'How to play the saxophone'- from sax.alt

Two actual postings from the saxophone alt.news group:


Hi, is there someone who can give me some directions about playing the sax? I've just purchased one and would love to know how to play it?? Some helpful weblinks would also be great!!


by "fundoc" of TheWeasels.com

First things first. If you're a white guy, you'll need a stupid hat, the stupider the better, preferably a beret. Sunglasses are optional, but all the really really good players wear them, especially indoors.

You'll also need some "gig shirts" -- Hawaiians are good, in a pinch anything with a loud floral pattern is acceptable, as are T-shirts from various jazz clubs and festivals. Get them mail order, so you don't have to go to all the trouble of actually seeing live music. And sandals are an absolute must, even in winter.

Once you've assembled the proper attire you can begin practicing.

One of the most important things about playing is being able to convey emotion to the audience. This you do through various facial expressions. The two emotions you'll need to convey are (1) rapture/ecstasy and (2) soul wrenching pain/sadness (i. e., the blues).

You may find it useful in the beginning to borrow a page from the method acting school. So, for example, to convey rapture try thinking of something nice, like puppy dogs or getting a kiss from Uma Thurman while Phil Barone feeds you Armour hot dogs with truffle sauce.

To convey the "blues" try thinking of something really really appalling, like ulcerative colitis or Alec Baldwin. Practice your facial expressions in front of a mirror at least two hours per day. You may feel a tad stupid at first, but you'll never get the chicks if you don't jump around on stage like a monkey with your face all screwed up like there's a rabid wolverine in your colon, believe you me. And bottom line, chicks is really what music's all about.

Next, you'll need the correct ligature. Some people think that the ligature is just a stupid piece of old metal that holds the reed on the mouthpiece.

Well, those people are idiots. Besides your beret, your ligature is the single most important piece of musical equipment you will ever buy. Mine, for example, is 40% platinum and 60% titanium; one screw is rubidium and the other plutonium. It makes me sound exactly like Booker Ervin would if Booker Ervin were (1) not dead and (2) on Mars, if (2)(a) there was oxygen on Mars.

You may have to spend years and years and thousands of dollars finding the proper ligature, but in the end it will definitely be worth it.

Now: reeds. Optimally you'll want to move to the South of France, grow and cure your own cane and carve your own reeds by hand. If you're just a "weekend warrior" however, you can get by with store-bought. First, buy ten boxes of reeds, that's 100 in all. Next, open all the boxes and throw away 60 reeds. Those were unplayable. Take the remaining reeds and soak them in a mixture of 27.8% rubbing alcohol and 72.2% pituitary gland extract for a period of 17weeks.

Throw away 20 more reeds. Those were stuffy. Take the remaining 20 reeds and sand each one for exactly 13 seconds with #1200 grade 3M sandpaper. Throw away 14 reeds. Those squeaked. Take the remaining 6 reeds and soak them for another 17 weeks, this time however in a mixture of 27.8% pituitary gland extract and 72.2% rubbing alcohol. Sun dry the 6 remaining reeds for 3 weeks, optimally at an equatorial latitude, and throw away 3 more just on general principles. You now have 3 reeds that will last you several months if you play each one only 20 minutes a day in strict rotation.

Now, you say you just bought a horn. Although you didn't say what kind it is, I'd sell it immediately and get a different one. The best one to get would be a Selmer Mark VI made at 4:27 PM on June 14, 1963, serial number 135543. If you can't get that one though, generally speaking the older and more expensive the better. The following brands are good: Selmer Paris Mark VI.

The following brands suck: any other Selmer, Yamaha, Conn, Beuscher, Yanigasawa, Cannonball, LA, Jupiter, Elkhart, King, Martin, Keilworth, Boosey and Hawkes, Couf, Silvertone, and Holton.

On no account should you play the horn before you buy it: go strictly on reputation and price. If you can't get a Mark VI and need further information, there's some broad in here who's owned every freaking saxophone ever made, Sherry or Sheryl or something, she can probably tell you which one's the best.

You will also need some accoutrements: a flight case capable of withstanding atmospheric pressure of dP = - Dg dz where D and g are, respectively, the density of air and the acceleration due to gravity at the altitude of the air layer and dz is a horizontal layer of air having unit surface area and infinitesimal thickness; a metronome; a tuner; a combination alto, tenor, and baritone sax stand with pegs for oboe, bass clarinet, flute, English horn and bassoon; Band in a Box; every Jamie Abersold play-along record ever pressed; a reed cutter; swabs, cleaners, pad savers, pad dope, pad clamps; a Sennheiser Digital 1092 Wireless Microphone; an effects rig with digital delay and parametric EQ; and a 200 watt per channel (minimum) amplifier with 18" monitor.

It will be helpful if you listen to lots of sax players. Unfortunately, listening to players you like is the worst thing you can do. To really understand the music and its traditions, you have to go back to the beginning and work forward. I'd start with madrigals and listen to every note of music ever recorded. Once you get to the 20th century, pay particular attention to Jimmy Dorsey and Sidney Bechet, the wellsprings of the modern jazz saxophone. In no time at all, or by 2034, whichever comes first, you'll be able to understand the unique be-bop stylings of players like Ace Cannon, Boots Randolph and Grover Washington Jr.

Oh, yeah. To play the sax itself, blow in the small end and wiggle your fingers a little.

Here a few more funny Jazz articles from Al Lowe's Humor site .

From The Book of Jobbers

The ideal sideman

Jazz Haiku

Bill Anschell's 'How to be a Jazz Critic'

Bill Anchell is a 'quadruple threat', an excellent pianist/composer/writer/arranger who resides in Seattle.
Here is his article on Jazz writing, I have used some of these awful cliches myself.....

How to Be a Jazz Critic
By Bill Anschell

Thinking about a career in Jazz Journalism? Jazz writing is a lot like jazz playing: You’ll need to be talented, hard-working, passionate, self-absorbed, and disdainful of material reward.
If those are your gifts, we’re here to ease your burden. Just memorize the handy phrases below, and plug them into your stories as needed. You’ll save years of training, and write just like the real, professional jazz critics! Be sure all your reviews include plenty of references to yourself; readers need to be reminded who they’re really reading about.

Sound good? Now repeat after me:

Their music is so much more than the sum of its parts. They are team players: they think as one, phrase as one, play as one. Their music is an intimate conversation, a shared secret. They are joined at the hip, they are of a mind; telepathic. They don’t hit you over the head, they have nothing to prove. They can turn on a dime. Three cheers!

America’s indigenous artform, America’s classical music, our national treasure. The sound of surprise, bright moments. It’s a gourmet meal in a McDonald’s culture. It’s a fine wine, a literary masterpiece, gumbo. It’s the blues, gospel, sadness and joy. It’s unacknowledged, tragic, disowned, downplayed, suppressed. An ugly stepsister, bastard child, shoeless orphan. It dies poor, no health insurance, alone in a Brooklyn apartment. The greedy record company releases a compilation of embarrassing out-takes. Touche!

The leader is a double threat, a triple threat, a quadruple threat, multi-talented, multi-faceted, a musician’s musician, an unsung hero. His songs are tomorrow’s standards. Here is the next Gershwin, Porter, Kern. He has that rare gift of melody. His eponymous debut release shows surprising maturity. He continues to improve. He is at the peak of his form. He’s had a long and storied career. Bravo!

Don’t be fooled. Don’t think you already know, have already heard. Don’t be too quick to. Don’t be surprised if. Ignore the skeptics. You have to consider, you need to check out, you owe it to yourself. Listen!

His harmon mute brings to mind; he has the lyricism of; he’s athletic, muscular, agile, facile, always lands on his feet. He effortlessly spins out melodies, sheets of sound. He sings through his horn. His fingers dance on the keys. His voice-like quality, his stylings. His gargantuan chops. He pounds out, hammers, articulates, coaxes, crafts. This titan, this speed demon, this racehorse, freight train, Olympic hurdler. Bird lives!

In this era of Nora Jones, Diana Krall, Jane Monheit. In this era of Kenny G. In this era of racial division. In this era of marketing hype. In this era of eroding CD sales. Label support. Radio support. Audience support. Where is the black audience? Where are the students, the Gen-exers? Where is the next Trane, Duke, Miles? What can we, how can we, when will we? Young lions, seasoned veterans, a cross-generational assemblage. Hearkening back to the tradition. Drawing from a long line of, the latest incarnation of, bringing back to life. Long live…!

I used to play this music, that instrument. For my girlfriend, in my apartment, low-rent, ill-lit, among stacks of records lovingly collected, carefully filed. I was this, that. I heard this group before they. I was the first to. I knew them when no one else. I was having a bad day until. Just when I thought I’d never find anything like. My initial reaction was. Normally, I’m not one to, but. I kicked back with a glass of. I sat on my favorite, listened with all my. I was never a fan of. But this, until I heard this, I have to admit. Now I’m. It’s records like this that make me. I want, I hope, I have to, I never; I, always. I.

copyright 2004, Bill Anschell


the best ii-V7 substitution ever

I'm still recovering from two weeks of constant action in Barcelona and the Mediterranean. The jetlag has caused me to be totally exhausted by 10pm and then wide awake by 7am. Ahhrrrggg, I'm on a normal schedule for the first time ever!

BCL was a truly amazing city to behold. The architecture makes New York City look like Tijuana. We saw most of Gaudi's work, the Park Guel was like a fantastic dream. Of course the food was spectacular, especially Pere Soto's mom's Fideo Seafood Paella.

I played three jam session gigs with master guitarist/composer Pere Soto and a great Argentinean drummer named Salvador. The first one was at a club by the university. The gig was supposed to start at 9:30pm, but they told us to wait until 10:30pm. We started a little before 11pm and there were still only a few people there. By 12:30am the club was packed. The Spanish don't really get rolling until midnight, when the streets are packed. There were quite a few talented players that sat in with us. Several Central and South Americas, Cubans, a few expats, some Europeans and the local Spanish players. It was great to have packed houses that were actually paying attention, even though they were smoking like chimneys. A nice young tenor player from outside of BCL played with us. He was playing an old Conn 10m with a hard rubber Link, great sound. I forget how good those Conns can sound, totally different from a Selmer.

Before our first gig Pere and I went by the Jamboree to see our friend Jorge (or Jordi) Rossi's quintet. I went to school with Jorge and played some gigs with an early incarnation of the Bloomdaddies on a California tour (with Seamus Blake and Jesse Murphy). Jorge met us outside the club and explained that this would be the first gig his 12 year old trumpet playing son would be playing with the quintet. He told us to,"get ready for some serious child exploitation". The kid was about four and a half feet tall and couldn't even hold the horn up, so his mic was near his knees. I have never heard a kid that young play so well in all my life. A seventh grader playing better than most pros! Great concept, hard-swinging time, nice sound, perfect intonation, beautiful clear lines. It was unreal to hear such a young kid play with such mature concept. Jorge was glowing with pride, as he should have been.

Jorge gave up playing the drums a few years ago in favor of the piano, he does still break out the skins when big gigs come up. He is one of the best drummers on the continent but he just decided that he wanted to put all of his energy into the piano. He wasn't playing any burning lines when I heard him but his time and comping was beautiful, very tasty.

My last gig in Barcelona was at the Jamboree, a jam session called What the Fuck?!. We played the first set to about 65 people sitting on the floor (Americans would never sit on the floor like that without whining about it). The second set was an open jam and the third set things got wild. There was a guy who did a great human beat-box, a hip-hop tap dancer, rappers in Spanish, post-bop horn players and a bad-ass Brazilian guitarist. I had to leave at 2am to get ready to fly out early the next morning and the club was just getting rolling. There were still around thirty people in line waiting to get in as I left. Pere later told me that the music didn't wind down until after 3a.m. Pere had the crowd screaming like drunk banshees and cats in heat. He is the truly Catalonian Hendrix.

  • Here is a really great and easy to make substitution that I've been using a lot lately, especially on my recent trip to Europe. It's a straight forward way of substituting a V7 of V7 in place of the ii-7 in a ii-/V7/I. This is one of Bob Mover's favorite devices and you can really see why once you give it a try.

  • First remember that you may substitute any related ii-7 in place of a V7, or vice versa.

All you have to do is to play a minor a half-step up over the ii-7 and then play a regular V7 (or an altered V7 if you wish).

So over a-

D-7 / G7 /Cmaj7

You would play-

Eb-7 /G7 /C maj7

This implies the related V7 of the Eb-7, which is Ab7.

Ab7 is the subV7 of V, or the tri-tone sub of the secondary dominant of V7.

So the substitution is implying this:
D7 alt /G7 /C maj7

  • The beauty of this substitution is that it is so easily calculated on the fly, it sounds very outside yet soon resolves perfectly and completely to the V7. The tension of playing a half-step away from the minor is total, yet the resolution is so strong that it makes perfect sense to the ear.

Simple, yet elegant and easily to put into practice.


Steve Swallow & Carla Bley charts

Here are links to Carla Bley & Steve Swallow's web site where you can download PDFs of their tunes for free.

Main web site

Carla Bley tunes
Steve Swallow tunes