Jazz Everyone: Online Jazz Lessons

For a couple  years now I have been making the website Jazz Everyone a regular part of my practice. The host of the website is Willie Thomas, or as he prefers uncle Willie.

Willie’s approach is not the modal Jamey Aebersold approach though he does use materials created by Jamey, with his permission. Instead Willie uses a system of Pentatonic pair steps moving around the circle of 4ths/5ths. This forms the basic unit of his system. Aside from theory Willie teaches rhythms and style.

On staff at Jazz Everyone with Willie Thomas is Gary Smulyan, Steve Wiest, and Charlie Porter. These power house players offer insight and additional creative learning directions. It is a pleasure to hear different techniques and views on improvising from real masters of their instruments.

It is my opinion that to truly take advantage of the material you have to be honest with  yourself and spend time mastering the material presented. To spend to much time on the easier portion of a lesson and blow through the more difficult sections is doing a disservice to you as the student. The material presented increases in difficulty gradually and logically so there are no surprises from lesson. Each lesson builds upon the material presented in the previous lesson.

Pro’s: Great material. Willie really makes his pentatonic pairs approach accessible and easy to follow. The Jazz Everyone  material is great for beginners all the way through seasoned veterans looking to add to their knowledge base.

Con’s: The lesson plan could be better spelled out. Logically you would do the beginner section followed then by the Intermediate section and finally the Player’s Corner and it’s subsections. The players corner section features video lessons and graphically shown theory. This section is valuable to students working through either beginner or intermediate sections.

Take Away: This site features an excellent system that will have  you improvising quickly and with more style then when you started. There is a community component feature which is not heavly trafficked but is available and answers come quickly. For the price it is a great place to expand  your jazz knowledge but this is only true if you can be diligent and honest with the material.

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.

Berg Larsen Hard Rubber Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece

As a charter member of the GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) crew I have purchased, traded, and found many mouthpieces over the years. I have always found my way back to a Otto Link Tone Edge for my Baritone needs. I’ve always loved the tone I heard in recordings but hated the over feel of the mouthpiece. In my head the tone was stuffy and constrained to the horn but wow did it work well in the studio.

Well after a recent stint with the Otto Link Super Tone Master I had enough and decided to get a Berg Larsen and see what the hype was all about. I had my reservations about choosing a Berg. My fear was that it was a chops in a box type piece that would have me two shades from Pepper Adams and a far cry from my desired, dark with edge, tonal concept. Boy was I in for a surprise when she came in from the interwebs.

I waited for 2 months before I found the exact Berg that I was looking for on ebay. The piece is 110/1 SMS. I choose the medium opening of 110 because I have always liked how focused the tone is on more closed mouthpieces. For the baffle I choose a 1 because it is the 2nd lowest baffle and as expected was the 2nd darkest tone. The mouth feel is very neutral for a hard rubber piece, neither too big nor too small for my embouchure. These factors lead to a piece which can be pushed hard before the tone spreads too wide and thins out.

The tone of the piece is what pushed my Link into the drawer. This piece has power in part because of its bullet chamber, medium low baffle, and slight cliff baffle. But power is not all it has in it arsenal. When paired with a full bodied reed this piece has a depth of tone which is reminiscent of an Otto Link Tone Edge but with more flexibility. The combination of power, tone, and a bit of edge (or buzz depending on your favorite nomenclature), fulfills my criteria for a great mouthpiece.

The only con to choosing a mass produced mouthpiece let alone a used one is that you can’t be sure that the facing will be even and that the rails will be even. In my case I lucked out and got one that is quite even and the facing seems compatible with all of my reeds.

Take Away: For the money i couldn’t go wrong. Hard rubber Berg Larsen pieces sell for less than $160. Choosing one with a baffle height and tip opening which suits your playing style and personal tastes can help you sound anywhere from an Adams like roar to a Chaloff  haunting whisper.

Brancher Jazz Reeds

Generally I would not review a reed because of the inherent variability that comes from natural products. This variability can make one box of reeds a winner while the next box could be filled with duds. Not to mention that some reeds match and perform better with some mouthpieces.   Lastly, depending on your sound concept the same reed can be too thin sounding or to tubby sounding to different people.  With these caveats in mind I will touch on the quantifiable aspects of these reeds.

Reed Strength: 2.5
Reed Cut: Jazz

ManufacturerTip in thousands of Inch
Brancher0.005 – 0.007
Hemke0.006 – 0.008
La Voz0.0045 – 0.005
Fibracell0.0085 – 0.010
Rico V30.005 – 0.0065
Rico Royal0.0055 – 0.007

**** I measured these thickness at the very edge of the reed and at a point where my probes point is just behind the tip. ****

Unfortunately measuring at the heart is more difficult due to the difference in cuts and my inability to accurately locate the center of the heart as some of the reeds are cut off center. I also found it difficult to accurately measure the side rails of the reeds as well. I am currently working on a multi-point chart for measuring reed rails  and will update this posting when complete.

My sound concept leans towards the center to darker end of the spectrum with enough buzz to be heard. I also prefer a very focused tone with medium spread.   Denis DiBlasio (Vandoren V16), Bruce Johnstone (Drake Ceramic Mpc), and Alex Harding (RIA) just to name a few. I find that these reeds match pretty well to my Yamaha 5C mouthpiece and really gives the buzz to be heard. On my Otto Link STM it’s not a good match. The mouthpiece does need to be worked on to even the rails

TAKE AWAY: These reeds behave and give a similar mouth feel to Rico Orange Box V3’s. To my non-musician mate there was only the slightest of differences in tone between reeds.  For the money I would continue to use Rico Orange Box V3’s but at a price point of sub $10 a box it is worth it to buy Branchers.

Neotech Soft Harness Review

Ladies and gentlemen, before you I present one of the best means of supporting your heavy saxophone yet devised. It is the Neotech Soft Harness. Finally, a harness to take the weight of my Low-A Yamaha.

This harness is made of 100% better materials than the ebay harness I previously reviewed. This harness has wide shoulder straps and a horizontal link behind the back which mirrors the cross link in the front. In the front the shoulder straps meet at a “K” shaped junction. The hook is a non-marring swivel hook.


  • The weight of the horn is carried on the shoulders and not the neck. 
  • The shoulder pads are flat neoprene which are easy to hide under garments with minimal bulge
  • The hook is non marring and quite sturdy feeling
  • When sized right, the strap places the horn in near perfect playing position.
  • This strap works well for women of greater endowment as well as men with greater than average belly circumference.


  • Despite optimal embouchure placement the harness places the horn a bit too close to my body.
  • Comes in more than one size and the XL is considerably large.
  • If this piece keeps to my previous Neotech experience then the neoprene will stretch and will eventually stop supporting the instrument. For the record my previous Neotech strap lasted 3 years before the stretch became to great.

Take away: I love this harness and recommend bari players try one. I think you will like it too.

Colin Stetson – The History of Warfare Volume 2 – Judges

This album gained good reviews for a reason. Simply put this album is better placed between Jackson Pollock and a Pablo Picasso paintings in any museum. It is sonic painting in its most expressive without being constrained to particular genre. Each piece on this album travels from the surreal to the abstract and back.

This album may be his magnum opus as his ability use advanced circular breathing, multiphonics, altissimmo, microtones, vocalisations, and growling techniques may never be duplicated on bass saxophone again.  The breadth of tones he is able to channel includes; a bass saxophone, distorted guitar, human voice, didgeridoo, multiple percussion, and string bass. Bass saxophone is not the only instrument he plays on this album. On the solo track The righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man he plays an alto with the same expressiveness as he brings to the bass.

Aside from the expressiveness and amazing control Colin puts on display it is his talent for weaving together his self-accompanying pieces with the spoken word of Laurie Anderson and Shara Worden. The husky femininity of their voices is the perfect juxtaposition to his rapid fire and haunting lines.

My favorite piece on this album is the Blind Willie Johnson piece “Lord, I just can’t keep from crying”. In this piece Collin fills the track with a deep dark didgeridoo like sound rich with harmonics. Shara Worden’s vocals captures the blues anguish of Blind Willie’s words. This track is moving in its simplicity and soulfulness.

This album is not always an easy pill swallow. If you are expecting Bix Beiderbecke styled 20’s era bass saxophone you are going to be very disappointed. Colin takes saxophone playing in new directions and the average listener will have to leave their expectations at the door. In fact I played this album for my non-musician mate and she couldn’t tell it was a bass saxophone. When I then explained that he was playing all of the tones in the piece Judges real-time, she was impressed but still unsure if it was a bass saxophone.

Take away: This album is playful, serious, and hectic at times. It is not something to listen to while driving or out for a run. Instead it is my opinion that this album should be listened to like a fine wine. Not to be consumed at every occasion but to be enjoyed when the mood strikes and you want a auditory journey.

Enjoy this piece:

Bebop Bible by Les Wise

I came across references to this book while searching for material to practice II V I lines. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the book was out of print. After searching all of the common areas that one would look for a book library, Amazon.com, and a few of the online music retailers I settled on calling up a guitar player friend of mine to see if he had a copy of it lying around. Is my great luck that he did and now I have a copy of this excellent book.

The best part about this book is that it is not only for guitar players. It is written well within the range of most treble clef instruments and it’s spiral-bound so that it sits on a music stand perfectly without flipping close like a standard bookbinding. But enough about how it’s produced let’s talk about what’s inside.

The book opens with a section of major ideas. These lines begin on various degrees of the scale until he has created lines that include all the degrees of the scale. The second section features minor ideas and rotates through scale degrees like the first section. The third section like the second and the first rotates through scale degrees but is ideas based on dominant 7. In the fourth section begins ideas based on the II V I movement. In the previous three sections the ideas presented were based on one chord across the entire line whereas this section features the standard progression. The last two sections of the book are dedicated to simple lines and turnarounds

It is my opinion that to gain the most from this book you have to spend a lot of time with it. Mr. Wise did not spoon feed all of the ideas in all 12 keys so you will have to spend the time doing it yourself. Which we all know is the best way to learn any material anyway. With that in mind the 824 jazz ideas listed in this book have kept me occupied for the last two months. Slowly I have seen the material creep into my improvisation I still think I’m several months away from having a firm grasp on a quarter of what is shown in this book.

Take away: this is an excellent reference material book for anyone who wants to learn new material and broadened their bebop vocabulary. The only downside to this book is that it is very difficult to find it in print. On Amazon there’s a single seller trying to sell the book at over hundred dollars. Of course I don’t see this book being valued at $100 but there are many digital versions of this book floating around. See the link below.


I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to broaden their bebop vocabulary.

Ebay Saxophone Harness

I bought this strap on a whim because I wanted to take some of the load off of my neck. This was not the best way to spend $10+shipping.

Comfort: Due to the lack of shoulder padding i find this unit to be less comfortable than a proper padded neck strap. But if  you are coming from a traditional leather strap or basic nylon style neck strap this unit will be many times more comfortable.

Ease of Use: I rate this one low because unlike the Neotech the generic Chinese shoulder straps are not distinguishable from the waist straps. This makes it possible for you to wear the strap upside down.
Fit: This proved to be too small for my 6’1″ & 225lbs. This cross strap fell just below my nipples. Far to high to breath comfortably while keeping the horn at a sensible height.  
Hook: The hook arrived painted black and with a small 1cm piece or tube rubber to protect the strap eye on the horn. Within 1 hour of use the plastic had split allowing the clip to contact the neck strap eye. This quickly wore away the metal of the clip. By hour 5 the clip had a 0.5mm indentation due to metal wear. By hour 8 the clip had been worn half way through and the thumb activated clip no longer functioned properly. 
Take Away: For smaller musicians playing on smaller horns this will work quite well. For larger musicians, females or players of larger horns this will likely be uncomfortable. Aside from comfort the lackluster clip material could lead to a damaging fall from waist height for your horn.  On the other hand it does fit underneath a jacket for those formal occasions. Buy cheap and toss when it becomes a danger to the horn.

Please feel free to share your comments on my post or your opinion the equipment being reviewed.

Brilhart Levelair Baritone Mouthpiece

1970’s American craftsmanship meets 2012 tonal concepts, the results? An in your face, no holds barred baritone sound that will hold its own against just about anything in a modern band.
First Impressions:  This piece dates back to 1974 and the bite plate shows it. Despite this the rails and table are true and in near perfect condition. The person I bought it from was the original owner and had played for decades. This piece has a very slim mouth feel.
Ligature:  The stock Brilhart 2 screw ligature was slightly stretched and could not tighten as much as I prefer. Instead of the stock ligature I swapped on a generic 2 screw soprano ligature. The act of tightening a reed to the mouthpiece gently formed the soprano ligature to the mouthpiece replicating the original.
Reed friendliness: This piece loved every reed at my disposal and played well with a 2.5 – 3 reed on every brand I tried. After my debacle with an internet ordered Otto link its nice to have a mouthpiece that wants to play on just about any reed available.
Response:  This thing really barks when asked to. It seems to lack some of the subtleties you get from a lower baffle piece. This is not a bad thing per se. Articulation is easy up and down the horn with only a slight bit of resistance. Just enough to push against while playing.
Tonal/Dynamic Flexibility:  Depending on the reed choice this mouthpiece is either a sledge hammer or rock hammer. I can with great concentration and relaxation coax out subtone but this piece feels like it wants to rock. As a long time Ronnie Cuber fan I love the “Cuberish” tone I can generate with this piece. Of course I don’t think that is a product of the mouthpiece alone but this piece combined with my physical make up and tonal concept can really make this howl. 
Other: This mouthpiece has a very slender body and would great for a tenor player making the leap to baritone. The players embouchure will make a natural leap from metal tenor mouthpiece to this piece.
IntonationThis piece plays well in tune, when I’m in tune that is.
Take Away: This is my second Brilhart Level Air piece but my first on baritone. This piece is my new go to mouthpiece when I am playing with amplified instruments. Compared to my Rico Metalite this piece has more depth to the tone. The best part is that these vintage mouthpieces can be had a very reasonable prices on ebay and at local music shops. 

Please feel free to share your comments on my post or your opinion the piece being reviewed.

Otto Link Super Tone Master Baritone Mouthpiece

I bought this piece because my Tone Edge Hard Rubber Link just didn’t have the gutsy sound I was looking for. Even though I know better than to order a Otto Link or Berg Larsen from the net without playing it first, I was was sure that I would get lucky and get a gem of a piece.

First Impressions: The mouthpiece is heavy. It weighs in at 5.9oz. For comparison my hard rubber Yamaha 5C piece I use for classical/ensemble work is 2.13oz and my Vintage steel Brilhart Level Air piece weighs in 3.3oz. I am not sure if the weight effect the tone but I like the extra weight of the piece.

Ligature: I used the stock one screw ligature and a Rovner Dark. I couldn’t tell the difference in tone between them. The Rovner did secure the reed much better than the stock ligature.

Reed friendliness: Reeds used in play test: Rico Orange Box 3, Hemke (3, 2.5), Fibracell (2.5, 4), LaVoz Medium Hard, Legere 2 1/4. This piece did not like any of the reeds.

Response: I had issues with reed compatibility on this piece. I played around 20 different reeds and all of them played slightly poorly with this mouthpiece. I then played the same reeds on the Rousseau, A Level Air, HR Tone Edge link and they played with various levels or success. It would seem that this Link suffers from some issue related with its facing. This piece has a date with Eric Falcon over at Warburton for a reface later this month.

Tonal/Dynamic Flexibility: The best performing reed at my disposal was a Fibracell, which is not my favorite reed for Otto Links but provided a way to experience the playing characteristics of the piece. The piece has a very “Link” like tone. What I mean by that is that the sound can be modified by the player and his/her preferences in reeds and embouchure. I have been a Baritone Link player for the last 12 years and still consider them a great overall piece.

Other: The stock ligature did not hold the reed very securely and allowed it to move around. I have since paired it with a Rovner Dark ligature.

Intonation: This piece will be a great piece after being cleaned up at the refacer. My YBS-61 played exceptionally well in tune with this piece although the altissimo was weak sounding. I suspect it could be an issue with the reed.

Take Away: This piece has the potential to be grand but until it’s worked over it is a bit of a dud. In the future I will purchase Links only if they have been worked over by a known pro or I have played it before purchasing. I do get the impression that it will be fantastic when complete.

Please feel free to share your comments on my post or your opinion the piece being reviewed.

Enrico Pieranunzi, Ronnie Cuber Quartet – Inconsequence (1982) rel. (2000)

This album was given to me by a close friend because he knew I played baritone sax and he didn’t listen to it any longer. What a god send. This album has garnered a very high spot in my musical rotation list.

From the moment you press play this album smacks you in the face with Ronnie Cuber’s amazing soul and style. The very first song begins with a rapid fire “Adams” style lick and from there takes off in a non stop adventure in rhythmic variations and bouncing lines. Throughout this album Cuber demonstrates how lyrically baritone altissimo can be folded into moving lines.

This album is Enrico Pieranunzi’s but at times the interplay with Cuber really gives the album the feel of being two guys against the world. Yet at other times Cuber steals the show. This album features a track with Cuber on flute. I don’t have many examples of Cuber on flute in my collection of 7 Cuber lead albums so this was a real treat. His flute tone is full and warm with a hint of fuzz which really helps to identify him on the instrument. You certainly won’t mistake him for Galway but he sounds fantastic. His tone is very reminiscent of Herbie Mann.

This album seems to be hard to find but  if you do I think you will find a rewarding listening experience.

Dave Holland Octet – Pathways

I bought this 2010 released album on a whim because Gary Smulyan  is on it and I am fascinated by lyrical bass solo’s. To which Dave Holland brought in spades. Of course there is plenty of amazing playing happening on the album the lineup is as follows:

Rhythm Section 
Dave Holland – bass
Nate Smith – drums
Steve Nelson – vibraphone and marimba


Antonio Hart – alto sax, flute
Chris Potter – tenor and soprano sax
Gary Smulyan – baritone sax
Alex “Sasha” Sipiagin  – trumpet, flugelhorn
Robin Eubanks – trombone

The album opens with a moving and dynamic solo by Smulyan which then gives way to Holland’s lyrical bass improvisations. One particularly enjoyable aspect of this album is hearing Chris Potter on soprano sax. His tone is warm and slightly woody which I enjoy immensely as the soprano can lend itself to sound shrill.

To quote Earl Lundquist’s review of the album:

The octet is anchored by Holland’s quintet of ten years, a nucleus that includes Chris Potter on tenor and soprano, Nate Smith on drums, vibraphonist Steve Nelson, and Robin Eubanks on trombone. Added to that mix is Antonio Hart on alto saxophone, Alex Sipiagin on trumpet and flugelhorn, and Gary Smulyan on baritone saxophone. These added horns bring a welcome power and swing to Holland pieces like “Ebb and Flow.” Compare the original recording — in the quartet setting of Dream of the Elders — to the arrangement on Pathways and you’ll hear how the additional horns push the melody and ratchet the swing even higher. “Shadow Dance,” another song from Holland’s repertoire, has never grooved so hard.

 Read more: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-dave-holland-octet-pathways1/#ixzz1hymViuvN

To sum it up in as few words as possible. This album is a good anytime listen with enough variety to keep you returning and there are more than a few great licks to learn on this album.

Blogs to follow

I am a voracious reader of all types. Books, magazines, newsgroups and blogs make up 99% of my reading diet.  It goes without saying that I often stumble into blogs that I really enjoy reading. If you have the time you should follow the link below.


This site is loaded with great advice on improvisation as well as general musicianship. The authors seem to know their stuff and share it in an entertaining writing style which keeps you interested and informs you. My news reader keeps me constantly up to date with their postings.

Why share this site over others? Easy my 4 favorite criteria:

  1. Unique/Rare Subject Matter
  2. Top quality writing
  3. Variety
  4. Regular Submissions

YouTube channels you should be following ed. 1

I will admit it I am a regular YouTube user. I use YouTube to find favorite artists, new music to listen to, and of course that rare interview. As a lover of saxophone ensembles I found YouTube to be awash with great musical reference material.

My criteria for a great musical YouTube channel:

  1. Unique/Rare Subject Matter
  2. Top quality sound/videos
  3. Variety
  4. Regular Submissions

Here are my two choices for YouTube channels to be followed:

E. Rousseau JDX7 Baritone Mouthpiece


I bought this piece on the recommendation of a friend. I had expressed my discontent with the projection I was getting from my modern hard rubber Otto Link. I’ve been a baritone link player for the last 10 years and hadn’t needed more projection until I began playing venues without enough mic inputs for my wired microphone.
First Impressions: The mouthpiece is slightly shorter than a HR link. Just about 1/4″ shorter at the shank. The table lengths seem to be the same. The rubber feels great and has a handsome gold inlaid engraving. The table seems flat and has a slight denim pattern.
Reed friendliness: Reeds used in play test (Rico Orange Box 3, Hemke 2.5, Fibracell Medium, LaVoz Medium Hard, Legere 2 1/4) It is friendly to the reeds at my disposal but prefers a reed slightly softer due to the larger tip opening. The legere is wider than the mouthpiece so placement is tricky with the Rovner Dark Tenor Ligature I use.
Response: The reed I settled in on was the Fibracell and the response was was quick at all volume levels. In fact i discovered that my horn had a ever so slight leak at the octave vent when I found articulating a low B difficult. Quick repair and the mouthpiece speaks well throughout the range. There is slight resistance to it but not too much so that you have something to push against.
Tonal/Dynamic Flexibility: The piece has a very focused and centered tone. Easily modified with reed choice and embouchure. With the fibracell the tone is edgy and projects whereas with the cane reeds (rico, lavoz, hemke) the sound is woodier and warmer. This is the first mouthpiece that I have been able to subtone easily. The tone with the fibracell is similar to an Otto link but with lots more edge. It’s not as much edge as you’d find with a Berg but it really speaks. It reminds me of the edge you can get with a V5 but with more tonal flexibility. YMMV
Other: I will be trying it with a few different ligatures to really help fine tune this piece. I will also be moving to some softer Fibracells as well. This mouthpiece has an interesting baffle, walls, and chamber shape.  The walls squeeze in towards the center of the piece, focusing to a tight medium to small chamber.
Intonation: This piece is best on a modern horn the chamber is medium/small and would be tough to keep intune on a vintage horn.
Take Away: This piece offers the projection of a squeeze chamber and the tonal depth of a medium baffle. I would recommend trying this piece before you pop for a hard rubber Berg Larsen. You might find yourself liking the tone and the wad of cash you just saved.
Please feel free to share your comments on my post or your opinion the piece being reviewed.