Sax-Acrobatix: the legacy of Spike Jones

British saxophonist Pete Thomas has an extensive saxophone site that's worth taking a look at. He has stuff on his site like online lessons, Jazz recipes, vintage saxophone museum, sax links, sax reviews, sax humour, sax repairs, sax serial numbers, a large section on film scoring, Logic Pro tutorials and a sax discussion forum. He also has a copy of a book called Sax-Acrobatix posted on his site, which was written by Henri Weber and published by Belwin in the 40's. This 17 page book has exercises that help you to develop saxophone 'stunts and tricks' like the Laugh, the Cry, the Meow, the Flutter Tongue, the Yelp, the Moan, the Bark, the Sneeze, and the Car Horn. These tricks are explained and augmented with appropriate exercises of moderate difficulty. If you have ever marveled at how the Spike Jones Orchestra created some of their silly sound effects then this book is for you.

The complete Sax-Acrobatix book on Pete Thomas' site

Thanks to Tomas Trulsson again for more great material.


Jazz It Up!- new Jazz multimedia news service

Bandwidth is finally catching up to the plans of multi-media producers.
Back in 1999 I started producing a Jazz series in NYC meant for Internet broadcast. Investment bankers were dumping hundreds on millions into online multi-media entertainment start ups. All the major networks were getting nervous that they might miss the Internet TV revolution and were adding their own Internet multi-media production studios. I'm sure you don't remember MTV's Internet only show called 'the Bunker'. It was a Big Brother rip off, except that it took place in a post-apocalyptic cement bunker under the Viacom building in Time Square. Viewers could log on and choose any of the camera's to watch the Bunker's occupants and decide who to kick out. This was right at the new millennium when New Yorkers were heading to safer ground and the army was setting up chemical decontamination showers in Central Park, don't forget the 40,000 body bags that were brought in. With all that happening Mayor Giuliani has the gall to tell everyone that everything is perfectly fine and don't let your party plans be affected by the government's plans for the apocalypse.

This was also the point when Napster was at it's peak and record companies were also shitting major bricks. The entire entertainment industry was expecting their own immanent apocalypse because of the promises that were being made about fiber optic broadband in every American city in just about two to three years.

Napster ended up getting squashed, though digital music distribution has since revolutionized the music industry. Digital streaming multi-media hasn't supplanted television yet as was predicted back at the millennium. All those fiber optic hubs and cables were for the most part abandoned when the stock market crash happened in 2000, which was pretty close to a financial apocalypse. At present most homes have at least DSL internet connections, which may not be fast enough to watch HD streaming TV. It is however fast enough for folks to happily spend many hours watching blurry videos of people's cats on YouTube. YouTube has been revolutionary for Jazz in a way. It's allowed anyone to watch thousands of hours of Jazz videos for free. All of those great European Jazz TV shows are now accessible as well as a shit load of live performances. Any YouTube fan will admit that the sound and video quality is pretty bunk compared to actual television, or even streaming porn. So the promise of high quality streaming Jazz multi-media still hasn't materialized yet.

My own internet Jazz multi-media series, called 'Inner Jazz', is still mostly in the Casa Valdez Studio vaults. Three episodes were aired on cable TV and also streamed on the internet. Jeff Ballard pulled his episode because he didn't feel that he presented his material organized enough (even though he was burning). Over the last several years I've continued to shoot more footage of great Jazz musicians playing and talking about their art. I've built up many hours of unedited material that I need to get to. If the bandwidth bottleneck finally burst I would have a bit more incentive.

I still produce DVD demos for musicians that I shoot in the TV studio or on location. It's a really smart idea for every band to have a nice promotional DVD as well as a CD. Bookers really want to see a band performing and a DVD is an impressive addition to your promo package. If you call most established media production companies they will quote you prices ranging from $1500 to $5000 for a nice DVD. Instead try Craig's list or call the local film schools to find young film makers. You should be about to find someone to produce a DVD for under a thousand dollars. I'm going to soon start posting all of the DVD demos I've been producing. I have a very fast server and the quality will smoke YouTube. Now I just need to find the time to get all that footage out of the vault and onto the web.

'Jazz it up' is a new attempt web only multi-media music programming. It is advertised as a web based multi-media newsletter. Each new episode they send you an email and all you do is click a link to watch the program. So far 160,000 people have watched the promotional trailer and premiere show. The Internet’s first jazz news TV series is co-produced and hosted by print and broadcast journalist Greg Thomas.

“We’re extremely excited about the reception of the jazz community to Jazz it Up!,” says Thomas. “Our goals are to expand the jazz audience, and to heighten appreciation and support of this profound yet accessible musical idiom, the musicians who keep it alive, and the jazz music industry itself.”

So far it looks to me like it could have some promise. I'll keep you updated as new shows air.

Sign up now to receive Jazz it Up! directly to your email in-box twice per month. It’s free.



Kenny Brooks reflects on reeds

Kenny Books is the only guy I know that goes through more reeds than I do. Here 's what he has to say about them-

Some thoughts on reeds...

How can I tell if a reed will be good just by looking at it? How long should a reed last? What are the best brands of reeds to buy? These are just some of the questions that you may have about reeds. What strength reed should I be using is another one.

Disclaimer : The comments that follow are my OPINIONS about reeds. There are as many different ideas regarding reeds as there are saxophonists. Take my comments as such.

Can you tell if a reed will be good just by looking at it? Heavens no, but there are things to look out for. The color of the reed can be revealing about it's age and how long it has been cured. Avoid the reeds with the greenish tinge to them, as they are likely too young or haven't been cured long enough. A white, bleached out looking reed might also be avoided for the same reasons. Usually I look for a reed with a yellow or brown color with tight fibers. If you look on the back of the reed it's easier to see the fibers and how tightly packed they are. Earl Turbinton of New Orleans told me that if you see brown spots or blotches on the blank part of the reed(the uncut part), that it will have character. Look closely at the way the reed is cut. Look at the end of the reed. Is it it even on both sides? Inconsistencies in the cut of the reed is another factor.

What strength reed should I be using? The dimensions of your mouthpiece is the most important determining element when trying to figure out what strength reeds to use. Other, lesser determinants include how long you have been playing, the strength and development of your embouchure and physical makeup. The basic equation in terms of mouthpiece/reed ratio is : softer reed/open mouthpiece and conversely hard reed/closed mouthpiece. Many players do not follow this equation, however it is useful to keep in mind while experimenting with different combinations. I use a hard reed on an open mouthpiece : a Rico Jazz #4 on a metal Otto Link 7*. Some might consider that an extreme setup. George Garzone uses a #5 on an Otto Link 10. That's extreme. Garzone also runs 5 miles every morning ...Students of mine have copied my setup exactly hoping to recreate my tone. They ask "Why don't I sound like you with the exact same setup?" One reason is that everyone's mouth is shaped differently. Another has to do with the direction of the flow of air. Everyone is different. The only way to find what works for you is to experiment!

How long should a reed last? I play on a reed for about 6 days or so before it dies. I like to soak a reed in warm water for 5-10 minutes and then keep it wet for the remainder of its life. That means when I know I'm not going to play on it for more than 2 hours I place it inside a LaVoz single reed holder, which keeps the reed from drying out for up to 20 hours. I'm talking about the cheap, plastic reed holder. You don't need any other newfangled equipment to keep your reed wet. If your reed does dry out you may see it warp and curl. Soaking will usually straighten it out, but the damage has already been done. I don't even bother trying to revive them. If you are on a budget you may be forced to. Bottom line : Keep your reed wet.

Calder Spanier and I went to the Rico factory in dusty Sun Valley in the summer of 1996 on a fact-finding mission and learned a few things about the process of manufacturing reeds. Our guide was the friendly and knowledgeable Terry Landry, who, in part, designed the Rico Jazz and Jazz Select reeds. When we asked about where the cane was coming from he explained that the good Var region(France) cane was going to the Jazz and Jazz Selects while regular Ricos and LaVoz were primarily Argentine cane. Argentine, and just about every other cane is thought to be inferior to the cane that comes from The Var region of France. Interestingly, he told us that Vandoren, which purports to have French cane, is actually 80% Argentine. I cannot confirm that. Another revelation came while we were touring the rooms with the reed cutting machines. Terry told us that all the reeds are cut exactly the same. They don't cut 2's thinner than 4's. The strength of the reed is determined by the strength of the wood itself, which is measured by a gauge that bends the reed. Each row of machines had a computer terminal at the end of it which showed a bar graph of how many reeds of each strength were produced by each machine. It showed a bell curve which described very few 1.5's, 2's, 4's, 4.5's & 5's and a lot of 2.5's-3.5's. There is just not as much hard or soft wood out there to choose from.

What brand of reeds should you buy? Again, you must experiment for yourself. Keep in mind that many brands come in different styles or cuts. For example, Vandoren has 3 styles for you to choose from : regular, Java and V16.The Java is their "jazz" reed and the cut is sort of an even slope. The V16 on the other hand is a thicker reed, especially in the heart(the center). Regular is somewhere in between.

Should you play plastic reeds? If you can deal with the sound and the feel in your mouth, you'll certainly love the consistency. Most people, including me, can't deal. Dave Liebman is noted for his use of plastic reeds.

A fact of life is that there will be bad reeds in every box. It is miserable and costly. It can make you wish you had never picked up the saxophone. Until you find that next good one..


Latin workshop w/ pianist Elio Villafranca

This weekend I attended a workshop taught by Elio Villafranca, Reinhardt Melz, and Randy Porter. This was the second workshop at Randy's studio that I've attended, the last one was with drummer Alan Jones. I have played all types of Latin music professionally since I was in college, when I worked with Salsa, Merengue and Cumbia bands. Since then I've worked with Cuban Son, Brazilian, Mambo, Latin-Jazz and Flamenco groups. I have even led Latin-Jazz groups of my own for about five years. During the entire time I've been playing Latin music I've never studied it formally. I still couldn't tell you the exact difference between a Cha-cha-cha and a Mambo, other than tempo. I've just kind of absorbed the music through osmosis, just by playing and listening to it. I always felt that if I knew a little more about the rhythmic structure of different styles then I'd be able to solo better over Latin rhythms. At one time I had even planned to take Latin drum lessons in order to get inside the music more, of course that never happened. As soon as I heard about a workshop being taught by a master Cuban pianist I jumped at the opportunity.

Elio Villafranca
has been described as a 'thinking man's Cuban pianist'. Here what the press has to say about him:

  • “It is not difficult to sort out Villafranca’s musicality, brute force, effervescence, topicality, virtuosic independence, patience, candor, and brazen delicacy… This recording is a welcome relief among both recent jazz and Latin jazz releases and it makes one wonders where Villafranca will go next. Wherever he goes, one must follow.”All About Jazz

  • Elio Villafranca fits the mold set by Ruben Gonzales and those Cuban pianist before him, but you never doubt his originality. [Incantation/Encantaciones] is an adventurous study of feelings. Until you see Villafranca perform, with eyes zonked out in contemplation of the keys, you may not put him in the same serious light as Monk, Corea or Mingus, but he warrants the comparison.Splendid Reviews
Elio began the workshop by giving us a nutshell history of Cuban music. He talked about the two different types of claves, the Son clave and the Rhumba clave. For many years there very two very different and separate types of music being played in each of Cuba's two main cities, Havana and Oriente. There was practically no musical interchange between these two cities until a troop trade happened in 1909 when soldiers brought the clave to Havana, which was a major element of the musical styles for Oriente, the Nengon, Changui and Araqua. Up until that point the Son had no clave in it's makeup at all. This new style of Son was called Son Montuno.

The clave became the element that held this new music together and still permeates Cuban music to this day. Elio said that Americans are always asking,"Where's one?!", but for Cubans the only important question is," Where is the clave?". For many years the clave was the ever present immovable and always expressed form that everything else was dependent on. In more modern Cuban styles the clave has become more flexible and not always overtly expressed.
Elio also talked about the brother of the clave, the Cascara, which always went with it.

From Son Montuno came Cha-cha-cha, Mambo, Songo and many other shorter lived styles of music. Everyone was trying to innovate new styles of music and there were countless styles that immediately faded into obscurity. Each style was always introduced with a new dance that went with it. People had to really like the new dance and the new style of music for the musical innovation to have any staying power.

Elio said that it's always hard for him to readjust when he goes back to Cuba because the music is changing so fast there. Here in the States we are still stuck playing the Cuban music of forty or fifty years ago. In Cuba they have moved on to a new hybrid called Timba. Timba was developed in the early 70's mainly by a band called Los Van Van. Timba was even more syncopated than Son Montuno, though it stressed down beats much more. Los Van Van started incorporating more American Funk and Fusion rhythms, using drum machines and relying more on the drum set. While some elements of Timba were straighter then Son, element like the bass lines and piano montunos became much more complex and syncopated. Instead of the piano montunos just repetitively outlining chord changes they became much more melodic and displaced. Elio had the students play some of these Timba claves, breaking the class up into bass lines and upper lines. We got to blow over these Timba montunos also. They felt much different than the more predictable Son montunos, more syncopated and more composed sounding, at the same time you could imagine a straight 16th Funk groove being played over them.

Elio really encouraged us to get inside the clave, to play off the rhythms that were being played.
"Don't be afraid of Clave, it is your friend!", Elio told us. This was just what we needed to hear.
So often as Jazz players when Cuban music gets too complex as we're blowing over it we tend to just sail right over the top of everything with 8th note lines, as if we're playing Bop. We need to carefully listen to everything that is happening rhythmically while we're playing and react to it. You can't just pay attention to any one part or instrument because all the parts are interlocking, together forming a whole rhythmic picture.

Elio suggested some bands for us to check out:
N.G. La Banda
Charanga Havanera
Y Su Trabuco
Paulito F.G.


Dear Band Leader- a letter from the bride's parents

Thanks to loyal reader Mike Dooley for this funny letter:

Dear Band Leader:

My wife and I look forward to you providing music at our daughter's wedding. We have a list of songs we would like you to play. Don't worry if you don't know all of them.

Any Chick Corea composition would be great, but we would especially like you to play "The Three Quartets, No.1 as the guests walk in. For the bride's mother, please go right into the piano intro to "Quartet No. 2." Keep playing it till she gets up to the altar. Also, have it arranged for the full ensemble.

Don't play any of the "Electric Band" songs. Make sure the drummer uses "Evans" drum heads so his drums sound like Steve Gadd, our favorite drummer.

Now, when I walk in, please play "Birdland" (but the version from "Live"). My wife and I were at that show, and we particularly like it. If you find it too difficult, you can play "Sister Cheryl" from "Tony Williams Live in Tokyo."

Now, for the song in the middle of the Mass during the communion, we want the singer to sing Alan Holdsworth's "Against the Clock" from his "Wardenclyffe Tower" CD. We love this song and especially the drum solo by Vinnie Colaiuta. We think that it's his greatest solo, although some will argue against this. Keep repeating the drum solo till the priest tells you to stop.

Any of John Coltrane's duets w/Pharaoh Sanders would be grand. I understand that their use of atonality is not everyone's cup of tea, but all of our guests LOVE high register tenor saxes.

We thought a little Stravinsky right after the toast would be nice. We particularly like the "Infernal Dance. . ." or whatever it's called, from the Rite of Spring (second version c. 1932). If you want to use the sheet music, that's OK. We like a tempo of about not = 93 (Ozawa). Faster would be cool, too, but don't play it too slow. That would ruin it.

Next, for the "life candle" lighting ceremony, please play Frank Zappa's "The Black Page." If you want to play it in the original key of Bb minor, that would be fine, but my cousin Janeen would like to sing it, so you may have to play that part in another key (she majored in voice at UCLA).

During the cocktail hour, we want some nice Keith Jarret tunes from his 'Standards Vol. 1 and 2' and, feel free to take things out as far as you like.

When my daughter throws the garter, could you play just a little of "Varese's Ionization"? It's such a cool piece. We think it would go over really well. It's much better than "The Stripper."

Now, for the bride and groom's first dance, please slow things down a bit by doing Barber's "Adagio for Strings." It's so much better than "We've Only just Begun" or "The Anniversary Waltz." When my wife and I join in the first dance, could you please segue to Thelonius Monk's
"Ruby, My Dear?" That's in honor of my wife's grandmother, whose name was Ruby. It would mean so much to the family. Then, we would like to hear some nice Mexican music while we eat dinner. We love the sound of Los Ponchos, so any of their hits would be great.

Thanks very much for all your help. We'll certainly be happy to recommend your band to all of our friends. We thought that $50.00 per man for 4 hours would be sufficient. So that's $350.00 for the entire group. If you get our guests dancing, I will throw in an extra $50.00. So, get 'em dancing.

We want you to be set up TWO HOURS before your start time @ 5:00 pm., and do not be late. We don't want to see any cases, bags, coats, boxes, cables, wires, or any unnecessary clutter on the stage or within view of the guests. Play 1 hour and then take a break of no more than 10
minutes, but don't forget, to leave the guitar player or the piano player playing while the rest of the band breaks.

Absolutely no drinking! In fact, we don't even want to see the musicians near the bar or food tables. Also, NO TALKING ON STAGE!! Go outside quietly where no one can see you. Of course, no smoking anywhere. Someone will be watching you on your breaks to make sure you
don't consume any alcohol. Before you leave, please feel free to ask the caterer for a sandwich (or, a "bandwich" as you people call them). And, perhaps a soda to take with you. Oh, and one more thing. . . .and this is very important. In between songs, we don't want to hear any musicians practicing "licks," or running up and down high speed scales. Nothing sounds worse than hearing musicians all "fooling around" at the same time.

I believe you people like to call it "noodling." or something like that. But, it is a terrible habit. It's very unprofessional. You don't hear the members of the Berlin Philharmonic "noodling around" between movements. . . .right?

We look forward to hearing you play.

Sincerely, The Bride's Parents.

A couple of multiphonics......

Just because I'm giving you these doesn't mean that you actually have to use them........

Click on the fingering chart for a bigger version.


Jam sessions- the mad scientist at the threshold

I just got back from a bad jam session. I didn't have any gigs this weekend so I wanted to play a little. It was at one of those clubs that is so smoky that you have to leave your clothes on the porch when you get home and run straight to the shower. For some reason I thought that it was going to be good. As I unpacked my horn a saw that there was a conga player sitting in on just about every tune, no matter what style. He had but a single evil conga drum and he knew how to instantly destroy any groove with it. Even without Dr.Chaos on the conga, the band wasn't locking up. I wondered why I torture myself over and over again. Why do I think that it is easier to go out to a shitty session than to call guys over to my house to play? Laziness of course. An evening of Aebersold would have been more productive. I feel so empty after a playing experience like that. I rationalize to myself that jam sessions are a good place to experiment with new concepts. I did plenty of experimenting there tonight. I was working on my chromatic concept all evening. Because in my mind the music was already sucking I went ahead with some major research.

Here were the parameters of my experiment:
  • Don't try to gravitate to any note just because it is consonant
  • Don't think about what the changes actually are, ignore them as much as possible
  • Dissonance needs no resolution unless it happens totally by chance
  • The longer dissonance can be maintained the better
  • Odd groupings of notes should be used to destroy a sense of bar lines
  • Strange shapes should be the rule
  • Try to hear the next note, it can be anything
Hey, Call Steve Colman I just discovered M-Base!

If you don't make a point to practice giving up rational control and turning it over to your ears then it will never happen on it's own. Don't wait for a modern modal tune to practice navigating in the ozone, do it on a Blues or Stella. It takes a conscious decision let the reigns go. It is a different mode of thinking altogether and a very definite shift needs to happen when the rational mind takes a holiday and the reactive ears dictate. Of course you can't give a shit what other people are thinking of your playing if you want to do this. Usually we only go out to the outer realms when we go all the way 'outside'. It's rare for a player to be able to drift back and forth between these two modes, from the dream state to waking consciousness and back.

Think about that time when you are on the sofa fighting off a full nap while watching TV. First the words coming from the TV are making sense, then all of a sudden the words do not have a strict meaning, they are only tones carrying emotion. These tones may also connect with images or the may bring images into being. Even the images that start to form in your mind do not have a particular meaning. They may have emotional content but they are not related to anything solid. Then all of a sudden you wake up a little and the words lose their abstract quality. Now they are talking about beauty pageants for young girls or how to fry a turkey. The words were so much more artistic and beautiful when they were drawing images out of the unseen and across the threshold of your consciousness.

Music can drift across this threshold of abstraction too. First every note is related in some way to the the chords, then each note may or may not have direct relation to the harmony. It is a shift into an abstract realm that is like the moment when you drift off to sleep. You can of course wake yourself up at anytime and enter back into to chord/scale universe, but isn't it nice just to drift off a little.

If I was going to totally take it totally outside I'd just go to bed and take a full siesta and dream about Albert Ayler or Archie Schepp. Instead, I'll just recline here on the couch with the TV on and pretend that I'm awake, sliding effortlessly between Bebop and clouds that look like farm animals.


My latest mouthpiece strategies-original and small

Lately I've been trying to find backup pieces for my alto and tenor. I know that I need old hard rubber Otto Links or I just will not be satisfied. My first thought was to find an early Babbit HR for alto, rather than pay the big bucks for a slant Link like my main piece. If you haven't noticed early Babbit hard rubber pieces are going for as much as $700 lately, insane. I found a mint condition original 6 early Babbit on eBay and pounced on it, getting it at a great price. It turned out to be too bright for me, though a good candidate for a refacing. Brian Powell has all my measurements for my Slant Link and can put the same facing on any alto piece that is close to the same shape. I getting ready to send that one off to him.

Around the same time I found a rubber Slant Link tenor piece for $450, which seemed like a good deal. It was an original 5* and I had it sent directly to Brian. I also bought an old rubber Dukoff alto piece that looked really close to a Zimberoff. This one also had great old hard rubber. For those on you who may not know the rubber formula that was used for mouthpieces
up to the slant Link period is much different than the rubber that was used after that and up to the present. The manufacturing process to make the old rubber was too toxic and dangerous and it was made illegal sometime in the sixties. There is no comparison between the old and newer rubber, the old rubber sounds much warmer and darker, with much more complexity. Some mouthpiece makers today use a compound with a higher rubber content than other manufacturers, like Zinner and Vandoren. But even the best hard rubber today is nothing like the old stuff. I say- why not just more the Otto Link factory to China or Mexico where environmental laws are more lax? A small sacrifice of Mother Earth for better saxophone tone is a small price to pay. Better a sacrifice for saxophones than for SUVs, right? Are you with me?!?!?!?

Anyways, I got both the slant Link and the Dukoff back from Brian and they didn't play great. You can't expect anyone to read your mind when refacing a piece and it may take a few tries to get it just the way you like it. I decided to put a longer lay on the Dukoff and to take some baffle out of the Slant Link. At this point I have almost a thousand dollars tied up in vintage rubber mouthpieces and none of them really work well. The potential is there though. I will give updates as this saga progresses.

The theory that I was operating under this time was that it is better and more affordable to buy vintage pieces that had original facings that were too small rather than pieces that had been worked on by master refacer Joe Schmo. Who knows what Mr.Schmo did to the piece?! Who really knows for sure if Mr.Schmo knows what he's doing. I know one thing for certain, some of the guys who are working on pieces and are even well known have no idea what they're doing. Do they even have a good concept of what a saxophone should sound like? Can they get a good tone themselves? It's too much of a crap-shoot to buy refaced mouthpieces.

It's not really a slant Link anymore if Theo Wane carved it up like a pumpkin, is it now?


Art without a frame- Joshua Bell busks the subway

How much of an audiences reaction to a live performance is influenced by preconceived expectation? If everyone tells them the music they are about to hear is going to be incredible, how much more likely will a person be to think that it is good? Would people gather round if Trane was blowing a 30 minute unaccompanied rendition of Countdown in the subway?

I've had the experience recently of hearing a band that had been hyped up like crazy. The audience didn't seem to be the usual Jazz crowd. The seemed to be Yuppies who had been drawn in by the media hype. The music wasn't terrible, but it certainly wasn't anything amazing. Yet the crowd was hanging on every note. I felt like the audience had been fed the story that this band was the greatest thing ever and they bought it, lacking the discrimination to judge the level of the music or the musicians. It made me wonder if a musician could ever get ahead without a good PR agent working for them.

The Washington Post ran an article about a very interesting sociological experiment involving one of the world's greatest violinist pretending to be a busker in the subway at morning rush hour. Joshua Bell played his 3.5 million dollar Strad violin for exactly one hour and only one person stopped to really listen, and this person recognized who he was because she had just seen him at the Kennedy Center.

Of course Joshua Bell was not prepared for what happened.

"It was a strange feeling, that people were actually, ah . . ."

The word doesn't come easily.

". . . ignoring me."

Welcome to the life of a JAZZ musician Joshua.

Pearls Before Breakfast-Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let's find out.

Thank you Damien Masterson for this article.


Transmission of Ellingtonia- Bill Berry

Below is the obituary of Bill Berry, one of the most influential mentors in my musical career. Bill was probably the person who 'set my course' as a Jazz musician. I always knew that I wanted to play music, but Bill became a role model for what a real Jazz musician lives like. He took me under his wing just as Johnny Hodges and Paul Gonsalves did for him decades before. It sounds funny, but Bill showed me what it was to be cool, in an old school gracious gentlemanly sort of way.

Since Bill was the librarian for Duke he had copies of the entire Ellington library. Bill taught me how to play it correctly, how to swing! I was getting undiluted Ellington straight from Bill! He was too cool to even flinch when he would get introduced as 'Beer Belly' in Japan. I really miss that little guy with those ever present reflective sunglasses and red face.

Bill's style was his own and as his obituary says he had so many influences and took so little from each influence that he always sounded fresh and original. In his playing you could hear Bix, Clark Terry, Miles, Roy Eldridge, Pops, Cootie, Herb Pomeroy and more. For me the most important element of Bill's style was how hard he swung.

His L.A. Big Band recorded to little to really get the recognition it deserved but it was probably the best big band ever assembled on the West Coast. The all-star roster included- Cat Anderson, Gene Goe, Blue Mitchell, Jack Sheldon, Britt Woodman, Jimmy Cleveland, Benny Powell, Tricky Lofton, Marchal Royal, Lanny Morgan, Richie Kamuca, Don Menza, Jack Nimitz, Monty Budwig, Dave Frishberg and Frankie Capp.

Here's link to the Band's MP3.com page of the album Hello Rev.
An interview with Bill
Bill's Shortcake album on Artist Direct

Obituary: Bill Berry
Independent, The (London), Nov 15, 2002 by Steve Voce

BENNY GOODMAN and Artie Shaw wrestled with the insuperable problems of employing black musicians in a white band when, at the end of the Thirties, they hired Billie Holiday, Roy Eldridge, Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson. Duke Ellington was later to be the first to take on the similarly fraught reverse problem by bringing first Louie Bellson and then Bill Berry into his otherwise black band. So it was no surprise when the cosmopolitan Berry employed ex-Ellington, Count Basie, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton soloists when he came to form his own big bands.

There is a powerful posse of great cornet players stretching back to Bix Beiderbecke in the Twenties. The others included Bobby Hackett, Ray Nance and Ruby Braff. "Stretching" is the right word, for they were all men of small physical stature, who took advantage of the cornet's shorter length when compared with the trumpet.

Berry's rugged touring career with some of the most demanding of the big bands gave him an accomplished technique on the instrument. Coupled to his imaginative improvisations this made him well- regarded amongst brass players and he ranked highly in the styles of both Swing and Bebop. While Braff, Nance and Hackett, like Berry, played Mainstream, Berry was one of the few to use the instrument also as a Bebop player.

He claimed to have drawn his style from elements in those of all the leading trumpet players from Bunny Berigan to Miles Davis. It was perhaps because he took so little from each that his own playing sounded so fresh and original

Berry's father was a bass player in a touring dance band and Bill was born in Benton Harbour simply because that was where the band was working that week. It was the beginning of a life spent largely on the road. Given his first trumpet when he was 15 and the family was based in Cincinnati, he was soon good enough to join in 1947 the "territory" band led by Don Strickland which toured continuously throughout the mid-West. "All the bands had sleeper buses," he said,

because they didn't pay enough to afford hotels. We used to check in once a week on Mondays, just to take a bath.

When the Korean War began in 1950 Berry volunteered for the US Army so that he could enlist in a service band. After his discharge four years later he enrolled at a Cincinnati music college, but soon transferred to Berklee College in Boston, where he studied under Herb Pomeroy, a trumpet player who also led the college big band. Berry was a voracious student and in 1957 progressed to his first "name" band, that of Woody Herman. More endless touring followed, with Berry's favourite trombonist Bill Harris with him in the brass section for much of the time.

Berry's ambition was to break into the New York scene and eventually he joined Maynard Ferguson's Band in 1960 because Ferguson spent six months of each year playing there. This gave him the opportunity to play with other bands in the city and his reputation grew.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1961 he went to see the Duke Ellington band at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. After the show Berry was taken to Ellington's dressing room and introduced to him: "There were about a hundred people there, but I was gassed to be in the same room as Ellington." As he left, Berry was grabbed by the arm by someone who turned out to be Ellington's manager. He asked if Berry would leave on tour with the band. "Yeah," said Berry, "I'll leave town with you. How much money?" The question was never answered but Berry joined anyway:

My time with Ellington changed my life in every respect, not only musically but socially, philosophically, everything. One of the reasons was that while the guys in Woody's and Maynard's bands were about the same age as me, these guys were 20 years older. They were 20 years older and 20 years hipper. Johnny Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, everybody took me under their wings and showed me how to live. It was marvellous.

Berry became the "modern" trumpet soloist with the band and can be seen to good effect in the film Duke Ellington and His Orchestra (1962). He played on innumerable Ellington recordings during the period.

Finally leaving Ellington in 1964 Berry returned to New York and work in the studios. He played in the band for The Merv Griffin Show on television and ghosted the trumpet playing for Frank Sinatra in the 1966 film A Man Called Adam. Studio work left him free time during the evening and he became a founder member of the highly regarded Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, working with it from 1966 to 1968. Two years later Berry drew on his own vast experience to form the New York Big Band, which included colleagues from his Ellington and Herman days and some of the cream of New York's finest jazz musicians. But his leadership was short-lived because, when The Merv Griffin Show moved from New York to Los Angeles that year, Berry and many of the musicians went with it.

It was little trouble to reform as Bill Berry and the LA Big Band. Virtually every member of the band was a star jazz soloist, and Berry's natural gravitation towards Ellington music was immeasurably helped by the presence of his fellow Ellingtonians Cat Anderson, Buster Cooper and Britt Woodman. The finest musicians on the West Coast queued to join the band. Berry now began to tour abroad and, with the help of his wife Betty, began to organize workshops for young musicians and eventually in 1991 the International Jazz Party, an annual Los Angeles festival featuring musicians from across the world. He toured Britain as a member of the Louie Bellson Big Band in 1980 and made several visits, a notable success being a front-line partnership with the Scots tenor player Jimmy Thomson.

William Richard Berry, cornettist, bandleader and music educator: born Benton Harbour, Michigan 14 September 1930; married (one son); died Los Angeles 13 November 2002.

Not mentioned in the above obituary is that Bill is also survived by his daughter Lisa McLaughlin and her son.


Vintage Otto Link Mundstücke Gallery

Mike Duchstein's Saxophon-Service in Berlin has a great looking web site, one of the best. On his site these is a very nice vintage Otto Link mundstücke (mouthpiece) gallery. There are several pics of each piece, from different angles. Here is more saxophone porn for all you gear heads out there: Saxophon-Service Vintage Otto Link Mundstücke Gallery


What my students are working on.......

Some of the things I've been having my more advanced students do lately are:
  • Keeping a detailed tune list of all the tunes they know, all the tunes the sort of know and all of the tunes they need to learn. This master list should be in a digital format so it can be constantly updated and organized. This master list will become the index for the student's personal gig book. Students should have enough copies of this book to give a rhythm section at a gig, rehearsal or jam session. If you don't want to bring your whole book to a gig/jam then you can at least bring this master list to show the other players. This ensures that you will be able to find acceptable and interesting tunes with any combination of players. No more,"Duh, what do YOU want to play?" I would stay away from plastic sheet protectors because they're usually more trouble than they're worth, plus they're expensive.
  • Put together a three ring binder of solo transcriptions. These could be your own, things you've downloaded off the Internet and printed or solos that you've copied out of books. Just use the blog search engine in the upper left hand corner of this page and search for 'transcriptions', you'll find hundreds. Don't practice the same few players all the time. Go for a wide range of cats, especially look at transcriptions of musicians on instruments other than your own. You'd be surprised how many solo transcription books your public library may have. Pack your binder with solos! Keep adding to your collection! Play through them all!
  • Take a lead sheet for a tune and for each chord change write several pentatonic scales that would work over that chord. A great book to help you figure these out is Pentatonic Scales For Jazz Improvisation by Raymon Ricker. Also take a look at my post called Pentatonic Lines- Navigating outside harmony. Try soloing over the tunes using only these pentatonic scales. Don't forget to do plenty of chromatic side-slipping.
  • Practice playing some slow ballads and really concentrate on the ends of all the notes. Try to get the vibrato to speed up slightly as you cut off each note. Shape the cut offs, be conscious of the exact shape that you're trying to create on the ends on notes.
  • I have just gotten my students back into an old stand by called the Universal Method for Saxophone by Paul Deville. It was written almost a century ago and it still kicks ass. If you want to fix any problem you are having with technique then the Universal Method has what you need. The exercises on difficult fingerings and exercises on mechanism can make drastic improvements in a student technique in a short amount of time because they isolate every single problematic fingering combination on the horn. The etudes will whip any sloppy tongue into shape by hammering it with different articulations.
  • Sing, sing, sing! If you can't sing it then you won't be able to play it in tune. Try singing phrase first, listening for perfect intonation, then play the same phrases. Once you know what a note sounds like intimately, meaning you recognize that note like the face of a friend in a crowd, then your oral tract will be able to position itself automatically as soon as you imagine that note in your mind's ear. You don't need to be born with perfect pitch to recognizes pitches in this way! You can introduce yourself to just a few notes at first and become very close friends with them. When you know everything about them (how they feel when you sing them, how they feel when you play them, how the different octaves sound and feel) then they can introduce you to the other notes. This is a learned form of perfect pitch that starts with one or a few notes, I call it relatively perfect pitch.


Tim Hagans on the artist's role in society

I've always loved the way Tim Hagans played. His highly developed chromatic concept gives him a sound that is very modern, yet still highly melodic. Swedish saxophonist Thomas Trulsson wrote me today and mentioned that he recently attended a Tim Hagans clinic. Tim's chromatic concept seemed to be very similar to Rich Perry's concept. Here's what Thomas had to say about Tim's workshop:

"Two weeks ago I attended a clinic with Tim Hagans were he talked about his concept in improv. For him there is only one chord scale, the chromatic scale. Through the years he practised only playing a note and then listen in his head what note he would like to play next. Which for him was a way to get into his quirks, or style of playing. He also talked about practising playing and listening to what every note sounds and feels like for every chord. Very interesting indeed. He is a wonderful improviser."

The following was taken from Tim Hagan's own website.
He has some great music streaming on his page also.

Every successful dictator/control freak/power monger knows that the masses can be controlled if the catalysts of freethinking are removed. That is why in any repressive movement it is the artists, regardless of their race, ethnicity or religious affiliation, that are neutralized first…either by physical or mental imprisonment. Without the artistic community and their works, urging society to remain open minded and examine all issues from all points of view, the controlling powers can easily sell their ideas with little resistance.

Artists are scary. They celebrate individualism. They portray the nuances and emotions of life in abstract terms. Music is the most abstract art form and improvised music creates the intangible in the moment. An artist’s mission is not to entertain although entertainment can be a desired by-product. Their mission is to give the receiver of the artistic statement emotions and impressions to reflect upon. Whether the receiver likes or dislikes the statement is secondary.

This is an enormous point of confusion. Often an artistic statement’s worth is judged by its marketing ability and selling power. Unfortunately, the lower the quality, the higher the sales. (for a great dissertation on the subject of quality please read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance). Although there are some incredible artists in the pop music (the Beatles, James Taylor, Steely Dan, Moby, the Police), they are in the minority. And, in the era of formula bands, the same franchise business groupings every five miles and the lowest quality food being offered, society is loosing its taste and appreciation for diversity and quality.

A major reason for this is the stressful everyday with little time available for contemplation and reflection. Listening to Coltrane at the Village Vanguard or a Bruckner Symphony is rewarding and enriching in the long term, but it’s easier and more comforting to play something familiar that one can sing along with. And again, there is nothing wrong with entertainment statements, but the balance is way out of proportion.

The artist’s role in society is to remedy that balance by making statements that demand attention. Statements that inspire the receiver to examine a subject from all angles, that encourage confidence in one’s own interpretation and that encourage flexibility and allow change in those interpretations. Otherwise, a society will base its group decisions on 10 second sound-bites, half-truths and fear-based initiatives. The loudest voice will be assumed truthful and, most tragic of all, beauty, the underlying common denominator in all art, will go unappreciated.

At a workshop in Reno, Nevada a few years back, a gentleman asked me what the point of Re:Animation Live was…..a Blue Note recording that I can best describe as free electronica. He said he had listened to the recording several times and still could not figure out what was going on. He said that he didn’t even know if he liked it and had to come to the workshop to ask me for an explanation. I replied that he had given me (and Bob Belden) the greatest compliment. Better than great reviews, this is the desired reaction….a musical statement that requires repeated listenings. In fact, I replied that I had no idea what the recording was about either. It was a musical description of how six musicians interpreted their collective life experiences leading to and including that exact moment. Improvised abstract emotional statements that influence the thought process. No wonder artists are so feared.

For students sitting in practice rooms wondering what the point is, for music teachers discouraged that their message may not be valued, for performers who are tired of the hustle and the travel…please remember…..any thing as feared and uncontrollable as art must be an incredibly important force and a vital ingredient for a healthy society and cool place to live.


George Garzone and Kenny Brooks with Ratdog

Garzone sitting in with KB and playing the music of Jerry Garcia?!?!

Jerry must be proud, first his own ice cream flavor and now George Garzone is playing his music. Thanks Pat Tucker.

KB & Garzone w/ Rat Dog video on YouTube

More Garzone Videos of YouTube!!!

Jazz Dispute

Thank you to Jakub Dolezal for this link to a great YouTube video. I've heard people talk about this for a while. It's sure to become a classic. You have to see it, I won't even attempt to explain it.

Jazz Dispute


Dexter Gordon & Woody Shaw on the web

You can never get too much Dexter and Woody as far as I'm concerned. The official Dexter Gordon website and the official Woody Shaw website were recently launched by ShawNetDesign. You'll find a FREE Lead Sheet of an original Dexter Gordon composition when you sign up on the mailing list, an iTunes Exclusive Album INVITATION: Dexter Gordon and Woody Shaw - Live and Unreleased!, links to official MySpace pages, audio interviews, newsletters, transcriptions, composition catalogues, streaming audio and video, photo galleries.

Coming Soon: More Live, Unreleased Recordings,Audio and Video Streams, Podcasts and RSS Feeds, Round Midnight page - Dedicated to Dexter Gordon's Oscar-Nominated performance.



Mouthpiece Room

I've got to say that I'm not the only mouthpiece nuts on the internet. I must admit that I did recently overextended my finances with some eBay buys (an early Babbit HR alto piece, a slant Link tenor piece and an old HR alto Dukoff). There are guys far worse than me, and I can prove it! A friend of mine recently hipped me to a site by a Japanese saxophonist who takes the cake.
On his site Eji has sound clips of himself playing about every mouthpiece ever made. He isn't the greatest player, so it's kind of hard to get a clear idea about the sound of a particular mouthpiece. He also clearly favors metal over hard rubber. None of the mouthpieces are for sale either!

How can one person have so many pieces?
Is he an eccentric billionaire?
Does he work at a huge music store?
How many does he keep at one time?

I don't read Japanese and his site may answers these questions, but I'll never know the whole story.
Saxophone Mouthpiece Room

Steve Neff, who I went to school with, also has a site that has clips of him playing different pieces. Steve is a much better player than Eji so it easier to tell what the mouthpieces are actually like. He also has a very interesting selection of pieces, a bit more to my liking. He even has a clip of an alto piece that I sold him (I still miss that piece).

Steve Neff's clips
Steve Neff's clip archives


Autumn Nocturne session

Sorry about not following up on questions and comments. I've been engrossed with a new CD project that I just recorded last week. A few weeks ago I heard that Alan Jones,one of my favorite drummers, was coming back from Bavaria for some gigs in Portland. Even though my last CD project 'Oasis' hadn't even pressed yet, I didn't want to miss the opportunity to record with Alan because there is no one else in the area at his level. We recorded with pianist Randy Porter and a 17 year old tyro named Jeff Picker on bass.
Before the session I went through about a hundred boxes of reeds to find something playable. Luckily the Rigotti Golds came through and I found a couple of decent reeds. I don't know about you, but I've never been much of a morning person and the session started at 10a.m. When you start to record in the morning you don't even have time to warm up before you start tracking. It took two hours to get set up so we only had four hours to record and entire CD. It usually takes me at least a couple hours of playing to warm up, so by the last hour hour I was actually warm and feeling loose. We got through nine tunes, not too shabby. With 54 minutes of music it was about enough for a CD. I even considered the possibility of recording a duo tune with Randy at a later time to add a couple more minutes. This session was also the first time I would ever bring my tenor into the studio on one of my own projects.

I have already mixed about four tunes my Sean Flora, the engineer who recorded and mixed my last project. Like a flash the new tracks are already on my MySpace page for the world to hear. Take a listen and let my know what you think.