Saturday, September 27, 2014

MB&BS now has a bass

I have recently purchased another instrument for inclusion on the site, a bass saxophone. It is a Holton labeled Conn stencil. Some dates suggest 1926 as the year of manufacture but I'm not certain. The finish is a black enamel paint of unknown age.

I first saw this horn back in 2008  on eBay when it was purchased by a regular on the website Saxontheweb.org. I don't remember how much it was exactly when it sold but i remember wishing I had the money for such a fun looking horn. It wasn't until early September 2014 that I spotted it again. I know which person bought it back in '08 and i assume the fellow I bought it from got it from him. Either way I can trace its last few years pretty accurately and now it is in my hands and is a welcome addition to the family.

The horn survived shipping well, aside from leaks and maybe some tweaking from the 5 days in the back of a UPS trailer. These images are from the auction. When I get the horn back from the shop I'll take new ones. I am quite tempted to strip the horn and have it silver plated. In all likelihood this horn was bare brass originally but a silver plate would really set this girl off.

The neck is not original as you might have notice but it plays in tune and the ergonomics of the tenor styled bend makes playing with a harness much easier. A huge bonus is the case. Normally this case is between $599 and $1200 by itself. I got a great deal. Look forward to hearing more bass around this place!








Friday, September 12, 2014

Sigurd Rascher | Father of a School of saxophone tone and fundamentals

When I first started playing saxophone I had no idea what a classical saxophone should sound like. My saxophone tone exposure was limited to George Coleman, Branford Marsalis, Kenny G, and the various Reggae and Ska saxophone players. I hadn't really heard the clear, crisp, and distinctly sax tone that classical players were using. It wasn't until I got to high school that I would first hear a truly classical saxophone tone. This was in the time when the internet was just starting and there wasn't a YouTube. My private lesson teacher played for our entire saxophone section a recording of Fredrick Hemke or was it Marcel Mule playing the Concertina de Camera? I remember distinctly that my tone was nothing like theirs and I wanted to learn more.

Throughout high school I would spend 2 to 3 hours a day practicing my tone. Seriously, I would practice during my lunch break and then after school before marching band and concert band. at the time I played 80% alto and I loved it. I was very proud of my tone by the time I was a senior. I landed an alto position in the county band and was happy to perform with my peer's across the county. The one thing that stuck out was the player in the 1st chair. I heard his tone as being sweet and rather dark. I remember asking him about his tone and he said his lesson teacher preferred the Rascher type alto tone. That conversation set me on a course to learn more about Rascher and his remarkable tone.

Now that reference material is so easily located I am excited to share the kind of material I wish was available at the time I was learning tone, overtones, and articulation. Rascher and his daughter deliver these lesson in a clear and easily demonstrated manor.  This is a good time to mention Top-Tones for the Saxophone: Four-Octave Range  by Sigurd Rasher. This book changed my playing immensely.


Saxophone Basics by Sigurd Rasher (Covers tone, breathing, embouchure, articulation, overtones, posture, vibrato) :

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Carlama Orkestar - Balkan saxophone band from the Netherlands w/ Bass Saxophone

I understand if you may have never seen or heard of this saxophone group if you live in the United States but that has to change at some time and that time is now. This dynamic group has at it's core a driving rhythm section composed of Henk Spies on bass saxophone and Sebastian Demydczuk on drums. The music comes from the Serbian/Baltic tradition and is a lively and energetic exposition on life and living. You can't help but want to move when you listen to it.

I was less than familiar with this genre of music as I studied western European and American music. It reminds me of Klezmer or festival music. Regardless of your experience or understanding of the music the raw emotion and playfulness of it comes through clearly. The characteristic ornamental style of playing is in full display with trills, appoggiatura, mordents, and glissandos littering the phrases. Just listening reminds the musician that clean and clear articulation, both finger and tongue,  is a fundamental to the delivery of this style of music.

My initial attraction was without a doubt the bass saxophone holding down the rhythm section. Henk's vintage Conn looking bass really burps out those bass tones. His tone ranges from tuba like to raunchy sax. More important to his execution of the bass line than his tone is his time. He is rhythmically tied to the percussion and together they form a solid percussive base for the others to play against. The more one listens the more the relationship between bass and drums becomes clear. They feed each other and play off of each other. I am loosely remininded of 1920's style ragtime bass saxophone.

TAKE AWAY: This group is fun, different, and worth the price of admission or a CD.

The Band:
Akos Laki - Tenor saxophone
“Soso” Sandor Lakatos -  Alto saxophone
Stanislav Mitrovic - Alto saxophone, vocals
Henk Spies -  bass saxophone
Sebastian Demydczuk - drums

The Carlama Orkestar Website

 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bari Star Synthetic Reeds

 Bari Star Baritone ReedFirm, punchy, and has edge; Bari woodwinds has created their best reed to date in the Bari Star line. If your musical situation requires volume, edge, and longevity then this reed should be on your short list.

I've been a huge proponent to synthetic reeds since I first played one back in 2001. It was a bright and punchy but a bit unrefined. Eventually I returned to the time honored cane reed for my playing. At this time I was in a Ska band that enjoyed very minor success and toured a little around the region. Like many other wind players touring from dive bar to the next you learn that beer and booze can have a disastrous effect natural cane reeds.  It can shorten their lives and if you have enough booze you can chip or break them on accident. This can lead to the problem of trying to find more reeds on the way to the next venue, on a Sunday when the music stores are closed. Sometimes you ask the sax player in the opening band if he has a spare reed you can swap him for a cold brew, this hardly worked as baritones were few and far between in Ska bands at the time. Though now they've made a bit of comeback thanks to groups like Streetlight Manifesto and Ska Cubano.

Enough history now on to the goods:

Tone: This reed is much warmer than the original Bari Synthetic reed. It is closer in tone to a Brancher Jazz cane reed than to other synthetics. It is not as classicaly smooth as a Forestone or as natural cane sounding as a Legere.

Strength Grade Scale: S [soft] - H [hard]

Relative vs Stated Hardness:  I find this reed to be about a 1/2 step softer than the hardness scale suggests the soft - medium should be and I find Hard to be a little 1/4 step harder than they suggested.

Finish: The surface which touches the lips has slight machine marks which are smooth but noticeable. The left and right sides of the reed can be a touch sharp as the angle is only slightly rounded off. I suspect that a few passes with 1000 grit sand paper to round the rails of the reed will fix that with minimal change to performance.

Shape: This reed fits my RPC .110 High Baffle mouthpiece well and with very slight overhang on each side.

Tonal Edge: This mouthpiece has about half of the edge from the standard Bari woodwinds reed.

Performance change while playing: I find that the Medium and Medium Hard did soften after about 1.5 hours of steady playing.  Not enough to want to change out reeds but there was a slight performance difference. I suspect it is due to warmth and the reed returned to normal after it cooled a bit.

Price: $ - Cheap as domestics brews on ladies night. So cheap you can buy 4 or more for the price of 1 box of Vandoren bari reeds.

TAKE AWAY: I recommend that all bari players take a spin on an appropriate Bari Star reed. These are a favorite for times when I need a good tone with more volume. When I need more control and more depth, like in a Big Band, I still prefer the Légère. 





Monday, June 23, 2014

Thoughts on Chinese Bass Saxophones

When I say bass saxophone and jazz what comes to mind? I wouldn't be surprised if "Tiger Rag" and Adrian Rollini came to mind or if your a hair younger then perhaps Colin Stetson. The fact that this much neglected member of the saxophone family is making a comeback in its own way is something to be excited about. While bass saxes didn't go extinct between the 20's and today they did become more scarce and more expensive. The recent proliferation of Chinese made bass saxes has brought them in to price range where the pro-amature/amature+ can afford.

In talking with a couple of Chinese baritone and bass sax owners about the horns quality it would seem that the larger the horn the greater the tolerances can be. Which for bigger saxes means that it is possible to get a well playing horn that is worth the investment. A chinese made bass can be had under 5k if you shop well, this is less than 1/3rd of what a new Selmer or Keilwerth bass will set you back. Let's also consider that bass sax gigs are likely to be few and far between.

Here are a couple songs,  the first is played by Uwe Ladwig on a vintage American made bass sax. The 2nd video is a modern Chinese made horn. The 3rd is a classical use of a Selmer Series II bass and it's spectacularly rich classical tone.




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