What a great pleasure it is to share with you a fun hour and a half of baritone saxophone playing. Roger Rosenberg plays standards as well as some unique pieces then leads an all baritone ensemble. If 14 baritones on one stage sound frightening then you’re in for a surprise. The arrangements are the interesting and some of the student solos are very on point.
Whether you are new to the baritone saxophone or just discovered its sound is your voice and want to play one we can all use a bit of advice when it comes time to pick our axe. The same advice given for choosing the smaller horns apply to the baritone with a few exceptions and baritone specific constraints. In the end choosing the right baritone for each player will be a matter of personal taste but with a bit of guidance you can be confident in the choice you are making.
What kind of music do you want to play?
The baritone is a versatile horn though not used in all genres it can be push to play in almost any musical setting. What makes this question important is that some genres of music make use of the Low-A note that nearly all modern baritones are built down to. This Low-A is the a C2 on the piano. This is a heavily used note in big band arrangements after the 1950’s. You will sometimes find the bari doubling for or adding warmth and buzz to bass trombone lines. Funk, pop, gospel, and just about everything other than classical music will call on the bari to play that Low-A.
Low-A vs Low-Bb debate
There have been many claims that adding a Low-A changed the baritone and that a true bari only goes down to Low-Bb. The baritone great Joe Temperley has on more than one occasion stated he felt the Low-Bb horns had a better sound. He wasn’t the only person to make such claims in the musical world. It’s the MBS blog opinion that the build quality and design of the horn that makes more a difference in tone than the presences of a low-A tone hole. With that said, if you are used to doing overtone exercises on the smaller horns you will find that the overtones on the low-A horns feel very different. The overtones feel identical on Low-Bb baris as they do on all the other saxes. It shouldn’t be not a deal breaker. So enter your bari search with an open mind.
Vintage vs New
Vintage horns can be a great value for the player who wants a quality horn but does not want to buy a new horn, can’t afford it, or thinks the vintage horn has something modern ones don’t. There are dozens of brands of horns from yesteryear and each has a fanatical following promising players that their particular brand and models are the finest example of the baritone sax ever made. Some players will buy anything with a particular brand name on the bell. But even those sought after brands and models can have serious play-ability issues.
Vintage horns can have difficult ergonomics to get used to. things like spread finger touches, flat side keys, low or high palm keys, inline tone holes, and pinky tables that are far from the other touches can make for a difficult horn to play well. It’s been stated on more than one forum that the player has to ‘get used to the horn’. Getting used to poor ergonomics is not a wise choice if the player wants to remain injury free. Especially young players still developing their technique. Instead, playing and testing a vintage horn for comfort and fit to your individual anatomy is a much better.
Newer horns benefit from decades of refinement and a better understanding of ergonomics that wasn’t really considered before the late 50’s. Most newer saxophones have ergonomics based loosely or specifically on Selmer, Yamaha, or Keilwerth keywork layout. These setups are similar and have proven the test of time. Nearly any person will find horns with these setups to have a more comfortable feel under the fingers and in some cases a more balanced feel on the strap or harness. Where some players complain is the tone and robustness of the construction. With some players claiming that modern horns have a tone that lacks soul or heart. Sterile or uniform is anther description used for some modern horns. This is rather subjective so take comments like those with a grain of salt.
East Asian, North American, or European?
In the last 20 years horns from China, Taiwan, and now Vietnam and India have entered the marketplace. At first these horns were suitable only for students and in some cases not even that. These horns were at the time poor copies of name brand horn. Many still are copies but the quality of these copies has improved. This negative impression continues in the minds of many players, especially those who haven’t played a modern Taiwanese horn. Horns from Taiwan like P. Mauriat are quality instruments worthy of consideration. Many European makers are manufacturing their student line horns in Chinese factories. Conn-Selmer produces it’s Prelude line in Mainland China. As does Yamaha with the Advantage line. These are good quality horns that will serve their student players great and prepare them to move to a more feature rich model as their skills improve. I recommend not discounting the Asian import horns just because of their country of origin.
Buy online or in person
This is a hard topic for me as a full 90% of my baritone saxes and gear was purchased online and 100% of my clarinets. My flutes, piccolo and 2 of my saxes were purchased locally from local shops or other players. With that caveat out of the way i support both methods of purchase. The online marketplace opens the buyer to horns they couldn’t see any other way though you can never be sure of what you’ll receive or how it will play until you’ve committed to the purchase.
For example, I’ve played a Selmer Mk6 alto that as a real dog of a horn that was purchased online mostly due to the name and once sold was non-returnable. It was not the finest example of the Selmer brand due to some intonation issues that made playing it a chore. The owner of the horn lamented the purchase and said if he’d played it first he most likely wouldn’t have purchased it. The pressure from other players, the brand name and mystique all contributed to him making this purchase. He later put it back on ebay and made his money back. He ended up with a killer Super 20 from a local shop that he won’t part with short of death.
Buying from a local shop generally means you’ll pay more for the same horn. The shop keeper has overhead and the local market determines the prices. Where you pay more initially I believe the initial cost of ownership is lower as most shops offer a limited warranty even on used horns and many offer a limited service contract. My local sax shop offers a year warranty and very reasonable prices on cleaning and tuneups. This peace of mind is not something you get from most online purchases. I recommend that players start locally or at least consult with a local trusted shop keeper for advice even on a online purchase. My tech has warned me away from bad online purchases that I thought were good deals but his trained eyes explained the real estimated repair costs.
- Set a Budget before you begin looking.
- Choose either Low-A or Low-Bb (hint: Low A will be more versatile in today’s musical landscape)
- Choose Vintage (Pre 1970’s) or Modern (1970’s to Present)
- Consider being brand agnostic to open your opportunities
- Contact your local repair shop or independent retailer for their inventory
- If buying locally play the horn for an hour or more. Let it warm up and settle in your hands.
- Bring your mouthpiece, reeds, and neck strap/harness with you when you play test.
- If buying online, negotiate a return policy before completing the transaction
- Request images of the package pre-shipping and take images of the box immediate on arrival. Documenting condition of the packaging is critical to damage claims and can give repair techs a clue to how a damaged horn was treated in the box
- Once you buy the horn play it, play it, play it.
Whenever i hear a young musician asking for opinions on what their first mouthpiece upgrade should be when moving from a classical setup I find myself suggesting a proper rollover baffled mouthpiece. While it won’t have the pizazz of a high cliff baffled like a Guardala or the novelty like a Strathon Adjustone, what it will have is the flexibility to allow a young player to find their personal tone.
What is the baffle of a mouthpiece and why does it matter? The baffle is the part of the mouthpiece between the tip and the throat or chamber of the mouthpiece. This area has the most effect on the fundamental tone the player gets. More than the material, finish, or brand of the horn. While the tone concept starts in the mind and ears of the player the first physical manifestation of the tone starts just after the tip of the mouthpiece.
The baffle, in general, comes in 4 basic designs with all others being derivatives of these four.
The first is the flat baffle. This is usually found in classical pieces like Selmer S-80, S-90, Soloist, Vandoren Optimum, and many other classically oriented mouthpieces as well as a few Jazz pieces like the Theo Wanne Ambika. These generally have a focused and even tone. The mouthpiece doesn’t seem to color the tone as much. Kenny Garrett is a great example of how intense and jazz a flat baffle can sound.
Second is the Step baffle (shelf baffle, table baffle, cliff baffle, etc.) which is characterized by the baffle rising quickly to be closer to the reed that a straight baffle. It focuses restricts the air-stream blowing through it and, by the laws of fluid dynamics, increases it speed through the restriction. Step baffles tend to be great with altissimo as the design seems to emphasize the higher partials in the tone. This leads to a brighter tone with more projection. There is an endless stream of high step baffle players, myself included, as it’s probably the most popular at the moment but Michael Brecker, Mike Phillips, David Sanborn, Nick Brignola, and many others give great examples of brighter high baffled sound.
The third is the scooped or what I call the inverted rollover baffle. For this piece the area behind the tip opening of scooped out. This leaves what I call a black hole for good tone. I’ve found these to be resistant and generally lacking the high partials that give the saxophone it’s characteristic tone. You’ll find these old timers on ebay as the super vintage pieces. The scoop baffle is usually paired with scooped side walls and a monstrous chamber. You will be mistaken in thinking that this design would make a good classical piece. They have nearly no projection, tend to play somewhat flatter, and for all the real state they need inside the body of the piece has to be very large compared to more modern pieces, post 1940. These pieces have their place but i can’t explain where that is in the modern musical landscape. *edit* Rico Graftonite has a slight concave area behind the tip.
Lastly, is the roll-over baffle. It combines a raised area behind the tip and a long flat area just after that. It’s almost a combination of the cliff baffle and the straight baffle. This amalgam of the best features of both is why i think it should be recommended to students as their first upgrade as they enter the jazz world. The raised section behind the tip speeds up the air through the opening boosting some of the high partials while the long flat baffle behind it aids in creating a consistent tone across the registers. This combo gives the player the ability to brighten or darken their tone at will without considerable effort. A mild change to close the oral cavity can give a brighter tone than the straight baffle or with a relaxed oral cavity you can darken the tone to a vintage sub-tone sound. Chris Potter is a great example of a killer rollover mouthpiece tone, though his vintage Otto Link likely has a higher rollover than more modern links the effects are still obvious.
While the oral cavity makes a difference for all mouthpieces the amount of the effect is dependent on the mouthpiece type. Trying to darken a small chamber step/cliff baffle piece just by opening out oral cavity is possible but will likely be tiring and the effect much less than with a different baffle shape. The effect can go the other way too, as trying to brighten scooped baffle piece is nearly if not completely impossible with the oral cavity. So clearly it’s a case for the right tool for the job. I do believe that most aspiring musicians looking for their first upgrade will likely not need to sound like Sanborn or even Garrett. Instead, steering them towards a mouthpiece with immense flexibility and directing them to listen to the great rollover players before them can lead them to a lifelong love of the rollover and possibly the last mouthpiece their ever buy.
As this is a baritone site i have to discuss this from a bari point of view. I think baritone players have a lot of leeway when it comes to the upgrade path. I think a Otto Link Tone Edge is a good first step towards to the more powerful rollovers as you can get from makers like: Theo Wanne Mouthpieces, RPC Mouthpieces, AM Mouthpieces, 10M Fan Mouthpieces, and many more.
Marching band: If a student is compelled to play bari sax on the marching field then 3 things should happen. First, the band director should be punished. The bari is a delicate horn despite its size and it’s voice will never carry as far as a higher pitched instrument. Secondly, you should correct any young bari player who think’s it makes you tough to march the baritone. That’s bullshit, it just risks injury as even the best harness can only do so much for a developing body. Lastly, the student should be steered to the lowest step baffle piece they can get. A Berg Larsen 1 or 2 baffle at a comfortably open tip opening. Pair this with a plastic coated reed and the player could possible coax the best sound and best volume available to the big horn.
Concert Band/Classical Performance: A Selmer S-80, S-90, Rousseau, Vandoren Optimum and many other straight baffled pieces are inexpensive and allow the player to assume the role as support to the low wind the bari is ususally written for.
Big Band: Here’s where things get wacky. A good rollover will help the student blend yet still offer the punch during a solo section. Once the young player goes to college they may wish for a bit more power and upgrade to a cliff baffle but if they talk to one of the custom makers listed earlier they will likely find that the maker can make them a rollover that gets most of the power of a cliff/step baffle. At the end of the day blending with the section trumps most other tone based concerns.
Learn more about mouthpiece baffles at Theo Wanne’s website
Can a mouthpiece 3d printed on a home machine and created from a file found on the internet actually be playable? The short answer is a remarkable, maybe! As you might imagine there are quite a few caveats to print and play sax mouthpieces and I’ll touch on those shortly.
I’ve been heavily into 3d printing for a few years. From building my own machines to ready to print machines, I’ve been involved in the community. I toyed with the idea of 3D printing a sax mouthpiece but my design skill limitations made that an unlikely possibility unless someone else made the design. then a few years ago i learned of students at the TU Delft were using acoustic principles, 3D printing and professional saxophonists to test designs. I was enamored that this was being pursued in a serious and researched way. I suspect that it was some of these students that would go on to form the saxophone mouthpiece company SYOS.
After a few years I had forgotten about 3D printing a mouthpiece until Mark at 10MFan mouthpieces released his then new models Robusto and Merlot as 3D printed versions. They were made of a metal rich material and quite heavy. The were hand finished by Eric Falcon. I purchased 1 of each the instant he said I could. They are smooth, heavy and play precisely like their machined from hard rubber cousins. This drove me back to the search for a 3D printable baritone mouthpiece and i finally found something that looked like it would work.
From first glance this piece should be quite easy to recognize. If you have play classical music in school then this rendering should being back memories of the Creston Sonata. The designer based this design from the Selmer S-80 mouthpiece complete with square chamber.What stood out for me was the facing curve look deliberate and familiar. This means nothing until it’s printed but there are many other mouthpiece designs that have good intention but no knowledge behind them.
I printed the mouthpiece initially in gray PLA plastic which is generally considered safe for use in the mouth. The printer I used is my genuine Prusa I3 Mk3. This printer is considered on of the best and most advanced printers. It is tuned and produces fantastic results on everything it is tasked with printing. I printed in a low 0.3mm layer height and 20% infill. If these terms don’t make sense i’ll sum them up as layer height refers to the thickness of each layer of plastic that is stacked to make the mouthpiece. The infill refers to how much empty space there is in the walls of the model. In this case a 20% infill mean a 80% hollow interior.
Test print #1:
This piece was coarse to the touch because I printed with a really low resolution. When the mouthpiece completed printing and was removed from the plate i remove any lingering plastic detritus that stuck around and then slapped a reed on it. I chose a #3 Rico V5. I found that strength can play on almost any mouthpiece. The designers attention to detail was perfect as the mouthpiece immediately played. The tone was a bit airy as the table to reed seal had many small leaks due to the coarse layer resolution. Despite this it played and responded mostly like the S-80 should. Bolstered by this discovery I set out to print a better version and improve playablilty. The next step will be higher resolution. With high resolution come longer print times.
Test print #2:
The original print took about 6 hours to print. The predicted print time for this mouthpiece at the highest resolution the printer can make was around 14 hours. I didn’t want to wait so I choose yet another resolution a bit toward the higher resolution but not quite the finest. 8 hours later i was holding a higher res version of the same piece. This time mouthpiece sounded much better. The finer resolution meant the facing curve and table have much smaller layers visible. The meant that the airy sounds was drastically reduced. The mouthpiece was much closer to the performance of the stock hard rubber S-80. I had no issues with intonation with the piece and it was quite reed friendly. It had the warmth and slight reediness you can get from a slightly too soft reed on a S-80. Over all i was impressed and so was the sax section ahead of rehearsal that evening.
Test print #3:
Believe it or not these pieces play quite well and I think with a touch up on the facing will play every bit as good as the original. The model creator did a good job modeling this mouthpiece from scratch and with only a digital calipers and ruler from an original piece.
Could this piece be printed by a band director for his bari players and save a few bucks? Sure, but the band director would need to be able to face this piece or at a minimum clean up printing artifacts. The print does present some unusual challenges but experienced 3D printer users achieve a quality output from even the most modest of printer. I recommend printing this piece using a SLA printer for the highest quality with minimal layer lines.
My first musical experience as a musician was playing classical music. Like most young musicians, we learn the basics through classical tradition. As a sax player Siguard Rascher, Fred Hemke, and Eugene Rousseau were the models we were expected to emulate. By the time I had moved to baritone I’d left behind these masters in favor of the other masters: Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams, and Paul ‘hucklebuck’ Williams. But I have never really stopped enjoying classical playing it’s just there aren’t many great examples of Classical Baritone playing back when i was a student. Thankfully there are are classic videos like this one and the music of players like Arno Bornkamp, Tod Oxford, and Professor Steven Banks to keep the classical baritone tradition alive.
If you haven’t spent the time to absorb this great Mulligan performance then you are missing an opportunity to hear him as he continues to create relevant composition and arrangements. It is clear here that he is on the journey to the contemporary sound he would later tweak by the time of the 1995 Dragonfly recording with Grover Washington Jr.. This recording is chock full of Mulligan’isms and still feels exciting and new while having an ear to the past.
The song list:
- Ring around the Bright Star
- Lonesome Boulevard
- A Gift For Dizzy
- Walking Shoes
- Sun on Stairs
- Satin Doll
- The Flying Scotsman
- Ring around the Bright Star
Gerry Mulligan – baritone sax
Bill Charlap – piano
Dean Johnson – bass
David Ratajczak – drums
What do you get when combine the punch of a 0-SMS Berg and artisan-ship of a handmade mouthpiece? You get the AM Mouthpieces Katana. If you are familiar with it’s namesake then you know a katana is considered one of the best weapons to grace the battlefield. It’s sharp, durable and purposeful in it’s action. These were weapons of a warrior class and demanded practice and respect to wield it responsibly. Thankfully this mouthpiece doesn’t require much break in time for your embouchure so you’ll be able to start slicing through the mix with this well balanced musical tool.
My last mouthpiece review was my Theo Wanne DURGA Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece size 7. (Affiliate link) I can’t tell how many compliments I received from fellow players who say my husky tone is what they think all baritones should sound like. I very much like how I sound on the piece and intend to keep it for years to come but now I need a bit more. The Durga is great but it can’t quite keep up with the funk band I’ve recently joined. Competing against electric instruments even while mic’d is not an easy task with a dark’ish mouthpiece. With that I knew I needed more powaaaah!
With that I reached out to Arnold Montgomery at AM mouthpieces with my list of requirements and my credit card. Arnold listened to what I was trying to do and recommended the Katana in a new white composite material for which he has only a few baritone saxophone blanks. After our brief conversation I felt I had made a good decision. Besides, the opportunity to have a rare’ish mouthpiece is hard to pass up and user reviews from his other mouthpieces were positively glowing.
First thing I noticed is the brilliant white of the material. I didn’t test for hardness but it had a mouth feel somewhere between plastic and hard rubber. I t was very smooth and Arnold’s finish work is superb. The tip an side rails were perfectly shaped and crisp, everything you’d expect from a hand made piece. The crisp tip rail aids in clean and rapid articulation. This was
The second thing i noticed was the thin shank. I asked Arnold if the thin needed reinforcement but he assured me that the material was quite robust and would fair well normal use. Which i took to mean “If you don’t drop it or kick it around it will be fine.” After almost 50 hours of playing I have not seen any change in the mouthpieces look, in fact i had dropped one day while fishing it out of the bag I had it in. It fell about 12 inches to the wood dance floor of the community center our big band was playing in. It landed nearly flat with the shank corner touching down first. As Arnold had suggested the mouthpiece was no worse for wear.
Design: This piece has a slim mouth feel due to it having a thin and long beak. The mouthfeel is ever so slightly larger than a metal mouthpiece but not by much. So if you are a tenor player who need to swap quickly to baritone or just a player who likes the feel of metal mouthpieces but want the comfort of a more forgiving material like resin or hard rubber then this design will fit the bill.
Tone: While tone is subjective a few basic features can described. This piece has a high and long baffle which when combined with his custom chamber and throat design adds edge to the tone without it becoming harsh and abrasive. In a way it’s Berg’ish but different. With more Doc Kupka / Pepper Adams punch than the Theo Wanne Durga. In some ways it’s quite easy to get a medium-bright Brignola tone al la his Strathon Adjust-tone days when paired with a dark reed..
Quirks: This has a tenor like diameter so finding a perfect ligature may take a bit of effort. In fact i found two hard rubber tenor and 2 metal clarinet ligatures that fit it but not one of my bari ligatures fit. Also, I don’t feel like it vibrates quite the same as a hard rubber or metal piece so I added a firm tooth pad to the beak to give tooth feel I’m used to. I used a clear Theo Wanne Mouthpiece saver tooth pad.
Value: This is an easy one. For the price of a mass produced piece you can have a hand made mouthpiece. The truth is Arnold should be selling these pieces at double the price and it would still be a great deal.
Take Away: Though it had a tendency to exacerbate my Yanagisawa’s flat sounding palm keys I still recommend this piece. I actually attribute that issue to a flaw in the horn design or poor palm key and not to the mouthpiece.The piece is made by a mouthpiece artist and we as players should be looking to keep innovators like Arnold growing and creating. Unfortunately the mouthpiece market is flooded with mass produced units and hyper expensive customs. Arnold has a middle market that is affordable to most and accessible to all. This is a great area also occupied by the likes of RPC and 10M Fans mouthpieces. We have to keep creators like them alive and pushing the boundary between affordability and high quality.
What do you get when you combine 50% bamboo with a soft specially formulated resin? You get a pretty good reed that comes with a pain in the ass caveat. While being a mid priced contender in the synthetic reed category this brand may cost you more initially.
As most sax player who know me can attest, I am a complete convert from natural cane to synthetic and hybrid reeds. The quality of these products have come a long way since the old “Betcha”, Luellen, and Maccaferri plastic reeds from the 1940’s and 50’s. Today we have many more choices than ever before. The most popular brands are: Légère, Forestone, Hartmann Fiberreed, Bravo, Bari, and Fibracell. There are new far east manufacturers launching products nearly monthly so as more players explore synthetics I expect established reed brands like Vandoren will eventually enter the marketplace. Rico entered the specialty reeds market in the 90’s with the black Plasticover reeds. These are simply cane reeds that have been covered with a very thin layer of plastic or resin. Of the popular brands there is a lot to like and dislike but in the end it’s up to each player to try them and decide on their own.
How I judge a reeds performance.
- Tone Quality
- Surface Finish and build quality
- Ease of use
Sound Quality: The tone from a properly strength reeds has most of the depth and sweetness of cane. I had a hard time hearing the difference in some low passages during playback of my recordings. The reed has a unique but cane-like sound. The low end of the horn really responds well to these reeds and speak with authority especially the low Bb and A. Most players sitting next to me never hear a difference and for the most part no audience member has noticed anything amiss.
Surface and build quality: This is where some of the highest and lowest priced reeds start to falter. Reeds like Hartmann and the Brave tend to have sharp side rails and tip rails. I’ve more than once given myself a abrasion on my lower lip and tongue using these reeds. The Forestones’ on the other hand are smooth in texture and almost velvety soft. Not literally velvety but softer than the plastic feel of the Légère and Bravo. The side rails and tip are slightly rounded and from the vamp to the tip is nearly glass like in smoothness. Over all it has the best mouth feel of all the reeds, natural and synthetic, that i own.
Ease of Use: This depends on the ligature type, reed strength, mouthpiece table finish but this reed is like most synthetics. You can strap them on and play. There’s no need to warm them up, soak them, or do anything special before playing them. Forestone reeds because of their slightly ‘softer’ material seems to stay where i put it on the mouthpiece without need to crank hard on the ligature. That’s not the case for all synthetics. Some ligatures won’t grip a synthetic firmly enough for some players. That’s a problem I started having with Légère reeds once I moved to my Theo Wanne Durga mouthpiece. The metal tone plate had a hard time keeping the reed from moving let to right. I’ve contacted Légère about adding a texture to the bark of their reeds to compensate and give the ligature a fighting chance to secure the reed without over tightening the ligature.
Longevity: This is where most of us start tying synthetics. The Forestone do not disappoint in this area. Like most synthetics, these reeds can take a ton of abuse that would cripple or break a cane reed. See Derick Brown the BeatBox-Sax on Youtube, he uses Légère exclusively. There aren’t many advanced techniques that will cause harm to these or most synthetics.
I am able to use these for 3 months at a time before they are slightly but noticeably softer. That include using them for 10 – 20 hours a week for rehearsals and gigs. 3 months is a bit less than I get with Légère which i can use for 4 to 6 months before they feel fatigued. Now all is not coming up roses as the Forestone’s change throughout a gig. They start off cold at one strength and then 1.5 hours in it’s about a 1/4 strength softer. I find this happens mostly where the gig has near constant bari parts with minimal cool down between songs.
Cost: These things are cheap compared to a box of reed but expensive if you have to buy a few to find your strength. The average for sing reeds, aside from the Bravo’s, is around $28. This is a little cheaper than a box of Vandoren or Rico Selects.
- consistent performance
- no warm up needed
- no warping
- no water logging
- no humidity, temperature, or altitude problems
- longer life than that of a traditional cane reed
- can be adjusted by clipping or shaving
The Cons: The most egregious of all the issues with these reeds is the strength numbering system. They have two systems floating around, the F1 – 5 and the Soft – Hard system. It could be that they changed from one system to the other but had so much inventory already distributed that it was impractical to recall them or offer the vendors stickers to explain the current system. Either way it’s a pain in the ass and I’ve found that if you can try a few sizes up and down from your normal strength at your local music shop then you’ll save money dialing in your preferred strength.
Take away and the Reality of Synthetics: Like most synthetic reeds these have a particular sound. It’s a sound that is unique to itself and to the player using them. They may get close to sounding like cane but they will never replicate cane perfectly but I’d argue that even cane isn’t consistent enough within a single box let alone across the various brands to have a signature cane sound. Instead of expecting synthetics to sound like cane the player should approach synthetics for their unique sounds and find the one that meets their performance goals and tone concept. I think most people who try and hate synthetics either haven’t tried recent ones or are disappointed that it didn’t sound precisely like that perfect reed from their favorite brand. Instead, if they had approached them as unique tools to develop their signature sound then they would enjoy the experience more.
“If you can afford this piece then buy it and I’m sure you’ll love it. If you can’t there are other great options at half this price. I am hoping that Theo will eventually replicate this design in hard rubber at 50% of the price. I’d buy it at $350 – 500.” – MBS Review of Durga 8*
Yes, I said it a few months ago in a review of what was a unique and beautiful bari mouthpiece. I wanted more than anything to tell everyone to go get one but I couldn’t in good conscience do it as I found it to bee much to expensive for what you get even though it’s a great piece. I enjoyed the Durga 8* and had to return it to it’s rightful owner reluctantly. From that point forward I sent Google Alerts ,Ebay searches, and Amazon wish-lists that included the Durga Bari mouthpiece in 7* tip. I was determined to be ready to buy if a deal arose. It took several months and lots of patience but a deal did arise (ebay) and I scored a brand new in the box Theo Wanne Durga Baritone mouthpiece for 1/2 retail in the tip opening I wanted. A rare opportunity to be sure.
There isn’t much difference between the 7* and 8* except for the tip. As best i remember the & plays the same as the 8. So my review of the Durga still holds but having more time with it has allowed me to play it in more musical situations. This time the musical situation include a newly forming funk group and of course big-bands. and So is this a jack of trades or simply the master of none?
Going into the funk/R&B setting i knew what the band was after. Something between Doc Kupka and Leroy Cooper. So finding the right reeds were going to be important. if you are familiar with these two excellent players you’ll know Doc has the edge and projection where ‘Hog’ has the bit more warmth and a bluesy feel. With this in mind I began with a Tweet to Theo Wanne’s account for advice. Representative David recommended Vandoren Java Green as a starting point. I’d not previously had good experience with them but I figured I’d buy a sample pack and give a go.
As expected the greens were a no go and neither the Java Red or the ZZ were my cup of tea, maybe I need a half strength harder. Unexpectedly the winner was the the one i had the least amount of hope with. The winner was the Vandoren Traditional, or blue box as some call them. It may have been the thicker heart and thinner tip combo that tamed the high partials and warmed the sound considerably. Also the reeds width is perfect fit on the table and side rails. I believe Theo must have used Vandorens to size the table and rails. This has become my big-band setup. I can blend with the section or push a little and cut through. This combo got me many compliments on the bandstand.
In the R&B setting the Vandoren reeds that I had weren’t bright enough. I then turned to my Rico’s. This included LaVoz (Medium and Medium-hard), Rico (orange box 2.5 and 3’s), and Rico Select (medium and hard). I had mixed results with the Rico 3’s having good punch and articulation but sounded a bit thin. The last from my Rico box was a fresh box of Plasticover (3.0 and 3.5). These seemed to be what i was looking. They are bright, punchy, didn’t change much as you played and got much closer to the Doc Kupka sound. The negative is that they are too thin in width across the tip. You have to center the reed exactly and not move it a millimeter out of place or squeak city.
The last batch of reeds on my list are the synthetics. I love synthetics! I am an enthusiastic supporter of synthetics but this mouthpiece and I just can’t find the right combo to make it work. Synthetic reeds seem to get warmer and softer much quicker on this mouthpiece than any hard rubber or metal piece I’ve ever used. For example, with Légère reeds (2.75, 3), they all do well for the first hour of rehearsal then they feel like turn a quarter strength softer and don’t behave the same. I think this may have to due with the very massive Durga mouthpiece absorbing lots of body heat as I play then warming the reed much more than ti would if it were attached to a more insulating hard rubber mouthpiece. I found the same effect with Forestone, my favorite for Aaron Drake mouthpieces, and Bari brand synthetic reeds.
For now this mouthpiece can do 90% of what I need it to do and do it with style. I’ll keep shopping around for the right reed for the R&B/Funk tone i want. I’m thinking a Harry Hartmann Fiberreed might be the ticket but i won’t know until I buy a couple of sizes and try them out. I’ll update this page with the results.
When you think vintage baritones what comes to mind? Most of us probably think of Conn 12m, Selmer Mark VI, Keilwerth made Couf’s, or King Super 20’s. These are all fine and good as I’ve owned at least one of each but my ears and heart love vintage Japanese horns. Whether it’s a Yamaha made Vito horn or the Japanese made Martin stencils from the other plucky horn maker Yanagisawa, the craftsmanship is undeniably better than cottage industry stuff from China today. While I am a fan of these horns would I recommend them? In a word, YES!
When I saw the new Facebook alternative to Craigslist in my feed I had no idea it would lead to me finding a gem of horn just waiting for my hard earned cash. Best yet, it was priced extremely aggressively. It was my good fortune to be ready to buy within seconds of the posting. I beat out the other purchase offers by less than 1 minute. Yes, I was fortunate. At the time the only Yanagisawa’s I’d had any experience with were altos that were new back in the late 90’s. They were fantastic horns and I suspected i’d enjoy this bari if it had as little as 10% of the tone those altos did.
The Feel: The first thing I noticed when I received the horn was how heavy it was. This instrument is noticibly heavier than the YBS-61 that it replaced. I have no issues wielding this horn through a 3 hour performance or rehearsal the same as I do the Yamaha but when i pick it up from the stand or from across my lap i feel like it weighs a smidge more. I don’t think this affects sound and it might be that this horn is balanced differently than a Yamaha of the same era.
The key touches are slightly closer together on the right hand but still comfortable than a Yamaha YBS-61/2. The left hand palm keys feel a bit taller but more compact as well. All things considered I believe the ergonomics of the horn lend well to large and small handed players alike. Though the right hand high-Eb/F key will still be a reach for the more petite or younger player.
Like Yamaha and Selmer the low-a is perfectly placed for a smooth transition from the thumb-rest to low A touch. The mechanism is similar to those used by other manufacturers so if you are used to a Selmer low-a or Yamaha then you will feel at home. There is a peculiarity about the bespoke low-a. The low-a pad closes heavy. I’m not sure if it’s the combined strength of the springs or that there’s slop in the mechanism but it almost slams shut. It’s seals well and my tech has worked with me to place thicker more cushioned low-A pad but when I had it done it felt too squishy. So for now I can live it it.
Improvements: What is missing from most vintage horns but is sorely needed is the triple strap ring. While it can be added to horns it doesn’t sit right with me to harm the lacquer on horn on purpose. Like most bari’s if you have a shorter or longer than average torso then the balance of the horn might fall more away or towards you depending on your support method. With a triple ring you can alter that balance. A short torso might choose the top ring to bring the mouthpiece closer and the taller the opposite.
The sound: This horn has a somewhat neutral over all tone when paired with a Yanagisawa mouthpiece. I like to keep a period correct mouthpiece by the manufacturer for each horn that I own. I feel it gives me the ability to sound s like the instrument maker intended. In this case a Yanagisawa hard rubber piece with this horn is a cool almost Lars Gullin or Mulligan’esq type tone. Overall an excellent combo. With that in mind the bari’s low overall inherent coloration really lets the player and mouthpiece develop a tone that is unique.
Intonation quirks: For the first time I’m happy to say there aren’t any significant intonation issues with this horn. A good tech can fix nearly all the funny quirks of intonation any horn has but to my surprise this horn plays evenly across all the registers. Yes, even the palm keys speak cleanly and with solid intonation.
Nits to Pick: The water key/spit valve just seems in the wrong place for a complete clearing of the moisture from the upper part of the horn. I’ve had my tech clean the orifice inside and out but when you try to clear the moisture there’s still a lot more than I expected remaining. I’ve taken to popping the neck off and pouring the moisture out.
The thumb-rest is a weak spot. I’ve gone though the original and now a replacement Yanagisawa plastic thumb-rest. Not sure why that is as on my Yamaha the first plastic thumb-rest lasted 25 years. The solution is a metal rest and maybe a wide one like the Sax Gourmet thumb-rest.
My Yamaha YBS-61 was my reliable workhorse which never left stranded and played well even when it leaked like a sieve. It has recorded hours of playing and always exemplified the fine Japanese craftsmanship we’ve all come to expect though it had design issues. The worse of which was the single upper octave vent that meant that the high G and A were always stuffy and flat. The solution which I’ve mentioned on this blog is to move the upper vent and cobble a new linkage. Thank fully this horn seems not to have venting or any significant design flaws.
Take Away: This is a well made, robust, and fantastic sounding horn that I would still enjoy even had I spent twice the amount of it. Actually my tech still doesn’t believe i paid what I did and said he’d normally charge 3 times what I paid for it from the shop. I expect to keep this horn for years to come.
I’m still surprised by the silly things I see happen when subs come to rehearsal to fill in for sick members. While they might be excellent musicians and people their behaviors sometimes leave a lot to desire. While you may want to chock odd behaviors up to youthful inexperience 9 out of 10 times its the experienced musician that seems to forget how to behave. To the credit of most of the band leaders I’ve worked with those players haven’t returned to the bandstand during my watch. So with that in mind let’s look a a few pointers how how not to get yourself uninvited back to the bandstand.
1. Be on time – With the advent of GPS enabled smart phones and the mobile internet getting lost is almost impossible. Sure, driving in an unfamiliar town in the dark is a distraction but if you research your journey and leave extra time you should be able to mitigate it. if you are unavoidably late then a call to the band leader or who booked you is in order in advance of call time.
2. Gear and Stands – Now that you’re at the rehearsal space ask someone where to keep your case and accessories. No, your bulky rolling mute case doesn’t belong on the stage. If you don’t have a mute tree for your music stand then find another keep them accessible while also getting that monolith of the rehearsal stage. Also, aware of seeming clear and accessible areas that are curiously devoid of cases despite the excellent location. This area maybe clear for fire code or reasons outside of the obvious. When in doubt ask someone.
3. Warm up ≠ fff Brecker or Ferguson licks – It’s not uncommon to have a brass player belting out his loudest Malagueña fanfare or something similar. This eventually leads to the next player who’s trying to warm up needing to increase their volume to hear themselves and so on until the rehearsal space is a wash in noise. I can’t speak for brass teachers but my woodwind teachers all had us warm our chops and fingers at a moderate or low volume focusing on centered tone and preparing the body for the exercise to follow in a calm a deliberate way. We worked to clear and focus the mind on making music.
4. *Be friendly to your section mates – This is a personal preference but I like to introduce myself and setup a general tone of relaxed confidence. I like the other players to know I want to be there. Also, that I’m interested in playing with them and hearing their take on the music. We don’t have to be best friends but a chilly shoulder doesn’t make me want to recommend them the next time a band leader needs a sub.
4.1 – Check your attitude at the door. – When the band comes together we’re there to make music not to have a pissing contest. I think we will all play with musicians who seem to be overconfident or cocky. I’ve noticed this more with young musicians than with old. If you haven’t yet then be sure that you’re not the overconfident one.
5. Look over the tunes before we play – Yes, you’ve played 12 versions of this tune but you don’t know how different this arrangement will be unless you look it over. Take stock of written changes and special notations. The player that gives themselves a solo during a written tacet section gives away the fact that they didn’t care enough to review the tune in the time before the rehearsal or in the lull between songs.
6. Play the tune like it’s your favorite – Please don’t grumble about having played this tune for the 47th time this week. This mouth poison really ruins the vibe of the section. instead approach the likes it’s your all time favorite and your audience, both on stage and in the seats, will hear the dramatic increase in quality.
7. Don’t be late.. Part 2 – During breaks, if the directors gives you a 10 minute break don’t be late returning to your seat. if you know your horn needs extra time to warm up, bari sax, then return a little early to start the warm up process again. The band shouldn’t have to wait for 1/2 way through the first tune for your intonation to be locked in.
8. Pickup the pieces – After rehearsal be courteous to your hosts and ask where to put your book, chair and stand. Most of the time you’ll be told not to worry but it leaves a good impression if you at least try to pick up after yourself.
9. Don’t be a ghost – After a rehearsal is the place where new gig opportunities are made. It’s your chance to compliment and be complimented,. Gather name and numbers, and to turn an musical experience into a personal one. When you disappear promptly after rehearsal you lose the opportunity for other musician to connect to you and share projects that they may need some help on. Also, don’t forget to take the time to thank who ever called you in to sub. That’s the person who can further your career.
Take all this with a grain of salt and do what make sense for you. I’m only sharing what troubles me from the professional and amateur musicians I’ve played with. If I’m off base please let me know what you think. Find me on Twitter at @modernbarisax
The site has had low output for the past few months as I recovered from some oral surgery. This left me unable to play the most lucrative gigs of the year for me but it had to be done when it was instead of the new year. Insurance deductibles, am I right?! Now that I’m back playing again I wanted to find a mouthpiece that was a bit smaller in tip opening so that my transition back into playing and rebuilding my embouchure would go well. For the rebuild process I choose a Yanagisawa hard rubber mouthpiece in a close 5 tip opening.
Design: This mouthpiece has all the hallmarks of Japanese manufacturing philosophy. The table, rails and all the milling is clean, crisp, and meticulous. They poured the efforts into making a mouthpiece that feels well manufactured even though it’s mass manufactured. The body is larger than a S-80 or S-90 mouthpiece but smaller than a vintage pickle barrel piece. So if you have a ligature that you prefer that fits a s-80/90 then you may need to hunt a larger one. The beak is medium tall, not as slim as duck bills but not as thick as vintage pieces. It sits well in the mouth and you may not want to use a thick mouthpiece patch. The chamber is large with a round throat and the piece has a slight roll-over baffle.
Tone: As you might expect from a medium sized chamber and round throat the tone is reasonably dark but can be pushed to develop edge as you shrink our oral cavity. I’ve been told it has a Gale styled chamber but I can’t be certain. You choice of reed strength and type will make a large difference in the tone. With a Harry Hartman Fiberreed Carbon at Medium Hard strength I can summon a lot of bite. It’s not the edge you get with a high baffle but a buzz you add to get additional definition from a warm piece. I’ve found that I get the best tone for my big band playing from a Forestone Hard reed.
Reed Friendliness: I’ve found that once the appropriate reed strength has been found this mouthpiece will play well with any reed. Frederick Hemke #4 reeds gave me a more classical tinge while Legere and Forestone‘s gave me a bright buzz but with depth of tone. If you can get the Yanagisawa single screw ligature which matches this mouthpiece I highly recommend it. It fits perfectly and the synthetic reeds I play seem to play a bit better with it.
Value: This piece is a good value if you need to upgrade from a stock or other cheap plastic mouthpiece but if you already have a piece that fills the same niche as this piece then no it’s not a good value. For example if you already have a S-80/90 or Rousseau and need something for a small combo or big band then I would invest 1/10th as much as this piece and get a Rico Metalite.
Final Thoughts: While some might be surprised to hear a player going smaller I suggest that many people have tip openings much bigger than needed. A #5 may be small for some players I think it’s perfect more intermediate to advanced students. I believe this piece to be superior in every way to the Yamaha line of mouthpieces and equal to Vandoren mouthpieces and more consistent that Selmer pieces.
Does the west coast jazz sound pioneered by bari greats like Gerry Mulligan and Serge Chaloff hold up against a modern jazz context and musicians? This album pairs the unlikely bosom buddies of Mulligan’s cool bari tone with modern edgy yet full tone of the late great saxophonist Grover Washington jr, cornetist Warren Vache, trumpeter Ryan Kisor and guitarist John Scofield. As Mulligan’s final recording before his death he reminded us that his style of lyricism and story telling is still fashionable in a world of higher and brighter jazz.
I had all but forgotten this album until I heard it’s title track on the radio. It was then that I remembered that I did not actually own this album. I was released in 1996 and I hadn’t gotten around to purchasing it it. Most notably because it has Gerry Mulligan and Grover Washington. In 1996 i was much more about playing and recording alto saxophone than the horn I would eventually find my voice on, the baritone. As I grew my mulligan collection through the 1990’s and 2000’s it’s still odd that I missed this album. Thankfully I have it now and I’m glad i do.
I mentioned the guest performers on the tracks but the emphasis is still on Mulligans classic quartet and his luscious cool tone. Something of note is that while listening you might notice that Mulligans tone has added a little edge. not a lot of edge mind you but just a bit. I’m still tracking down his setup for this final recording but it does sound different. It could be the higher fidelity of recording between this album and the previous ones.
This album is Gerry Mulligan in his pure form and if you are a fan of his then this album won’t disappoint. If on the other hand you are expecting something totally new then you’ll likely be disappointed. Other than a few track the album feels comfortable and familiar. There isn’t anything wrong with that old familiar feeling but it did leave me wanting more Grover Washington Jr collaboration.
Final Thoughts: This album is solid but safe. It deserves a place in your collection but it won’t bump Konitz meets Mulligan or Mulligan meets Monk off of your bari sax rotation.
I’ve been wanting to give my Yamaha YBS-61 a break and get a full overhaul but due to playing a lot of gigs and endless rehearsals I couldn’t be without a horn for a few weeks as it is done. My tech has a couple loaner horns but they are all vintage, one of them a vintage Mark VI low Bb. i love 60’s and older horns but my larger hands prefer a more modern key layout. With that in mind I waited and watched out for deals on used modern horns that weren’t Chinese made. Not that I have an issues with Chinese made horns I just wouldn’t spend more than $500 for one. Thanks to a Facebook alert a seller in the sax forum offed this horn for sale at fire-sale pricing. I had to jump immediately. and I’m glad I did.
More on this horn as I spend more time with it.
Yanagisawa Serial number chart from http://www.bandm.co.uk
1972 – 12729030
1973 – 12731254
1974 – 12745400
1975 – 12753382
1976 – 12764553
1977 – 12775790
1978 – 12781317
1979 – 12791801
1980 – 00102143
1981 – 00106981
1982 – 00111892
1983 – 00117142
1984 – 00122663
1985 – 00128485
1986 – 00134903
1987 – 00141658
1988 – 00148774
1989 – 00156006
1990 – 00162968
1991 – 00170073
1992 – 00177116
1993 – 00184318
1994 – 00189050
1995 – 00197400
1996 – 00205400
1997 – 00213000
1998 – 00219500
1999 – 00228250
2000 – 00235000
It should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ready my last 2 reviews of Shirantha Beddage’s albums that I’m a fan of his. I had some idea of what was to come on this album as Shirantha had tweeted its pending release. With the CD release only a month away I was quite excited to get a copy in my hands and begin the process of consuming it.
Let me start by saying my favorite feature of his combined talents is his tone. Yes, you’ve heard me harp on his tone before and for good reason. I still feel his tone represents a modern take on the husky dark bari sax of yesteryear. It has the edge you’d expect for a soloist but the depth of a big band bari tone. It stands in opposition to what has been a trend towards the brighter more edgy sounds as characterized by players like Pepper Adams, Nick Brignola, Denis Diblasio, and Gary Smulyan. I find Shirantha’s tone to be much more in line with players like Del Dako, Bruce Johnstone, and young players like Adam Schroeder. It’s my hope we’ll hear more soloists take a fuller tone in the future.
Another of my favorite features of this album is the variety of musical styles that are on display. From the New Orleans inspired song Pork Chop to the silky blues groove of Drag and Drop to the traditional Angle of Incidence. Each piece connects to the next though an instrumental or thematic link.That is until you get to the unusual and brief tune Axis of Rotation.
One of interesting tunes is Axis of Rotation, i find the tune somewhat anxiety inducing and unsettling. It has a repeating piano rhythm that is played against the dynamic percussion of Mark Kelso. This motion combined with the melody line weaving in and out with minor tonalities is tastefully unusual. I liked when composer and performers can illicit emotions with their art. The piece is rather short so it stands in good opposition to the straight ahead jazz of the next tune on the album, Angle of Incidence.
The last song on the album, the Long Goodbye, has gospel feeling without taking you church. It could be the soulful piano intro or just the fact that many phrase endings have that solid major resolution. The piece really bookends the album and brings you back to where you started with a simple melody and brilliant playing. It’s the kind of piece that sends a fond and sincere goodbye to the listener with the promise of a bit more in the future. I certainly hoep that is the case.
Listening to the album is like taking a trip with Shirantha as he points out his favorite places along the way. This album is a journey worth taking.