What I learned from a recent lesson with a Pro

For my birthday I decided to gift myself a couple lessons with a musician that I have admired and in many ways fashioned my own playing style after. He’s been in the jazz scene for decades and recorded with just about everyone of note for the past 40 years. I couldn’t believe my good fortune when I emailed him and setup a lesson. It was very expensive compared to what pro lessons cost in my area. For example, I have 2 extremely famous national touring jazz saxophone artists in my home town that charge 1/2 of what this Pro charges. But I was happy to pay what it took to be able to learn from a music hero of mine. What I got for my time and money was a peek into the life of a really experienced jazz musician and the person behind the album covers.


We scheduled over an hour of playing time virtually. Like most people who give online lessons he uses Skype. I’ve never been all that happy with audio quality of Skype but I decided to hookup my MXL condenser microphone and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 interface and dialed him up. I was quite internally excited to have one on one access with a musician for whom I owned nearly his entire solo discography. After introductions and some long anecdotes I played through a tune then he played a bit.


First thing that caught my attention was that his tone was huge! Even through Skype’s mediocre audio quality the sense of size and depth was clear in my studio headphones. I tried not to giggle when he took his turn on charts as I was so surprised that he sounded so large even when he wasn’t trying to blow the house down. The second thing was that his versions of standards had a few different chords than iREalB or the Realbook I used. This is a recurring theme as I’ve played with other professionals who complained that these sources either oversimplify traditional chord chords changes or just flat have them wrong.


Now a few days before the lesson began I emailed him my background, playing weak spots, some tunes I was working on, and what I wanted to get from the lesson. I admit the list was expansive but I was planning on buying multiple lessons if the first was a success. During the lesson we had lots of down time as he hunted down charts or pulled up an old recording. I could tell he was winging it.


In some ways I was hunting for the secrets of his style. Hoping that a few lessons would give me insight into his approach to playing. The technical how’s and why’s of his unique musical vision. What i got in addition to some brief playing moments were tales from the road, some details of his health.  If I didn’t communicate my needs in a way he understood then I may have been the  problem.


What I learned from him directly:

  • Memorize the melodies of the tunes, don’t be dependent on the Real Books
  • Embellish the melody
  • Don’t be afraid to arpeggiate the chords
  • Play with recordings of your favorite artists. Try to mimic them exactly.
  • I have a Mulligan type vibe when I play

What I learned from my experience:

  • I have a Mulligan type vibe when I play 🙂
  • I need spend more time with all of my chords especially dim and half-dim chords
  • I need to send him the charts ahead of time.
  • I need to be a bit more firm about keeping the lesson moving and the anecdotes more brief.
  • There is no secret sauce, no mojo just practice and time.


TAKE AWAY: Neither one of us was truly prepared for the experience. While I enjoyed the personal anecdotes and reminder of musical fundamentals I didn’t feel like I had accomplished all that we could have in the time I paid for.  What I experienced about personal tone will stick with me though.

Bass Saxophone articles in Melody Maker by Adrian Rollini

In 1929 Adrian Rollini sat down to pen what could be considered the earliest treatise on the bass saxophone for the Melody Maker Magazine. It was authored only a year after Rollini made the trip across the pond to play with the Savoy Ballroom band as lead by Fred Elizalde. This would be a short run for Rollini as he left the band in 1928 and returned to the US. Throughout his career Rollini defined and refined the roll for the bass saxophone in the hot jazz band. Of course he wasn’t the only person playing the bass saxophone but he was widely known from his time with Bix Biederbeck.

In the articles linked below Rollini touches on the major parts of bass saxophone ownership and paying. In fact much of what he describes still holds true today nearly 86 years later.


Click Adrian’s image to download the complete Articles
Adrian Rollini with bass saxophone

Menne Smallenbroek – Baritone Artist Q&A

Following my review of the European Saxophone Ensemble album a few weeks back I got an email from the Menne Smallenbroek the baritone/bass player for the group. He asked if I’d like to hear the next project he was working on. Because I have a hard time saying no I accepted and proceeded to listen to what I can only describe as a blend of spoken word and articulately sweet baritone saxophone. The harsh language and subject matter of the speech from the HBO special “American Pimp and Prostitutes” juxtaposed against his refined sound and contrapuntal rhythms adds tension to the piece. It is as though there are 2 melodies being played against and over top one another.

image of Menne Smallenbroek from his facebook page

I must admit, I was hooked from his first note. His tone is sweetly classical and has just the right amount of edge for the compositions. It’s a fine line that he dances on very well. Too much Brignola/Adams and the baritone dominates the music on the other hand if there is too much Mulligan/Dako then the baritone is sonically lost in the mix. If this song is just a hint at what is coming down the pipe then we are all in for a treat.

After watching the video, attached below, I wanted to know more about Menne so I sent him a few questions to help us get to know him better.  This exchange in May of 2014.Check out his Facbook page for updates. Menne Smallenbroek

ModernBariSax: When did you start playing?

Menne Smallenbroek: I started playing alto saxophone at the age of 9. Kind of an accident actually. As a kid I really wanted to play the drums but my parents never were a big fan of having drums at home. On an open day to try out instruments I got to try the saxophone and immediately knew this was the right instrument for me.

MBS: Have you always played baritone?

MS: I started out (like most kids who start playing the saxophone) on a alto sax. After a few years I got the opportunity to play the baritone sax in an saxophone ensemble. Since that moment I started focussing more and more on the baritone sax until the moment I decided I just wanted to play the baritone sax. As a kid unfortunately I didn’t had my own baritone sax to study on so I drove the baritone sax of the ensemble back home on the back of my bicycle. Carefully balancing it so I didn’t hit any parked cars on my way. Amazingly it never went wrong. As soon as I started my studies in Amsterdam I bought my own baritone. From that moment on the baritone sax started to take up more and more study time until I decided to solely focus on the baritone. For the last 4 years I haven’t touched my alto and honestly never regretted my decision.

MBS: Where did you study and with whom?

MS: I started my studies in Amersfoort, the Netherlands at Scholen in de Kunst with Jaap Dijkhuizen. In 2007 I started a preliminary study in classical saxophone with Henk van Twillert at the Conservatorium of Amsterdam. In 2008 I moved to Porto, Portugal to start my bachelors at the ESMAE (Escola Superior de Música, Artes e Espectáculo) with Henk van Twillert, Fernando Ramos and Gilberto Bernardes. I continued in Porto to do my masters degree and I am currently finishing my Portuguese adventure.

MBS: What groups have you played with?

MS: I’m very privileged to have played and traveled with several unique ensembles during my studies. In 2010 till 2011 I concluded two successful European tours with the European Saxophone Ensemble playing the 1st Baritone and in the 2nd tour the bass sax. A great project joining saxophonists from all over Europe and having composers write original compositions and work with the ensemble

From 2009 till 2013 I have played with Vento do Norte. A saxophone ensemble from Portugal and did tours in Venezuela, the Caribbean, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands.

MBS: What or who has inspired your personal concept of how a baritone should sound?

MS: I guess many famous baritone saxophonists like Gerry Mulligan, Henk van Twillert, Pepper Adams, Claude Delangle, Dana Colley and many more have influenced my sound but I wouldn’t be able to say I have a singular concept on what the sound of the baritone should be. Every composition I play and ensembles or groups I play with demands a different approach to the concept of sound, timbre, articulation etc. I try to be as flexible as possible so that I’m able to shift fast between different concepts and styles. For example being a part of a saxophone ensemble you need to have a very broad sound and very clear articulation. When playing solo I have much more freedom to choose any concept of sound that fits to my opinion best to the specific style of music. For example in PIMPIN’ by Jacob TV I think more on a Jazzy sound but with a very classical approach to articulation.

MBS: What is your horn setup?

MS: I play on a Yamaha YBS-62, a Paraschos wooden neck, Selmer D mouthpiece (refaced so the tip is a bit more open) and play on Legere plastic reeds. On the Bari sax the Legere reeds work exceptionally well. The synthetic material adds a bit more high frequencies to the sound while maintaining the raw edges in the low registers.

MBS: What musicians do you find yourself listening to now?

MS: I always have been listening to a very wide range of musical genres. In my early teens I started with punk and metal but at the same time I was skipping classes so I could hear the 9th of Dvorak. I guess I was a somewhat peculiar kid 🙂 Over the years this changed a lot. I would have months of listening to the greats of avant-garde jazz and then change to speed gypsy from Romania and Servia. The last year though I have enjoyed very much listening to guys like Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, Dawn of Midi, Andreas Stahel and Don Li. Thanks to some very good friends in Portugal I listen a lot to José Afonso, Chico Buarque and late pianist Bernardo Sassetti. Keeping in mind this is for a Baritone Saxophone blog I should tell something about great Baritone tunes as well, Helmut Brandt, the Flat Earth Society, Jonah Parzen-Johnson, Céline Bonacina, David Mott and Colin Stetson are some of my all time favorites.


Review of Interview with Dan Oestreicher of Trombone Shorty

Linked from http://www.examiner.com

If you are unfamiliar with the name Dan Oestreicher then perhaps you are familiar with the genre blending music of Trombone Shorty. Dan can be heard with Roger Lewis’ Baritone Saxophone choir, Trombone Shorty, New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, and on albums by Cee Lo Green, Zac Brown, and Rod Stewart.

This interview is much more of a friendly discussion between two great musician and great friends. It is candid and has colorful language. Dan doesn’t mince words when discussing the current state of music in New Orleans, source inspiration for Trombone Shorty’s sound, or music education. This interview is the kind of behind the scenes that most people outside of the immediate musical community does not get exposed to. Dan is passionate and inspired when he talks of his personal musical journey and it adds additional depth to the listening experience.

From a technical point of view the recordings are of good quality and both Jonathan and Dan are easily heard and understood. There are some background audio distractions ranging from a light clicking to the sound of driving, but otherwise they are easy to ignore.

TAKE AWAY: This snapshot of Dan Oestreicher is enjoyable to listen to and sheds a new light on his playing. He is a serious musician and a passionate observer of humanity.

Click here to visit Jonathan Freilich’s page and listen to his interview with Dan Oestreicher.

How did you choose your mouthpiece?

François Louis Master Class

Master mouthpiece maker François Louis (FL) explains his philosophy, mouthpiece mechanics and the basics of how reed choice effects sounds. Here are some excerpts of M. Louis masterclass. If you are not familiar with him or his pieces then you may be familiar with his sound. Baritonist Ronnie Cuber has played FL mouthpieces for a large part of his career and swears by them. Other great musicians playing his pieces include Jerry Bergonzi, Bob Sheppard, and Joe Lovano. Obviously these great names in the art of saxophone playing could play just about anything they wanted and they chose his mouthpieces. Keep that in mind as he shares his passion.

Choosing your saxophone mouthpiece. François Louis’ master class at Mariachi from dmitry semaev on Vimeo.

Not sure if you want to watch the entire 1 hour video? Here is a sample from the first 7 minutes.

François Louis {FL} on choosing a reed

00:05:39 – FL: “..the reed will be comfortable according to your natural air pressure. There are people who blow with a lot of pressure and they will need a hard reed, and if it’s natural for you to play with little pressure you will comfortable with a soft reed. So it doesn’t make a bigger sound because it’s hard reed. So what I say to have a reed which is comfortable, is that you would just blow naturally, no forcing at all. <blows out> Just relaxing and you should have no sound if you do that in the saxophone. But as soon as you push a little <more intense air puff> you get a sound. That is the perfect balance of resistance that you will control perfectly.

Modern Bari Sax (MBS) interpretation:  The right reed strength is one where upon taking a relaxed breath through the horn creates no sound but when the air stream is intensified slightly creates a sound.

FL on ligature placement

00:06:31 – FL: “Put the ligature on the mouthpiece, if you put the ligature on the front of the mouthpiece this distance will be short. <gestures to distance from front edge of ligature to tip of reed> If you put it on the back like Dexter (reference to Dexter Gordon) This point will come to here. <gesturing to diagram>.. And what is the main quality of Dexter Gordon’s sound? A very fat buzz, and its the back of the reed that really hits the beginning of the table. 

MBS:  The ligatures placement along the reed can effect the qualities present in the tone. In the case of Dexter Gordon, his fat buzz was in part due to his placement of the ligature very far from the tip of the reed.

TAKE AWAY: This video is worth watching because if you listen and use some of his knowledge it could help you identify traits you like in your current setup or help you in selecting your next setup.


Messages with Denis DiBlasio

Photo by keisis44, Flickr

I have had the absolute pleasure to exchange messages back and fourth with Denis DiBlasio over the past few months and it is my great pleasure to say he seems to be a quite pleasant person. He has entertained my questions both silly and serious with great humor. I will go on record to say that he was the first baritone saxophonist I had ever heard and enjoyed. I heard him first during his stint with Maynard Ferguson and have been a fan since.  I am a fan of Bruce Johnstone but i don’t have anything by him other than the Maynard Stuff.

What have I learned? Firstly he is still using the Vandoren V16 – B9 with Vandoren Traditional blue box reeds. That would help to explain his full, focused, and warm tone when compared to someone like Gary Smulyan. Secondly he has another recording ini the works but he didn’t give any details. It  is my hope that he will bring in another Bari player like Smulyan or Jason Marshall to have a bit of a dueling thing happening.

That’s the little bit that I have for now but as I learn I will pass it along. By the way if  you haven’t had the chance to listen to his album Where the Jade Buddah Lives, you are missing some fantastic playing and I will be sharing my experience with the album as I continue to digest it.