Making the saxophone bark like a dog, WOOF!

There is an entire universe of saxophone multiphonics and alternate fingerings out there. John Gross, one of Portland's own heavy-hitters, wrote about the most comprehensive book on the subject called "185 Multiphonics for the Saxophone, A Practical Guide"( published by Advance Music). You can hear John put some of these to use on his recording with drummer Billy Minz called Beautiful You.

Bert Wilson is another NW saxophonist who is crazy about multiphonics. Bert is one of the few cats that only uses multiphonics that make functional chords. Bert plays chord progressions with multiphonics. I must admit that to my ear most multiphonics sound pretty harsh and raw, whether they are harmonically functional or not. I might use one now and then when playing free music, but like altisimo, I find that it's best to limit them. I most often use them not for the multi-note effect but as barks. By a bark I mean a note that pops out louder and with a different timbre, used for dramatic effect. The most widely used barks are simply overtones. Check out Lester Young on Jazz at the Philharmonic, you'll hear him use this technique on the A sections on Rhythm changes. Every time he does it the crowd goes totally nuts. He plays repeated middle C eighth notes, alternating between regular fingering and the 1st overtone of low C. Since the overtone C has most of the keys down the sound comes out of the bell rather than the upper stack. When a mic is right in the bell this makes the overtones explosively pop out. This same technique can also be used from middle F up to G# with the second overtones of low Bb to C#. The overtone notes are bigger and darker since more of the tube is being used.

The two other barks that I use are mulitphonic fingerings without the extra notes.

  • The first one is a bluesy Bb: Finger a Eb with the octave key and without your G key. Relax and tighten your embouchure slowly as you blow, actually it's more of a dropping of the jaw. You'll notice that you'll hear a Bb alternating with the G below it. By rapidly and drastically tightening and loosening your chops a minor third shake can be created. Start very slow at first and then faster as you get the hang of it. Phil Woods uses this one a lot, it has a very distinctive bluesy sound. You can use just the top note (Bb) without the shake also, this gives an extra low pitch that woofs. It's great for a Blue seventh or third (the extra flatted 7th really comes from the 7th overtone).
  • The second one is a bluesy G: This one is the same idea as the last one but on a different note. Finger a low C plus the octave key and without the F key (index finger of the right hand). Try the same thing with your chops as above. You can also get a nice multiphonic with this fingering in the lower octave. Take off the octave key and just relax and blow, a full three note multiphonic should come out.
The way to master these techniques is by practicing overtones. Here are the overtone exercises that Joe Viola gave me. These aren't as extreme as the Sigard Rascher 'Top Tones' exercises and much more practical with a normal saxophone setup. Rascher's school used large bore Buscher horns with very specific mouthpieces and reeds. Joe V told me that those guys all had raunchy sounds anyway. Once you can pop out the various overtones for use to as alternate fingerings, to drastically change timbre. Sit. Lie down. Stay. Speak!


godoggo said...

There's a guy in L.A. named Joshua Spielman who's heavily into multiphonics. He often plays with singer Dwight Trible. Think "the creator has a master plan" era Pharoah. I find that, as a listener, I enjoy multiphonics only if they're invested with a lost of soul - also prefererably lots of control - and Josh has both. Another guy who I think uses them especially effectively is Arthur Blythe. Neither of these is a bop player.

godoggo said...

oops, meant Spiegelman.

chicken little said...

Bert Wilson does know his multiphonics (I studied with him) but that shit is so overdone that it gets very annoying to listen to. Yea, cool, you can play some "crazy" (for fuck sake, it's not 1965 anymore move on!) stuff but it's just not musical. I know that there are some who will disagree with me but, as the moderator of this forum knows, I used to be a big user of these tricks. I suppose that it's all a part of the gumbo of music but I just get tired of hearing this stuff. Usually, and not always, it's just not used tastefully.

David Valdez said...

What works for Bert doesn't work for other players. He has his own style that can't (and shouldn't) be copied. His students sound the best when they don't try to sound exactly like him, like Olympia saxophonist Dan Blunk.

It's hard (almost impossible really) to use multiphonics tastefully, as Chicklit says. Gross comes about the closest to doing it. He uses more alternate fingerings than multiphonics though. He's constantly changing his shading and intonation subtle ways. I'm sure to an untrained ear he sounds like he's just playing out of tune some of the time. It's really very expressive to the trained ear.

The saxophone has so many keys that every note has many different fingerings. They aren't all in tune, but each one has a different timbre. Joe Viola was really the master of these fingerings. He taught me many alternate fingerings for different playing situations (not that I remember them all)xp. Joe V didn't use these fingerings as effects. Instead he used them to play in tune with other instruments. For example, he would play high C (not altissimo) with the first two fingers of his right added (F and E keys) to bring the pitch down when he was playing with trumpets. He knew not only the intonation tendencies of every note on every saxophone, but the tendencies of every other instrument as well. He would make fingering adjustments depending on which instruments or individuals he happened to be playing with at any given moment. He was a true master of ensemble playing.

chicken little said...

I am not really bashing Bert. He is who he is. I like his concept and his playing is not for everybody. I studied with him for a few years and I learned a great deal from him. I also studied with Joe V (as our moderator knows) and Joe A. They are the two best teachers that may have been (sorry Frenchies!), certainly the most influential in the US for many generations. Saying that people like Bert have a huge amount of information to share with people. However, Bert is not in the same leauge with the Joes'. Never will be.
Sorry if this is a bit of a ramble my son is dividing my attention between listening to Jackie Byard and my rant.

gluetang said...

yo man, I love what I've learned from students of joe v but you may want to check the rascher guys out further.
this is from a prominent student of rascher's and is absolutely ridiculous to me.

also, re multiphonics: ever heard john butcher?

David Carlos Valdez said...

Yes, Harry White sound beautiful. Thanks for that.