I'm playing tenor throughout. For now it's a digital release, but physical copies will be available soon. 

Link to iTunes:

Link to Spotify:

You can also find it a number of other places, including Amazon. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Preview: TM Custom Tenor and New Records

Last summer I visited Tenor Madness, one of the main vintage sax shops out there. I played some pristine Mark VIs, a couple relacquered SBAs, and a bunch of other vintage and modern horns. I also played their horn, the TM Custom. I really liked it, but it had rolled tone holes, which typically gives a horn a more spread sound than I'm used to. As a reference point, Selmer horns, like VIs and SBAs, have straight tone holes while Conn 10Ms have rolled tone holes.

I had sold my VI and been on the hunt for an SBA that I could afford. I ended up getting a relacquered SBA from another shop, but after a few days I realized that the sound really thinned out when I pushed it hard, and so I sent it back. My next try was a Selmer Series III, which had ended up being a little too dark sounding and too resistant for me, so I kept looking. While at the JEN conference in Dallas I ran into a buddy, Jeff Pifher, a very good player, who let me play his pristine original SBA (the horn in the linked video). That was an eye opener. It was a great horn, but it wasn't the perfect horn I thought it would be. 

In the meantime Tenor Madness had come out with a straight tone hole horn. I went ahead and bought one, and I've had it for about a month now. It's a fantastic horn, and I'll be writing a detailed review with a video in the near future when things are a bit quieter for me.

I'm also excited for two recording projects that are coming to fruition. A collaborative project, R.O.C. jazz collective, I'm part of will be releasing a EP very soon, and my new record, with a bunch of original tunes, will be out sometime this summer. Lots of exciting things all around.

Lastly, I don't know that I've really said it here on the blog, but I'm teaching jazz and woodwinds now at College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, so anyone out here in the northern mid-west that wants to play, hang, or take a lesson, please let me know! 

Monday, February 5, 2018

"Light On The Other Side" from New EP

I'm super excited to announce a new collaborative recording by myself and some great musicians from Rochester, NY (Sterling Cozza, Oliver Haynes, Stephen Morris, and Jakob Ebers). This is "Light On The Other Side," composed by Sterling. The full EP will be out in the next couple weeks, featuring compositions by myself, Sterling, and Oliver.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: Quarter Tone Technique for Saxophone

I've been interested in working on quarter tones for a few years now ever since playing with Colin Gordon while we were at Eastman together. When the situation called for it, he'd play these nasty quarter tones lines, and it sounded really great. I've been working on them myself using a new book by Brandon Dixon called Quarter Tone Technique for Saxophone. The book is primarily written from the context of classical saxophone repertoire. However, the technique is universal, and the book is proving to be a fantastic tool.

Pitch and Tone!
For a lot of musicians quarter tones are pretty far out there, and many may not feel musically compelled to tackle them. One of my initial reasons for wanting to shed them was to work on my ear for intonation. As I've practiced quarter tones my ears have definitely opened up. I listen more minutely for pitch, and the sound of a quarter step becomes more and more distinct as I improve.

One thing that came as a complete surprise was the idea that practicing quarter tones makes for a great tone exercise. The book hints at this when it suggests that students have already worked on overtones and altissimo and specifies that overtone technique is vital to playing quarter tones well. As I practiced quarter tones the first time, it quickly became apparent that they required some hefty voicing (subtle tongue position, vocal chord positioning, and other muscle movements that focus the oral cavity), and after a practice session my voicing was more fully engaged, my tone was more alive, and the horn felt easier to play, similar to the result of practicing overtones. It also appears that playing quarter tones uses voicing muscles in different variations than overtones making for new possibilities and fresh practice.

Fingerings, Exercises, etc.
In terms of layout, the book is easy to use. It introduces one quarter tone at a time, giving a number of fingering possibilities and a short set of exercises to cement its sound in your ears and fingering in your muscle memory. The first exercise is typically a linear quarter tone passage. The five exercises that follow use the new quarter tone in various ways, and I find them musical and interesting.

Following the section of quarter tones fingerings and exercises comes a small section with exercises to help you improve your ear and tone production including octave jumps and small intervals within the whole step (quarter tone, half step, 3/4 step). I'm looking forward to tackling these, as I've already sensed an improvement in my ears just working on the quarter tones by themselves.

The next sections consist of scales and chords derived using quarter tones. The chords can be pretty difficult to hear, as they often defy tonal expectations. Next comes a set of etudes that draw on quarter tones. Most of them are based on classical compositional ideas, though one is written in a blues style. Similar to my comment about the chords, these etudes can be difficult to hear as they aren't hinged in tonality or even the normal twelve tones. For some they will prove to be too far out. Really, jazz saxophonists will want to go check out Brecker's and Coltrane's interesting use of alternate fingerings that sometimes sound like quarter tones and Steve Lehman's more intentional use of quarter tones to get an idea of what kind of jazz vocabulary already exists out there in quarter tone land. Lastly, the book also offers a short guide for composing with quarter tones for saxophone, which could be helpful no matter the style.

Brandon has also made some other useful resources available on his website. These include recordings of each of the etudes, an online quarter tone tuner, a quarter tone transposition tool, and a list of classical saxophone repertoire that uses quarter tones.

If you're looking to learn to play quarter tones, this book a great resource for that. It’s also a less explored method for honing your ears, and it has unintentionally proven to be an interesting way to develop tone and voicing technique, which for anyone who has worked overtones ad nauseum, may come as a welcome surprise.

Quarter Tone Technique for Saxophone on Amazon