NAMM show 2011- part 1

 Last week I made a trip down to Los Angeles to play a few gigs and go to the NAMM convention. The night before I left we were having ice storms and freezing rain here in Oregon, but when I got off the plane it was a perfect 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Say what you will about LA, but winters there are about perfect. When I realized how good the weather was going to be I immediately tried to upgrade my rental car to a convertible Mustang, unfortunately there were none left and I settled for a big white Chevy Impala. With the help of my handy GPS navigator I set off for my rehearsal in Burbank, a trip that the GPS told me should only take 20 minutes. In fact, it took an hour and a half to actually get there.

Vibrato (Bel Air, CA)
 The rehearsal was to prepare for a quintet gig at a club called the Blue Whale, which is located in Little Tokyo. A few months ago I met a young guitarist through my blog named Tim Fischer. Tim was a regular reader of this blog a contributor to it as well. Last year he brought a trio called 3tet up for a Northwest tour and I helped him set up a quartet gig for us in Bend, OR. We ended up having a great time, so we decided to set up a few gigs in LA for us with my saxophonist buddy Matt Otto, who Tim had studied with while in school at Cal Arts. Tina Raymond, the trio's drummer, was able to get a quintet gig at the Blue Whale as well as a quartet gig at a swanky club in Bel Air called Vibrato owned by Herb Alpert and by swanky I mean a plain hamburger will set you back 20 bucks.

Blue Whale (Los Angeles)

 Before the Blue Whale gig my wife and I had the best bowl of ramen we had ever tasted at a place next to the club called Orchon Ramen. I once saw a Man vs. Food episode that featured the host eating a bowl of the very hottest ramen on the menu and practically expiring in the process. We opted for the milder ramen option, and without our pictures on the Orchon wall of bravery.

Matt Otto
Below are links to some MP3s from the Blue Whale gig, which featured Matt Otto on tenor, Tim Fischer on guitar, Emilio Terranova on bass, Tina Raymond on drums and myself on alto.

Brush Creek
Windows (in 5)
No Moon at All
Helping Others

 On Friday morning I drove down to Anaheim to check out the NAMM show. As I was driving up to the convention center parking lot I notice that there were more rockers with big hair and black leather than I'd seen since I left Berklee. In the convention center there was a huge Latin band playing just inside the main entrance, loud and mediocre, BUT EXCITING. I'm sure that I had the exact same feeling in the pit of my stomach as the 8 year old kids had as they entered the main gates of Disneyland few blocks away. I was entering the Magic Kingdom of gear!

Shawn 'Thunder' Wallace
 Try to imagine five thousand rockers and horn players screeching out their highest and fastest licks all at once and you'll have a pretty good idea what it sounded like in the convention center. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that in order to have a real conversation with someone you need to position your ear about 8 inches away from the mouth of the person you're trying to talk to. There were something like five HUGE halls filled with rows of booths, everything from reeds and horns to strings and software. I tried to stay as far away from the percussion booths as I could, mostly because I didn't want my ears to bleed any more than they were going to already.

 There were many different live performances happening at different booths, like solo Heavy Metal rockers dudes wailing Ronnie Deo lines, small acoustic Jazz ensembles, and sax nerds playing unnaturally loud Smooth-Jazz licks. At the Gemeinhardt/Stephanhöuser booth Shawn "Thunder" Wallace, who teaches at Ohio State University, was performing with a quintet. I'd never heard of Stephanhöuser saxophones before. I've posted links to Shawn's outstanding YouTube sax lessons here before and even joked about his nickname, but I'd never really heard him play. Shawn sounded great. We talked and exchanged CDs after his set. I'm going to have to keep closer tabs on Shawn in the future.

One of the first booths I stopped at was jj Babbitt, makers of Otto Link, Meyer, Guy Hawkins, Wolfe Tayne, and Hite mouthpieces. I had a long conversation with Jim Green, who is head of production, about the history of Otto Links and about the new vintage Links that recently came out. I had heard rumors that these 'new vintage' Links were made from the old Slant molds, not true apparently. Babbitt collected a bunch of Early Babbitts and Slant Links, took measurements from them and then averaged all the numbers out to create an entirely new mouthpiece. I asked him why the tip rail on these 'new vintage' pieces is so much more curved than the modern Links. He told me that he asks his factory workers to give the tip rail a little more curve, but "sometimes they go a bit overboard". You can say that again. I like some of these new pieces, but they are highly inconsistent and you need to try a bunch of them out in order to find a really good one. Not bad for a $130 mouthpiece. I still think there's no substitute for having your piece finished by an actual saxophonist who play tests as he goes, but of course that will cost you more. 
New Vintage Otto Link

 I also learned that Babbitt didn't actually start to manufacture their own pieces until the company moved to Indiana. Before the factory moved they bought all of their blanks from a few different French manufacturers and only did the finish work. This means that Slants and EB Links were all made in France. I asked Jim why the rubber had changed so much and he confirmed the reason I had been told, a major ingredient in the rubber powder that is used to make the compound is no longer available, it's become illegal to manufacture because it is toxic. 

 I asked Jim if they were planning on making an alto vintage piece and he said that they were in the planning stages of making a 'new vintage' Meyer copy. Like the Link vintage model the alto piece will be designed by taking the average specs from several different classic Meyer pieces, probably both NY Meyers and Meyer Brothers pieces. You can expect this 'new vintage' Meyer alto piece to be released late in 2011 or early 2012. I'll be looking forward to checking this piece out. You can still get factory refacing done for about $65 if you send your pieces to Babbitt, but it can take up to six weeks to finish.

 Jim also told me that the Millenium Links are exactly the same as regular modern STM Links, except they have different plating. Who knew?

The next booth I stopped by was Rigotti, which was manned by Daniel Rigotti himself. I had a lot of questions for Daniel and was hoping to get some answers. One of the first things I asked him was about his American distributors. The only places you can buy Rigotti reeds from in the States are from Woodwind and Brasswind, Roberto's, Muncy Winds (but they haven't restocked in a long time) and another small music store in Los Angeles (which he didn't remember the name of). There are several different reeds that use Rigotti cane, which is absolutely best cane in the world as far as I'm concerned. The only major reed manufactures still exclusively use Var region cane are Vandoren and Rigotti.

Here is some more info on reed cane from John Robert Brown:
"The plant from which we make clarinet and saxophone reeds is gramineous, meaning that it is of the grass family, as are wheat and sugar cane. Thus, a hollow reed-cane stalk is not wood but a sort of large straw. It differs from wood in that wood grows from the centre outwards. Grass (reed-cane) grows rapidly inwards from the hard exterior. Reed-cane has a Latin name, Arundo Donax. Common names are Giant Reed, Spanish Reed and Canne-de-Provence. It is tall, tallest of the European Gramineae, and reaches a height of six metres in one year. During the second year it thickens towards the centre, and hardens. Reed makers cut the cane after two years. In Britain you can see Arundo Donax growing at Kew Gardens in London. Reed cane grows all over the world. The best known area for reed cane is the Var region of Southern France. Most grows in the alluvial planes to the east and west of the Mediterranean port of Toulon. The Var soil has a high silica content. The Adelaide area of South Australia has ideal soil conditions for the cultivation of Arundo Donax. Reeds have been grown there successfully during the last twenty years. An Australian reed-making industry began in 1991. Variations in the cane arise from the time of year when growth takes place and from the prevailing microclimate. After cutting, the cane is sun-dried. Then the harvesters cut it from knot to knot and season it for eighteen months."
 There are several brands of reeds that use Rigotti cane. Queen reeds are Rigotti cane and the have Rigotti cut, they are exactly the same Rigotti reeds. I think the sizing may be less specific. Queen reeds are often less expensive than Rigottis. Ishimori reeds are also EXACTLY the same as Rigotti reeds, no difference in cut or cane. The only thing is that they are much less accurately sized. An Ishimori 3 is going to contain Rigotti 2.5 strongs, 3 lights, and 3 mediums. Oh, and you will pay DOUBLE for Ishimoris once you figure shipping into the cost. How do you like them Ishimoris now?! The last two brands of reeds that use Rigotti cane are Roberto's and François Louis reeds. These two brands have slightly different cuts than Rigotti reeds. The angle of the cut from the top of the vamp to the tip of the reed is different. François reeds have a steeper angle, giving more material in the heart. Roberto's are somewhere in between François and Rigotti. Rigotti reeds are the flattest with the least material in the heart of the reed.

 I also posted this information on Sax On the Web, but the hard headed saxophonists there did not want to believe me. They somehow thought that Ishimori reeds were longer lasting, more consistent and generally better. One even said:
"Both my sax instructor and I are still playing the same two Ishimori's we started playing over a year and a half ago....can you say that about ANY Rigotti reeds? P.S. What do you think Daniel Rigotti is going to say.....he MIGHT be just a little bit biased towards his own reeds? Just sayin'!!!!!!!!!!!! "
  I replied to that post with:
"Rigotti harvests the 'Woodstone' cane, CUTS the 'Woodstone' cane, packages the 'Woodstone' reeds into 'Woodstone' boxes, shrink wraps the 'Woodstone' boxes of reeds AND THEN SENDS THEM TO ISHIMORI IN JAPAN SO THEY CAN SELL THEM UNDER THEIR OWN NAME. Woodstone doesn't do jack shit at any stage of the process except to put them in their catalog and on their shelves and sell them. They do not hand select them, they do not add their Woodstone magic.....THEY OPEN THE BOX THEY GET IN THE MAIL FROM RIGOTII AND THEY SELL THEM. "
Of course Daniel Rigotti doesn't care if you buy his reeds under the Queen, Brancher, Roberto's, Louis, or Ishimori labels. He still gets paid whatever they are called. Saxophonists can be such stubborn and superstitious knuckle heads when it comes to gear. They just get attached to ideas based on subjective perceptions and then they do not let any rational facts change their minds.

 I was curious about the problems that WWBW and Muncy seemed to also have with keeping Rigottis in stock. I thought that maybe the demand was increasing so fast that Rigotti couldn't produce enough new product to keep up. Turns out the retailers just have poor planning, no lack of supply. One last piece of info is that Rigotti tenor reeds are the same as Rigotti bass clarinet reeds. I was hesitant to write about this and I promised my buddy Nat (who discovered this fact) that I'd keep it secret. For a while there the bass clarinet reeds were several dollars cheaper than the tenor reeds, but I think WWBW and Roberto have gotten wise and raised the bass clarinet reed prices to match tenor prices. So you can always order bass clarinet reeds if your tenor reed strength is out of stock.

More later.....

1 comment:

Scooby said...

Great! Thanks for the update. I've never been to the show, but I'll have to check it out someday,

Looking forward to part 2 of your review.