Review – Haynes Saxophone Manual

The Haynes Saxophone Manual

The Haynes Saxophone Manual

This is a book I had heard about for quite a while but had never taken the time to purchase even though I was very interested in getting it.  A couple months ago while researching for my recent horn purchase I stumbled across Stephen Howard’s website because he had some excellent reviews about some of the horns I was looking at.  The interesting thing about the reviews is they are written both from the perspective of how the horns play as well as his observations of the horn on his repair bench.  You should check them out along with a lot of other great content here but that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I reached out to Steve via email to ask him some more questions and he was very approachable, very knowledgable, and just seemed like a nice guy so I decided right then and there to get his book.  I’m really glad I did because it is an amazing resource.

The book covers the gamut starting with very basic guidelines for beginners regarding things such as what to look for when buying a horn, the differences and relative strengths of buying new vs. used, vintage horns, the big four brands, the new breed of Asian horns, etc.  He gives some great matter-of-fact advice about everything from the effect of finishes on sound to the best beginner choices for mouthpieces and reeds to proper care and preventative maintenance.  If you’re thinking about getting into playing the saxophone you should get this book and really pour through the first couple of chapters to empower yourself to make good decisions.  It’s great for new players (or almost any player who is interested) to have this kind of background information at their fingertips.

Of course, I’ve been playing for a very long time so much of that information was pretty rudimentary for me.  But that’s where the rest of the book takes over.  Starting at chapter 11 the last two thirds of the book is a pretty comprehensive beginning repair guide – something Haynes manuals have been famous for so it’s not surprising.  You can learn tons of great stuff  and you can get about as adventurous as you want with this information.  You can learn how to replace a neck cork or reseat pads but you can also learn about replacing pads and springs.  Steve is very clear about the need for a qualified repairman but if you ever find yourself in an emergency situation this book could be a lifesaver.

On the other hand, if you have an interest in becoming a repairman and you don’t have anyone around to apprentice or study with then this might be one of the best, most approachable ways to get started,  I’ve looked at some other repair guides over the years but they are much drier and harder to read even though they may go into much more depth.  You could always get your feet wet with this book and then move onto more advanced guides if you like it.  I had thought for a long time that I might want to start repairing horns but that ship has probably sailed.  For me, though, this is a book that I find interesting and informative and it’s advanced enough since I don’t intend to get quite as adventurous as the later chapters describe.

One more thing of note is the quality and number of pictures.  This book is a feast for the eyes and a saxophone geeks dream come true.  They are bright, crisp, and colorful and they provide a level of immersion that I have never seen in a repair book before.  It’s just as fun to look at all of the cool pictures as it is to read about regulating a horn.  The copy I got is hardbound and I’m not sure if there’s a paperback version but I find myself wanting to buy an e-book version so I can have it with me on my iPad for emergencies on the gig.

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro I think there is enough information to keep you happy here.  In another review I saw someone say that this is a book that should come packaged with every saxophone sold and I agree with that wholeheartedly.  I bought my copy from and it was money well spent.  Do yourself a favor and buy this book and check out Steve’s website for more great information as well.

Trying Horns

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series "The Raven"

Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series “The Raven”

I mentioned before that I was ready to try out some new horns in order to choose a new backup horn and also to fill the need for something shiny for certain types of gigs.  I have done a lot of research and one of the brands I really wanted to try was the Cannonball horns and this weekend I got the chance to do just that.

After talking to a buddy of mine, I decided to drive down to Gaithersburg, MD and visit a store called L&L Music.  There is actually a store much closer to me but L&L had the horns right there in the store and the other store required me to request horns to be delivered from their warehouse before I could try them.  I figured I would go with the path of least resistance and if I didn’t find anything I liked at L&L then I could still try the closer store.  Plus my buddy lives near L&L so he could go along to be my extra set of ears.  They had 6 horns in stock at the store…two Vintage Pro Series and 4 Big Bell Stone Series and I dove right in.

The first one I tried was a Vintage Pro (both VP horns had the Dark Amber lacquer and looked very nice).  It was a really, really nice horn.  I brought my Mark VI as a comparison and this horn felt very similar to it.  It had great ergonomics and the resistance felt really close.  The only difference was it was way smoother than my horn….like butter.  My VI almost sounded blatty by comparison.  I set that one aside.  The other VP also felt very similar to my VI and it even sounded like my VI coming out of the horn so I left the first one in the “like” pile and put this one back on the wall.

Next I moved on to the Big Bell Stone Series tenors.  Once again, the first horn I tried was awesome and the rest didn’t feel as perfect even though all of the horns were very playable and any one of them could be a fine gig horn.  These horns come with two necks: one is standard style with the octave mechanism on top and a finish that matches the horn exactly.  The other neck is called the “Fat Neck” and it’s always in silver with an underslung octave key mechanism.  With the exception of one horn I preferred the fat neck as the horns seemed less resistant and more round especially in the upper register.   I put the first one into the like pile and put the rest back.

I had a tough decision on my hands at that point because both horns were great and the store was going to give me the sale price for the Christmas sale that hadn’t even started yet.  Several of the store employees stopped in to chat at various times as well…it’s a very friendly store to shop at and there are lots of knowledgeable people there.  Ultimately I decided to get the Big Bell Stone Series (Raven finish) over the Vintage Pro Series mostly because I already have a Mark VI so I didn’t need to have something that played so similar to it no matter how silky smooth.  Maybe if all I ever did was play jazz but I have to be kind of a chameleon and I play more rock and funk than anything these days so the Big Bell seemed like the best choice for me.  It has a great full robust sound that I can push for days and it looks totally awesome.

I’ll try to get to a full review after I’ve been able to really spend some time with the horn and play some gigs with it.  In the meantime, if you are in the Washington DC metro area and you’re looking for a great place to shop for horns give L&L Music a try. They also carry Mauriat saxes, they have used vintage horns, and they even had a Theo Wanne Mantra in stock…I didn’t play it even though it looked very interesting.

More From Emma White and Artscape 2012

While they were filming the documentary-style video I posted earlier, they ended up capturing a ton of raw footage.  Today Emma posted a full version of Aretha’s Baby I Love You from that footage so I thought I would share.

I like how the horns for this song are just minimalist, well-placed hits and some choice long tones with interesting harmonies.  The key when playing playing stuff like this is putting the note exactly where it’s supposed to be because even a single quarter note played on the beat can have as much attitude as a whole Tower of Power tune if you do it right.  Once you are placing the notes exactly where they need to be in time then you need to listen to your trumpet player (or know him really well from years of playing together) and cut off exactly when he does.  The release is just as important as the attack.  The same is true if you’re doing a fall.  Many sax players like to fall chromatically all the way to the bottom of the horn but I always try to be out with or maybe just slightly before the trumpet because it’s their section.

I also get to play about 8 bars of “get hot quick” sax in the middle.  As much fun as it can be to have an open, extended solo to really explore all aspects of a song, there’s something visceral and intriguing about having to make a bold statement in just a few bars.    Something that fits the style and will hopefully give people something to remember as a counterpoint to all the wonderful singing going on and the funky rhythm section.  I’m not saying I think I always pull this off perfectly but it’s always a great and rewarding challenge to try.

I know I said this before but if you’re in the Baltimore area (or Nashville, NYC, or LA these days) and you get a chance to see Emma sing definitely go to hear some cool songs and some great singing.


The Crack the Sky CD Is Out!

EDIT: the YouTube videos got pulled so I will upload some audio snippets soon.

It actually came out a couple of weeks ago but with all my recent travel I just wasn’t able to post about it.  The new CD is called Ostrich.  My regular horn section, the Retox Horns, recorded three songs for the album although when we are with Crack the Sky we are called the Crack Pack Horns.  In some ways it’s kind of like “FINALLY” for me because many years ago I had joined the original Crack Pack Horns when I took Ellery Eskelin’s place on the bari chair.  We were in the studio for Crack’s World in Motion album and we got all the way to showing up for the record release party before finding out that the song we did was completely re-recorded with a different feel and we were no longer even on it.  I think that was over 20 years ago so it’s nice to finally be on this CD and I’m especially happy with the way it came out.

The first song we did was one we had already played live with the band: Your House is On Fire.  I played tenor and bari on it and of course my usual partners in crime are Dave Makowiecki and Jim McFalls.

The next song is Happy, Happy, Happy.  The horns don’t come in until about the 2 minute mark but then we’re in until the end.  This is a funky little groover with some fun guitar work.

Finally, we played on an interesting little story piece called Pole Dancing at the Hollywood. This one is also pretty funky and I like the way the horns are laying back against the driving beat.

You can find all the songs on You Tube (like I did) but support music and buy a copy either from the website or at a show.  You can buy the CD for less than a couple trips to Starbucks and you’ll get more long-lasting enjoyment from it.

Darmon Meader

I got the chance to go see Darmon Meader last night for the ridiculously low price of only ten bucks.  In my mind that is the deal of the year.  He was playing at Harford Community College in Maryland (my old stomping grounds growing up) in a very intimate concert hall with his quartet: Klaus Mueller on piano, Ike Sturm on bass, and Marcello Pellitteri on drums.  Believe me, these guys handled their business with style and musicality.  Darmon is a rare talent, blessed with both a great voice and a gift for playing saxophone he’s also a gifted composer and arranger.  He is most known for his work with the New York Voices where he is the leader, a featured singer, the primary arranger, and handles the sax solos.  Recently he released his first solo CD called “And So Am I” and it has been one of my go to albums when I’m traveling or driving in the car.  His artistry is evident throughout and the writing and arranging just bring a smile to my face every time I listen to it.

One of the things I love most about his saxophone playing is his tone.  He is simultaneously dark and throaty yet there is a crispness that seems to make every note live in its own space.  I also love his approach because he is very melodic but he has a fun harmonic sense that comes from his love of writing and arranging and putting his own twist on things.  The band played for about 90 minutes covering everything from standards like Close Your Eyes and I Thought About You (both from his latest CD) to bebop tunes like Red Rodney’s Red Tornado to twists on more recent songs like the Beatles’ All My Lovin’ to his own funky and grooving originals.

I stayed around afterward to buy one of the New York Voices CD’s I didn’t have yet but didn’t really get to talk that much to him.  It’s practically a crime for two saxophone players to be in the same room and not talk about mouthpieces or reeds but I managed to elude incarceration for the evening.  If you get a chance to hear him or check out his CD’s I think you will like what you hear.  I believe he said the New York Voices will be playing with the National Symphony in DC next month doing Christmas music and I think they were also playing Christmas music at the Jazz Standard in NYC around the 20th of December.  I may try to make a trip up there to see that.


It’s Been A While

When I decided to start writing this blog I was very wary of being one of those bloggers who fizzled out on content.  I even started with a few posts written in advance so I would have a backlog ready to go.  Even with that, though, the last couple of weeks have been rather trying for me and I just didn’t have time to make any updates.  Of course, I’m probably only hurting myself because I don’t think there are any regular readers at this point.  I may never have any regular readers but that’s not really what I was shooting for.  I just wanted to make the voices in my head stop have an outlet for some things I was thinking about and to have an excuse to think critically about music, the saxophone, and my approach to both.

Over the last three weeks I have had two separate business trips to California, a hurricane, and a quick vacation with my family.  I was literally only home for one or two days at a time and I just needed to decompress rather than working on this blog.  Also, it’s been really quiet on the gig front since that last weekend with the band from New York so I haven’t even been playing gigs.  No gigs and not being home to practice means not much interesting stuf to talk about…means sad panda face.

No music...sigh

No music…sigh

One cool thing is I’m nearly done saving money for a new backup horn so I will hopefully be having some fun with that and will be able to write about the process.  I think my first move will be to try the Cannonball horns since I can do that right down the street and it’s important to me to be able to try before I buy (even though I had excellent luck buying both my alto and my soprano sight unseen).  I’m hoping to have a new horn before Christmas and then I want to sell my current backup (a Mexican Conn 10 M) to get my money supply back up a bit.