EGR Ligatures – Review

EGR stock photoWhen several feet of beautifully braided wire are wrapped several times around a form and secured you have the makings of a unique and interesting handmade ligature. How does it work? How secure is the reed to mouthpiece fit? Can it be adjusted easily and repeatably? Can it withstand the rigors of the bandstand? These are the questions that I ask of any ligature I get. Now, that I’ve had one for the past several weeks I have the answers to these questions.

Before I begin I have to reassert that I do not feel that ligatures make much of a difference in the sound of a saxophone short of the placebo effect. That said, they do make a difference in how a player interacts with the instrument. How a mouthpiece is to play and how hard the player has to work to get their desired tone can also be effected by a poor fitting or poorly designed ligature. Ultimately the ligature just has to stay in place and keep the reed positioned securely.

The ligature came in a small pouch within the retail box. This pouch while being a good storage option for some I found it to be not enough protection for the medium soft ligature. I prefer to keep formed ligatures like this on a mouthpiece with a cap. This way they will keep their shape and will not get crushed in a bari case or underfoot. Thing to note, the ligature did not come with a cap.  I recommend the generic flexible plastic cap that you can get cheaply from your local music store or online retailer. The best cap is one with a relief cut to allow for maximum compatibility. See the image below.

Mouthpiece Cap with relief cut


For test purposes I placed the ligature on a Rico Graftonite and Metalite mouthpieces. Because the material these mouthpieces are made of is durable I can discover rather quickly if the ligature will scratch a hard rubber mouthpiece. The reed I used for this test was a synthetic Bari brand baritone reed. This combo has a tendency to move around a lot with just about any ligature that is not made of leather.

Using the ligature could not be easier. The ligature has a top knot where the wires making up the ligature are brought to a knot and soldered together. With the knot on the top you slip on the ligature, which is tapered like the mouthpiece,  then slide the reed underneath it. Then cinch down the ligature by pushing it towards the bottom of the mouthpiece. It is best to do the procedure with the mouthpiece off of the horn as you will almost certainly push the mouthpiece down further on to the cork of the neck if you do it with the mouthpiece on the horn.

How well does this ligature do it’s primary function of keeping the reed secure to the mouthpiece? Surprisingly well when cinched down. The ligature can conform to the reed and mouthpiece slightly creating an interface that is secure without applying too much clamping force. Even when secured you can still adjust the left and right alignment of the reed on the mouthpiece.

I decided to run a utility test of how long it would take to remove and install a reed on this ligature while in a playing situation. When playing long gig I usually have to change my synthetic reed every so often. Armed with a stopwatch I asked a friend to time the procedure going from a playing state to a playing state after a reed swap. The results were not surprising. It took on average 14.5 seconds to remove the reed from the mouthpiece and to realign, cinch, and be ready to play with the EGR ligature. Compared to a Rovner Dark at 10 seconds, and a traditional 2 screw ligature at 13 seconds it was perfectly within a 24 to 32 bar break that I often find myself in on some big band charts. I will say that I am very familiar with both the Rovner and 2-screw ligatures so my time with them is based on years of practice. It is quite possible that I would see speed increases with the EGR if I spent more time with it.

Repeatability on this ligature was okay, better than the Rovner but not as repeatable as the 2 screw. Getting the ligature to the exact same spot after a reed swap was easiest with a 2-screw but hardest with the Rovner as I tended to unscrew them a lot more than necessary when removing them. The EGR ligature will only go so far onto the mouthpiece. After a few cinching down the ligature with naturally land at or near the same position depending on the reed. If the old and new reeds have the same thickness and profile then the ligature will land in almost the same spot every time.

With no moving parts this ligature will provide years of maintenance free operation. The only caveat is that if you intend to use this ligature that you should be careful using it on mouthpiece with soft finishes like gold. The wire is aluminum but if your mouthpiece is gold plated then it could put fine abrasions in it. This is purely speculation but I feel I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t raise concerns. As of yet I have not seen any abrasions on my non-metal mouthpiece yet.


TAKE AWAY: This ligature is equal parts saxophone jewelry and functional accessory. It clamps with just enough pressure to secure the reed without strangling it. I have just two negatives though. The first is the lack of a cap. If a cap were included I think it would have really made this an even better buy. Secondly, I’d love to have a way to tighten the clamping force beyond the normal amount when desired as some reeds respond better to more force. I say try one and see if it meets your needs.


EGR Facebook Page


Vandoren Leather Baritone LC29P Ligature – Review

Vandoren Leather Baritone Ligature

Vandoren Leather Baritone LigatureLuxurious black leather accented with gold plated hardware and the second cheapest hook & loop fasteners you can find at your local craft store. This Vandoren ligature is an exercise in cost savings in odd places that I don’t think anyone really asked for. But despite the questionable design choices does it do the job it was intended to do?

For some players the idea of using a soft ligature is blasphemous. They tout the opinion that soft ligatures deaden the sound or removes higher harmonics from the tone. I’m not one to agree with this kind of thing considering the science behind saxophone tone production suggests that only a physical change to the bore, tone hole dimension and position, mouthpiece internal dimensions, and the individuals players anatomy have any discernible effect on the tone. With this said I do think the placebo effect is powerful and valid as any other possibility.  The construction of this ligature is likely enough to give anyone the perception of enhanced abilities.

Vandoren seemed to spare no expense when choosing the leather. It is thick, medium firmness, and luxurious feeling. The stitching is even as beautiful on the interior as the exterior. The craftsmanship is truly top-notch on this ligature. Where the evidence of account intrusion is visible is the means by which you attach the pressure plates. Vandoren chose to use hook-and-loop fastener as the interface between them. While this isn’t my personal favorite I was really disappointed that they didn’t use the industrial version. I question how long the loops will last and

Their attention to detail comes to a head at the adjustment screw. The thumbscrew is affixed to a threaded rod which is   reverse threaded on each end. When you turn the thumb knob the brass bars come together to pull the ligature against the body of the mouthpiece. The thumbscrew stays in the same position during the entire operation.  The Rovner and BG ligatures and the myriad of Chinese copies use a fixed threaded  adjustment  rod attached to one of the brass bars. When you turn the thumb knob is spins down the length of the threaded rod and pushes the non-threaded bar into the threaded one. The difference is that there is very little risk of your reed shifting as you tighten the ligature. Vandoren has a better system.

Where this ligature really proves its worth is when you compare it to Rovner and BG ligatures. The included pressure plates give the effect of have 3 different soft ligatures in on box. The leather pressure plate is most like a Rovner MKIII ($43) which according to Rovner is best for classical music. The rubber pressure plate is most like a BG standard ($45) which BG says is good fro anything. Lastly the metal plate is most akin to the BG Revelation ($35). So if we add it all up the Vandoren Leather ligature ($69) is not a bad deal if you would otherwise have purchased the 3 previous ligatures for a combined total of $123 not including individual shipping.

Vandoren Leather Ligature pressure PlatesVando_pplates1_1080

TAKE AWAY: It’s a ligature and it’s only job is to anchor the reed to the mouthpiece firmly but allow the reed to operate unencumbered. This piece does this but the gimmick of swappable plates isn’t worth the additional expense over a Rovner MKIII or the BG Revelation. Also ,the plastic cap is utilitarian at best, the leather cap is really the nicer option.

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Vintage Yamaha YBS-61 Baritone Saxophone Review

YBS-61 bottom half

Yamaha YBS-61 From 1974 through 1984 Yamaha created what I and many others consider one of the best baritone saxes ever created. It’s tone is clean, clear and with minimal coloring from the horn. Simply put this horn and all Yamaha horns from this point forward, allows the saxophone to sound like the musician playing it. With a Yamaha you can sound like yourself and in turn develop a unique sound that is identifiable. Many other baritones have a strong inherent  tone that can be colored by the musician but will always sound like itself. Conn 12m and Selmer Mark VI’s tend to have “the tone” and is usually identifiable as what it is regardless of who’s playing it. Mind you there’s nothing wrong with that if it is a sound that you like but Yamaha gives their players blank slates to paint with.

The YBS-61 and subsequent models all feature Yamaha’s nearly perfect ergonomic keys system. From the location of key touches, side keys, and palm keys to neck angle and low-a key placement, Yamaha set the standard for playability. If you’ve ever played a vintage Conn 12M then you too must have wondered just how large of hands people in the early part of the 20th century had. The key touches are nowhere near comfortable for people with average hands let alone children or smaller adults. The key touches are aligned in an almost straight line which is in no way ergonomic. The palm keys touches are no better either. The are all in the same plane which doesn’t match the natural arch of the hand while playing. Let’s not forget the right hand side keys. The high F/Eb key is flat across its touch and provides no natural resistance to movement across it’s face. This means you can easily overshoot it during a particularly difficult passage.

It should be said that few of these particulars are unique to vintage baritones. Virtually all vintage horns has one or more of these issues from the 1910’s through 50’s. Some manufacturers started addressing ergonomics earlier than others. That said, Yamaha really has set the standard for quality key work and excellent tolerances. Currently it’s all the rage on Chinese import baritones to add double key arms to the low notes from low C down to low A. Yamaha’s key design is very strong and thus requires no double arming to get the required strength not to flex when in use. When in proper adjustment Yamaha low A mechanism is robust, light, and very quick despite have multiple points of motion. In later models Yamaha would adopt the double arm on the low C which it appeared to have borrowed from Yanagisawa horns.

All of this praise does not come without some condemnation. While the horn is well made and functions beautifully the same cannot be said for the case. As you might already know, time is the true test of any design, and the case latches failed. The weight of the horn is enough to make the latch screws pull through the case material. Without a backing plate the latches and handle were eventually going to give in to the inevitable pull of gravity. While the latches/handles represent a functional issue my only other complaint is that where they give you lots of room to store items within the case they did not include overs for the various compartments. If the item you place in the compartment is not snug then it may very well end up in the bell. There’s nothing quite like fishing a mouthpiece cap from the body of you horn during warm up for a gig.

The horn is not without its share of problems, some more nit picking than actual. First is the lack of coloration of the tone. While for some this blank slate offers infinite possibility for others it is the polar opposite. They complain that the Yamaha has no soul or personality. They wax poetically about the 12M’s gutsy tone, the Buescher 400’s Deep bottom end, or the Selmer’s sonorous middle and top register while accusing the Yamaha’s tone of being very vanilla. Are any of these assessments correct? It’s up to the player to decide.

Structurally the -61 has some shortcomings. The sheet metal guards are somewhat soft and easily bent with even a slight knock. I get that the guard is supposed to absorb impacts but it seems a bit too soft. The palm key heights are not adjustable on any Yamaha saxophone. This has been a common feature on Keilwerth horns for years and would facilitate better form for players with larger hands. lastly the largest and most egregious fault in the early YBS-61’s is the lower octave vent.

The lower octave vent, the vent which opens between the A and G break, is in the wrong location. The as-built location on the body 1/4″ down from the top main body connection does not allow the A,G#, G notes to speak cleanly in the second register. One or more of these notes will feel hesitant or sound slightly fuzzy because of this. Some players claim not to have this issue on their horns while others, like myself, are always aware of this issue when we play. To show how big of a problem this was; Yamaha fixed this problem about halfway through production of the -61. Still to this day they reference those modifications to new baritones like the YBS-62. Here’s Yamaha’s description from their website for the YBS-62: “A feature exclusive to Yamaha saxophones, the three-vent octave mechanism eliminates fuzzy, unclear tones when playing G, G# and A with the octave key..”  This is the problem and there are many early -61’s still out there playing that could use this repair. Sadly any repair tech unaware of this flaw might be on a wild goose hunt and some owners paying a tech of exploratory exams when the problem is much more fundamental.

The repair involves moving the octave vent and plugging the original vent. I’ve heard from some who’ve had this done that the repair absolutely repaid the issue but I’ve also heard from Yamaha themselves that there is no guarantee that this will fix any perceived deficiencies in the horn. Yamaha says this will having in it’s archive instructions for repair techs to make a retrofit and repair the horns.  Good luck in getting a copy of this document as Yamaha customer service was not in any hurry to distribute this information.  Yes, I said that Yamaha USA’s customer service was apprehensive to share information directly with me on how to correct a design flaw on my 40 year old horn. More on this later.

TAKE AWAY: All things considered I really enjoy my YBS-61. Any mouthpiece, any reed,  any musical genre, and any tonal concept can be achieved at any time by this versatile model. If modern Yamaha baritones are 1/10th as versatile as the my old -61 then I can’t wait to get my hands on one.


Image above from Kessler Music check them out.


Auxiliary KeysLow A
Finish:Clear Lacquer
Keys:Clear Lacquer
Finger Buttons:Pearl
Current ModelYBS-62

New logo & Fresh Design

In moving the website to a new CMS and a fresh design I decided I’d hire a few amateur graphic artists to create a new logo for the site.  They were given this website and the MBS Twitter page and little else. Sadly some designers didn’t look at page but their contributions are represented anyways. Please comment and let me know what you think.










The Kuotient by Henry Solomon

This video was shared with me on Twitter. I was surprised at how velvety Henry’s tone was compared to what I’ve been listening to recently. Henry Put together a lovely chart with a modern sounding progression and deliciously sweet tone. I hope that this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Henry Solomon.

Henry Solomon – Baritone Saxophone and Composer
Tevan Goldberg – Piano
Solomon Gottfried – Bass
Andrew Grossman – Drums
Mida Chu – Recording and Video

Ernie Watts Masterclass – JEN Conference 2012

I am a big fan Ernie Watts, from his crazy huge mouthpiece tip opening to his amazing melodic improvisations. This masterclass offers a great view into his personal sound concept, philosophy, practice techniques and improvisation pedagogy.

Here’s a warmup exercise based on the warmup Ernie recommends to start each practice session with.

SessionBand Jazz App – The App your bandmates will love.

For decades young jazz musicians have had the Jamey Aebersold VHS and eventually CD recordings to practice the fundamentals of jazz and to learn tunes. Thousands of musicians have grown into great artists with the help  of these recordings and associated books. Ten’s of thousands of music teachers have prescribed practice sessions with an Aebersold recording adding context to their lessons. This sufficed well for me until I advanced enough to feel that I needed a different type of tool.

A tool which allowed me to focus with laser like accuracy on a specific chords or tonalities. I felt the need to do this in the context of a jazz combo. Of course it would be quite easy to ask the pianist to play G sus 13 chord as I play through the arpeggios outlining the chord movement between Dm7 and G7. But how long could I expect the piano, bass, and drums to keep playing 1 chord as I improved my musicianship? Enter the app SessionBand: Jazz. With this app I can program in a single chord and the recorded pros will play a musically interesting accompaniment on just that chord indefinitely and the sound is fantastic.

What exactly is SessionBand?  It is a loops based sequencer app. If you are familiar with the iRealB app then you know how easy it is to insert chord symbols into the chart and hear it played back in all its MIDI synthesized glory. What SessionBand, which I will now abbreviate as SB, does different is that it plays those chord symbols with high quality samples. All of the rhythm and solo tracks are played by actual musicians and sampled at very high audio quality. The samples blend seamlessly from one chord to the next creating a near live musical experience. So live that you conceivably perform live shows using the app.

Another option guaranteed to expand the apps usefulness is the styles options. Changing styles alters the rhythm section phrasing, voicing, and as expected rhythms. This can add tremendous variety to your practice regime. Want to practice All of Me as a Bolero or maybe  In a sentimental mood in a Hot Jazz style you can and you don’t have to explain the essence of the styles to a player who’s never played it before. Changing styles also includes change the meter, including: odd times like from 5/4,  7/8 or a 6/4 and others depending on what SB music pack you are using.

If you’ve used modern music recording software in the past few years the interface will feel familiar. It is a blend of the Apple aesthetic and Fruity Loops in my opinion. The controls are a real treat as it is easy to move between options and for the most part finding the option you want is simple. That’s not to say there aren’t room for improvements. The piano keyboard used to chose what chord you want in the sequence is beautifully animated but feels a little clunky. Simpler user selection options have been used by other apps and should be considered now.

Interestingly, SB apps are divided into volumes, for example the SB Jazz 1, SB Jazz 2, SB Jazz 3. Each of these volumes has its own loops, styles, and demo songs. This subdivision is pretty unnecessary and serves to make living with multiple apps within the same grouping more cumbersome. I would have gladly payed $30 for a single app that included the contents of the 3 SB Jazz apps. This would mean fewer icons on my already well populated pages.

The app comes pre-installed with several demo songs. They are fantastic examples of what the app can do but they leave you wanting more. It is plain to see that the software wasn’t crafted to be a replacement for iRealB but they have an opportunity to really open this software to the community. The iRealB community took the steps to convert thousands of jazz standards to the iRealB format for playback in the app. The files are little more than text files. This app should have the  capacity to import that file and make thousands of jazz standards available to the user. Perhaps if we ask nicely enough we can get the option added in future updates.

Following along with the importing of standards is the exporting of completed  arrangement. The inability to export multi-track wave files for mixing is sad. I prefer to record myself playing along to the track with my vintage RCA ribbon microphone into a Propellerhead Balance interface and mix in Reason. This setup isn’t really doable as you have to record the mixing in the SessionBand app and then export a file through a 3rd party app that has all the tweaks you want then you can drop that into a new track in your audio software and add your performance tracks over top of that mix. The problems is what if you feel like you have too much bass in a section? They you rerecord that background and re-import it. Multitrack wave or export each track individually would make on the fly mixing in other tools much easier.

Before you haul off and download the app be certain you’ve got the space for it. With thousands of audio loops this app is a hog. But rightly so because if you want a slimmed down bare bones midi based software then get ChordBot. It works well but doesn’t have the rich analog sound that properly recorded instruments have in this software.

TAKE AWAY: I like the software and intend to continue to use it in the rehearsal room but there are some limitations that make it hard to use live. I recommend this product for everyone who plays an instrument.

A Visual Guide to my Baritone Mouthpiece Reviews

In an effort to make my views on mouthpieces easier to compare I’ve created this series of quick reference charts. These charts represent the basic playing characteristics of each mouthpiece.  The scale is from 1 to 10 with 1 being the least amount of a particular feature and 10 being the most. Of course all of these characteristics are intertwined. For ex. You can’t really have a mouthpiece with high brightness and very low projection.

The four characteristics are:

Flexibility: how easy is it to alter the base tone. Very flexible pieces have tones that are easily bent and techniques like lip bends and squeeze tones become easier. The more flexible a piece is the harder it is to keep in tune, as a general rule of thumb.

Core Tone: This is a measure of how many harmonics are present in the base tone. Less core means more harmonics and thus a more “color” tone. Whereas more tone means the piece will blend better into ensembles.

Brightness: This is a measure of how prominent the high harmonics are in the tone. The brighter the tone the more it cuts through the ensemble and is considered more contemporary.

Volume: How loud is the piece? Can it be heard from space?

Warburton J Series Baritone mouthpiece review

Warburton Baritone Saxophone Mouthpiece J series

Now i wouldn’t be surprised at all if you didn’t first think of Warburton when you came to this site. In fact Warburton hadn’t crossed my radar until a few years ago when a few brass friends mentioned in passing that they make a woodwind mouthpiece in addition to their brasswind pieces.  Curious about this development I went to their website to view their saxophone offerings. To my dismay at the time they had baritone mouthpiece in development but not ready. Rather than invest in a tenor piece I decided to wait. After a few years I forgot about Warburton until an offer I couldn’t refuse crossed my email box and then I had my very own J-Series piece at the .110 tip opening that I prefer.

DISCLAIMER/REMINDER: As a general rule, the sound you get from any mouthpiece is dependent on a number of factors. These include the players physiology, the horn, the reed chosen, the mouthpiece and most importantly the players sound concept. The sound concept is the internal tone each player hears in their head. If you prefer a darker tone then no matter what your body will find a way to darken the tone. Consider how Don Menza can sound like Webster, Coltrane, and Hawkins just by hearing the sound in his head. His well practiced body then makes changes to give him the desired tone.

Construction: The material is a traditional hard rubber with a gentle sloping baffle and slight rollover. The sidewalls are straight and the tip and side rails are thin. I’m not certain of the chamber size but I do find that I have to pull the mouthpiece out off of the cork more than any other mouthpiece i own. that suggests that the chamber may be more medium than large.

Mouth feel: The piece has a traditional hard rubber baritone mouthpiece feel. The beak is slim so it would work well for any size mouth. Personally I prefer a bit larger a mouth feel as I feel like it opens my airways a bit more.

Reed friendliness: Reed friendliness  is normally a function of how evenly and precisely the facign curve is and whether there is damage, even slight, to any portion of the facing. The facing of this piece was almost perfect when I dropped a .0015 feeler on it. Because of this and the layout of the curve it played well with most reeds I had. Though, I did have to move down a half strength from the RPC Rollover I had been playing prior (more on that later).

Sound: This piece has is marketed as “designed for the contemporary player that wants maximum flexibility and a traditional hard rubber feel.” Without defining contemporary this leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In my opinion contemporary players sound much brighter than those of yesteryear. They tend to value the brightness and edge of modern pieces. If this is the measure that you use as well then this mouthpiece is not “contemporary”. It can be brighter if pushed but I wouldn’t call it bright at all but it’s not tubby either. It has a great blend of core tone and edge that when pushed can blend with almost any non-amplified group.

Warburton J-Series Sound Experience Chart

TAKE AWAY: This piece can be found for around $200 new. This is a steal for what I now consider a good do almost anything mouthpiece. You can anchor the sax section in the big band or blow a few ballads in a small jazz combo. This piece will fit the bill. It’s easier to play and has more core tone than a Link and intonation is more spot on than you’d get from a high baffle Berg.

How I bought a stolen prototype mouthpiece on Ebay

Sometime mid 2014 i was cruising eBay when I stumbled across a unusual Bari woodwinds (BW) tenor mouthpiece. It looked similar to a standard rubber BW piece but the table of the mouthpiece was cut away. On a whim I bought it and when I received it I was a little shocked that it was a bit too bright for me. I figured the best thing to do was to sell the piece. As a regular buyer and seller on eBay and SaxOnTheWeb (SOTW) I knew that the perfect description can make or break a sale so I set about learning what i could about this piece.

Try as I might I was unable to discover anything about this mouthpiece. I even went so far as to search in the internet archives for old versions of the website and product lists back to the late 90’s. i poured through tens of dozens of posts about Bari Woodwinds mouthpieces on SOTW but nothing like this odd mouthpiece had been mentioned. After this I simply placed it on my mouthpiece stand and forgot about it. Until December 2014.

I was cleaning out mouthpiece drawer and stand to take advantage of the Christmas buying spree and decided I’d just place it on SOTW and Craigslist as a standard BW tenor piece along with 13 other pieces and didn’t give it a second thought. I got some bites but interest dwindled until a single person request to buy that one mouthpiece. I was only to happy to sell it but then he stopped responding to my emails to setup a meeting. I decided to give up again and placed the mouthpiece back on the stand.

It was then that I realized that I had Bari Woodwinds on my Facebook friends list. I snapped some pictures and sent them over explaining the situation and requesting any information on the mouthpiece. I was going to resell it on ebay when they told me what it was. While I waited I got an email from the fellow originally interested in the mouthpiece. He had a brief hospital stay and couldn’t get back to me until recently. We began negotiations again when I received the following reply from the president of Bari Woodwinds.

Dear Zel,

The mouthpiece was a prototype over 5 years ago that we were going to produce for another mouthpiece company. Unfortunately, it was stolen from our booth. We cannot produce it with our name on it because this design is patented. In fact, after the mouthpiece was stolen, it was circulating around and the other mouthpiece company found out. He thought we were going to manufacture them. We finally convinced him we were not and the lawsuit was dropped.

Could you please send this mouthpiece back to me. Bringing this to our attention, I would like to send to you a mouthpiece of your choice. Please review the mouthpieces on our website and let me know.

Sincerely, Jim Cavanaugh President

Clearly, this piece had a dubious history and they’d like to have it back so I’ll be sending it back to them. I completely understand how having your products stolen by some dishonest person is a painful feeling. It’s not as though small businesses have it easy so it pleases me that Jim offered to replace my piece with another. That was noble and great customer service. While I could sell this unusual piece I’d much rather give it back so they can be certain they won’t be sued by the other company, Jody Jazz maybe?

Thar They Blow – Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra (1991)

In October I wrote about trying to find more information about the Nuclear Whales Saxophone Orchestra (NWSO) group as they had faded into obscurity since the 1990’s. At the time of writing that I was waiting on the arrival of a few of their albums. I’ve been a fan since I first heard this album back in 1994. This group of brilliant musicians is unique as it is has a contra-bass saxophone and sopranino saxophone. At the time of this recording finding either of these instruments was about as hard as finding a sober person in Boston on St. Patrick’s day. Simply stated difficult but they were out there if you knew where to look.

The first thing that caught my eye was the great cover art. I love CD’s for many reasons but first among them is the cover art. Yes, you can get your media play to download the art but more often than not you don’t get the liner notes or CD facing art.If you buy the CD from a local used record store you may even get unusual bonuses like old business cards, or artist signatures.

Compare Don’s contra-bass (left) to Art’s bass (right)

Let’s start at the big fish in the saxophone pond, the contra-bass saxophone. Today there are other options for this hulking behemoth. Eppelsheim contra-bass saxophone that is more compact and lighter looking than the vintage monster that Don Stevens plays on the album. Don’s unusual Buffet (Evette-Shaefer) Eb contrabass saxophone has a big booming sound on the album and definitely makes an impact on everyone who see it in person. At 6’8″ (2.03 m) tall and 45lbs (20kg) a contra-bass is not for weak of body or with small lung capacity. Aside from the shock value the contra-bass does add value to the group. It extends the range of the bass voicing to that of the lower register of the organ. This allows for broad and very rich chords that do not feel as though they are missing something.

On the other extreme is Rach Cztar on sopranino. ‘Nino is not an instrument for the faint either. It is a wickedly difficult horn to play well and it’s propensity to go out of tune is legendary. I own a ‘nino and I find it’s intonation to be very sensitive to reed and and mouthpiece changes. Clearly experience and dedication has given Rach the ability to tame the dragon and allow it to ring like a bell in the thick arrangements the group performed.

Musically this group likes thick chords and arrangements which feel more like big band than small’ish saxophone group. This is a godsend as quartet arrangements often feel like parts are missing or not covered well.  Often it’s the low range that falls short. Big saxes are expensive, rare, and require a lot of extra consideration just to move them from point A to point B but their contribution to the sound of a group is immeasurable. Listen to the bouncing bass line and you realize that this is a sound that can not be replicated on a bari or bass sax, you have to have the range and punch to hold down the bass. Perhaps the best side effect of having bass and contra-bass in the same group is that it frees the baritone from being the bass voice in the group. In quartets the baritone holds down the bass line but in groups like this the baritone can be free to be the solo voice without the fear of the bottom dropping out of the chords.

The musical selection on this album cover the 20th century quite well up tot he 90’s and makes for easy listening. In fact many of the videos circulating on YouTube of this group is from concerts in which they are playing songs from this album. Including the crowd favorites “Bugler’s Holiday”, “Casbah Shuffle“, and “Tiger Rag”. As you might have experienced the YouTube versions of videos are of lower quality than the studio recordings on this disk. It is because of this I have to recommend listening to the disk over watching the videos. The sound quality is much better and the details you get from a studio record trump the visuals of a contra-bass sax dancing across a stange.

Line Up:
Rach Cztar: Sopranino, Alto, Duck Call
John Davis: Alto, Tenor
Ann Stamm Merrell: Baritone
Art Springs: Tenor, Bass, Vocal
Don Stevens: Soprano, Alto, Vocal
Kristen Strom: Soprano, Alto, Vocal

Ashwin Batish: Tabla
Wince Lateano: Drums, Tam Tam
Galen Lemmon: Timpani

Get this album on Amazon like I did

*Updates* 2015 is going to be a fun year

Like many musicians in my area I had a busy December of 2014. Gigs and family took me away from the site. Now that the holiday season has past it’s time for new reviews, a new transcription, additional study material, and of course news of interesting things in the world of saxophones.  Stay tuned and come back often.

The perfect mouthpiece

Lets take a moment to describe what I call the “perfect” mouthpiece. The perfect piece is one that allows you to play without thinking of your gear. You shouldn’t have to fight your mouthpiece. It should be transparent to the player and listener.  If you have to fuss with the mouthpiece constantly then it’s not perfect for you. The mouthpiece should offer the performer the ability to express themselves as the hear themselves in their own tone concept. The perfect piece should offer the player the level of tonal flexibility that allows them to meet their musical expectations.

Clearly no one mouthpiece be be all things to all people but some have gone on to become standards. The Selmer S-80 piece has been the mainstay of classical and beginning sax playing for decades for it’s ability to blend, ease of use, clear focused tone. The Otto Link Tone Edge, has become a right of passage for players moving from classical to jazz. It’s large chamber and rollover baffle make it a preeminently flexible mouthpiece that easily covers jazz styles from the 20’s through the post bob era’s. The Dukoff and Guardala mouthpieces have become beacons of  smooth jazz, rock, and contemporary jazz tone concept. Their high cliff baffles and small to medium chambers have been duplicated by mouthpiece makers all over the world. These pieces offer edge and punch to compete in an amplified world.

In just those few examples there are a variety of construction methods and potential applications. What those piece share in common is that the player has to choose for themselves what will work in their playing situation and preferences. A player who prefers their Dukoff in their fusion band might find a Otto Link too stuffy, whereas a player who couldn’t connect to their tone on a Jody Jazz or Guardala might find that a modified Selmer Soloist to be the key to unlock their creativity. It is truly the player which makes the mouthpiece.

What do you describe as the perfect mouthpiece? Let me know by leaving a comment.

Selmer Mouthpiece comparison

Selmer S-80 Baritone vs. Selmer S-80 Bass Mouthpiece

When I purchased my bass it wasn’t in playable shape. The octave mechanism was a bit tweaked and needed some work. After a some time with the horn my horn tech excitedly called to tell me the horn was playing and sounds like a champ. He played it for me with a Selmer S-80 baritone mouthpiece. I though it sounded okay but something was missing. My tech hadn’t noticed the monster vintage bass mouthpiece hiding deftly in the corner of the case so he play tested with what he had on hand. When I played it with my Baritone S-80 I couldn’t get the response to work and the intonation was all over the map. Following that I defaulted to the vintage piece in the case and notice that a few notes seemed wonky.

On a whim, I bought a Selmer Bass Mouthpiece off of ebay brand new in the box. On a casual examination it looked exactly like the the Baritone S-80 except for for the engraving “Saxo Basse”on the table. On closer inspection the difference was huge. After a couple hours with the bass piece I don’t think I’ll be using the vintage piece ever again.

First, the similarities:

  • Exterior dimensions are identical
  • Baritone ligatures fit this perfectly.
  • Tip opening charts are identical (so i’m told)

The differences:

  • The chamber is much larger on the bass
  • Baritone has a square window into the chamber
  • Bass has slightly scooped sidewalls vs straight baritone walls
  • Bass has a slightly wider tip width for bass reeds though baritone work as well
  • The bass has a larger back bore (shank opening)
I am on the search for a smaller tip opening S-80 Bass piece as I think this tip is a bit to large for me. Otherwise the piece is fantastic.

My Holton Bass Saxophone

Because bass saxophones are still somewhat unusual I managed to find a lot more images of my bass. I know who the last few owners were and when they had it. now that it is mine I am happy to add to this wonderful instruments chain of owners. 
Label: Holton
Manufacturer: Conn
Date of manufacture: 1923 +/- 3 years
Key: Bb
Range: Bb – Eb
Finish: clear lacquer + black epoxy paint
Unusual features: non standard neck, no bis key, no automatic G#
Known past owners: M. Stoecker (2008-?), N. Starke (2009 – 2014), Me (2014 – ?)  
Some images of this horn are from Helen gathered these when the horn was for sale on ebay in 2008.