NAMM madness

If you've ever been to NAMM you know that it is insane. It's like being in a war zone, but with thousands of freaks. Well, of course there are plenty of normal looking music store owners, instrument markets reps and a few haggard looking Jazz musicians, but it is a truly a great place for freak and hootchie mamma spotting. I saw groups of leather clad guys with matching grey reptile eye contact lenses, hordes of surgically enhanced Goth Death Metal mini-skirt/fishnet wearing spokes models, EVEN the SEXY SAXMAN was making the rounds. That guy is killing, so killing.

  Let's not even get into all the tattoos, which made the Hell's Angels at Sturgis look like librarians in comparison. It was a scene, to say the least. I ran into old friends that I hadn't seen in years and was able to meet people that I'd only know online. Schmoozefest!!

 This year I tried getting some video on my camera, which didn't turn out to work so well for loud music. Please excuse the peaking on some of these.

Here is some sort of strange percussion instrument. Remember to THINK OUTSIDE THE DRUM.

Always a good way to attract a crowd to your booth:

Who needs a drummer anyways?

Do you have an iPhone and have always wanted to play the Ukelele but were too lazy to learn?


Mighty Bright Orchestra Light review

One of the things I was on the lookout for at NAMM was a really good stand light. I have a small battery powered LED light and an AC powered Manhasset light, but the first isn't bright enough and the second has a cord and a breakable bulb. I went to many different booths before I found one that had everything I was looking for, this turned out to be the Mighty Bright Orchestra light.  The MB Orchestra Light is very lightweight and comes in a durable soft travel bag. The light has a bank of nine bright white energy-efficient LEDs and the bulbs are made to last over 100,000 hours.

 The two features that really sold me were the dimmer setting and the back fin, which directs the light away from the audience and back onto the page. On the high setting the light (lasts 14 hrs on two AAs) will light up to four pages of music and the low setting (20 hrs) is nice when you don't want to light the up entire room. The light also comes with an AC adapter with 13 feet of cord in case you run out of batteries. The grip on the base is large, sturdy and padded.

All in all, this is the best stand light I have ever seen.

Mighty Bright Orchestra Light
Retails for $74.99


NAMM 2012 and the L.A. Jazz Collective

Last weekend was the NAMM convention. It was my second time going down to SoCal for the convention and was a lot of fun seeing old friends, checking out all the new products, and witnessing all of the freaks on display. I got down to L.A. on Wednesday and played at a club in Little Tokyo called the Blue Whale that night. The gig was part of a weekly residency at the club by the L.A. Jazz Collective, which is a group of musicians who have banded together to produce regular performances of creative Jazz music. Here's what the LAJC website says about the organization:
Members of the LAJC
The Los Angeles Jazz Collective is a group of musicians working together to build a stronger jazz community within Los Angeles. Through cooperative effort and education, we seek to promote our work and generate greater public appreciation for improvised music. The LAJC's membership includes many of the area’s talented younger artists, including pianist/organist Joe Bagg; saxophonists Matt Zebley, Robby Marshall and Damon Zick; drummer Jason Harnell; bassist Ryan McGillicuddy; trumpeters Brian Swartz and Josh Welchez, and guitarists Steve Cotter, Jamie Rosenn, and Mike Scott. There are currently 13 core members and a growing number of associate members. The collective has held meetings several times each month since November of 2007 and has already established a strong sense of community within the membership. Many members are on the faculty at various colleges and schools, and the collective intends to integrate enthusiastic students into this community. The LAJC aims to be a catalyst for those who play modern, creative jazz to represent the pioneering spirit that is the essence of the jazz tradition. The collective is compelled to live out that spirit by forging ahead in it’s members’s own compositions and performances.

Matt Otto, one the the group's founding members told me that at the beginning they send out around 200 emails to local Jazz musicians to see who was interested and they got about twelve responses.  The LACC recently got their nonprofit status, the next step is applying for grants. They plan to create educational programs and more concerts with those grants.

 I played a few sets at the Blue Whale show with Matt Otto and a host of other great players, including Gary Fukushima, Tim Pleasant, Jamie Rosen, Gilad Hekselmen, Tina Raymond, and Dave Robere. Here is a link to a recording and PDFs of one of the tunes we played, a killer head that Matt Otto wrote over the changes to Alone Together called Her Legato Note.

The LAJC website
Blue Whale Jazz club
Matt Otto.org

Stay tuned for plenty of product reviews, videos and pics from my 2012 NAMM trip.


Michael Brecker Live Recordings website

Emily, Mike, Randy & Santa
Michael Brecker continues to be one the the most respected and emulated saxophonists of our time. The other while perusing Facebook I saw so many people posting Brecker YouTube videos that for a minute I though it might have been some sort of national Brecker holiday, nope, everybody just loves Brecker.

Do you need your three-tonic fix first thing in the morning?  Is your Guardala metal piece not giving you enough of that Brecker magic? Do you feel like you need to go back in the shed and practice some Brecker transcriptions for a few thousand more hours? Do you fall asleep thinking about new patches for your EWI? If so then you then you need to check out the Michael Brecker Live Recordings website. Luis Gerrits runs the site and appears to be the world's foremost authority on all things Brecker. He has the largest collection of Brecker bootleg audio and video on the planet, and he is willing to trade you if you contact him.

To me the most interesting thing about Gerrits' site is his collection of transcriptions, many of which were done by Rick Margitza. You can download all 95 of these Brecker transcriptions for free here.


Neck Strap hook analysis results

  Several weeks ago I posted here and on SOTW that my new Just Joe's neck strap (with a large brass hook) noticeably changed the timbre and volume of the sound of my saxophone. This kicked off a long debate on SOTW in which many people scoffed and said I was crazy (or that my ears were deceiving me). Most of those SOTW members who believed my claims had not even bothered to try the large brass hook test themselves. Some of these players were well respected saxophonists and authors and many of them were weekend warriors. I was totally convinced that the large brass hook on the neck strap brings out certain overtones, on some notes more than others. It was perfectly clear to my own ears, which at this point in my life I tend to believe. About 80% of the saxophonists who tried the hook comparison test also believed that it made a difference. The 20% who did not hear any difference were usually either very inexperienced players or experienced players who were totally convinced before they even tried the test that it was impossible that a brass strap hook could change the sound of the horn. There were admittedly a few serious players who didn't notice a difference and seemed to have an open mind about the idea, like Ellery Elskelin. My theory is that the different makes of saxophones have the strap hook in different places, which causes different degrees of effect because the hooks may not be sitting right at a vibrational node. This means a large brass hook may have a greater effect on a Selmer than on a Conn.

  My testing with different saxophonists wasn't very scientific, so I turned it over to some pros. I have a saxophone student named Randal LeNeve who is an engineer at Rodgers Instrument corporation (which manufactures organs and is a division of Roland) and has a Masters degree in physics. Randy noticed a significant difference in the brass strap and was just as puzzled as I was about why a hook could make a difference in the sound. One theory that Tom Garcia and Sammy Epstein (who taught acoustics at Berklee) had at first was that the difference in timbre was more noticeable to the player because of the increased vibrations traveling up the strap to the players jaw and ears. This theory was shot down by Randy because of the fact that neck strap cord is a poor acoustical conductor. One of Randy's theories was that the large brass hook acts as what he called a 'resonating antenea'. This means that the hook itself puts off extra higher frequency overtones when the horn is played. Randy also thought that the point on the horn where the strap ring sits could be right at a critical vibrational node of vibration, which could explain the greater difference of change to particular notes on the horn. One thing that Randy really stressed was just how acoustically complicated the saxophone is. Just the driver (mouthpiece & reed) alone is highly complex and unpredictable. The instrument is actually quite mysterious and even scientists are not totally clear on some of the details of its workings.

  Randy took the Just Joe's strap into the Rodgers labs, enlisted the help of his colleague John Pospisil and they did some testing. John also heard a noticeable difference between the Joe's strap and a strap with a plastic hook and, being a saxophonist himself, was intrigued enough to join the project. They tested the Just Joe's strap against a strap with a plastic hook and one with a small thin steel hook. Randy played alto and soprano and John was the recording engineer. Randy tried his best to play as close to the same volume on all of the tests and they recorded eight different notes on each horn. John used the Roland R09 recorder, sampling at 24-bit, 48kHz and analyzed the frequencies using Sony Sound Forge, using a Blackman-Harris algorithm with 65,536 sampling points.

They found that the Just Joe's strap amplified some of the higher partials. It also appeared as if the strap eliminated a small amount of the frequencies between the overtones, which might account for a 'clearer sound' (this is my theory). Their conclusion was this:
"Certain notes on the Alto showed higher peaks on frequencies above 6 kHz which implies that the harmonic ratios of sound pressure levels are being altered i.e. a change in the timber of the sound, not the frequency distribution. Also G# on the Alto showed considerable added frequency content starting at about 200 Hz. The Soprano shows considerably more frequency content above 10 kHz for some, but not all notes.  It is perceivable that the Just Joe's Saxophone Gel Strap has an impact on the frequencies at or above 10 kHz for the Soprano sax setup used in this experiment and on certain notes on the Alto sax on frequencies above 6 kHz and in one case for G# starting as low as 200 Hz."
Randy added:
 "So in the case of Joe's Neck Strap the report shows that certain harmonics of the fundamental frequency were amplified. This means that those notes are LOUDER and the TIMBRE of the note was altered. That is, the horn still sounds like a saxophone but has 'brighter' and 'louder' harmonics. The LOUDER is pretty obviously a good thing. The TIMBRE being brighter can depend on what a player wants." 

Here is one of the screenshots from the analysis. It is middle A on the alto:
click on above graphic for a larger view

 They also felt that further testing would help to make these results more concrete and that these tests might include:
  1. Recording several takes of each note using each strap and averaging the frequency response of the resulting recordings.
  2. Using several straps to compare the differences in frequency response between each strap.
  3. Recording in a more acoustically "dead" environment.
  4. Using several microphones for recording including contact microphones on the saxophone body.
  5. Determination of the fundamental frequency and harmonic distribution of the metal piece(s) on the strap itself when not attached to the saxophone.

 So although this question should be investigated more thoroughly to discover exactly what is causing the difference in timbre between the Just Joe's strap and a typical strap (with a plastic or small steel) hook I feel like I have been vindicated by the testing that was done in the Rodgers labs. No amount of scientific testing be enough to convince some who are convinced that a strap hook cannot change timbre, so I fully expect that this post will set off another 20 page thread on SOTW. Fortunately I will save myself the aggravation and not be reading that thread. I had the wisdom to have my SOTW membership suspended indefinitely.

If anyone is interested in reading the full report from the Rodgers labs email me and I'll send you a copy.

I can say this will a fair amount of certainty though......

There is a difference in timbre!

Just Joe's Neckstrap