Another Pickup Wedding Gig

Leggz out of VA

Leggz out of Roanoke, VA

This past weekend I played yet another last-minute pickup gig with a band I never played with before. It was a great example of why you need to use every avenue of communication available to you. It started with a Facebook message from someone I had never met but who is related to one of my Facebook friends. In the message the band leader asked me whether I was available for the date which was about ten days away. He wanted a horn section and asked me to get a trumpet player for him as well. From FB we went to text messaging back and forth for a couple of days. We then moved to phone calls before finally meeting face-to-face about 90 minutes before the gig. I’m pretty sure if i didn’t have the Facebook account I probably wouldn’t have gotten this gig…it pays to network.

During this time I was busy emailing some trumpet player buddies of mine but the first couple guys I tried were unavailable. One of the guys told me to try a guy from the Airmen of Note in DC and that worked out really well. I played with a guy named Rich Sigler and we got along great and the gig went smooth as silk. It was another one of those gigs with no charts but I knew a bunch of the songs and the keyboard player usually plays the horn parts so we were easily able to pick up things we didn’t know. We did a few dinner songs like This Masquerade and Moon Glow before moving on to the meat of the dance music. There was a wedge monitor for us but we really weren’t in it so hearing was a little rough and we also had to share one microphone because they only carry a small mixer. Still, things went really well and I’m pretty sure they will call us back if they are in the area and need horns again.

Oddly, I didn’t even know the name of the band until I got the check at the end of the night. The band is called Leggz and they are out of Roanoke, VA. It’s a great group and they put on a great show. The party was a blast – it had a Kentucky Derby theme and they even had the ceremony in time for everyone to go watch the race as well as real Kentucky blue grass on the tables. Martin O’Malley, the governor of MD, was even in attendance although he didn’t stay for the whole thing.

I used the Jazzlab SaxHolder again and it felt pretty comfortable although I wish I had taken more time to adjust the parts that came into contact with my shoulder blades…it was a little painful by the end of the night and that didn’t happen when I used it with my bari. I want to play a couple more gigs with it before I write a full review. My back felt great at the end of the night but I need to figure out why it aggravated my shoulders especially since the tenor is much lighter than the bari.

The Second Most Important Part of Your Setup

It's not this yet...

It’s not this yet…

Way back in July of 2012 when I started this blog I spent my third post discussing what I thought was the most important part of any player’s setup. It wasn’t the mouthpiece or the reed or the horn in case you never read it. You can read it here¬†in its entirety or I can just spoil it for you and tell you…it’s your concept – but read the post anyway. ūüôā It’s finally time to talk about the second most important part of your setup and once again it’s not your mouthpiece or your reed or your horn. After your concept comes your physical makeup.

There’s a lot to this really as so much of your body is involved in playing the saxophone. One key element is obviously your lung capacity and your ability to deliver your breath in a controlled and predictable fashion. Connected to this is your ability to open your throat (or constrict it in an interesting way to make certain tones and effects). Also connected would be your diaphragm and how you use it to control the pressure of your tone production system. Other factors can affect the system as well such as your posture and how well you understand how the system works.

Another area that has a lot of effect is your mouth, embouchure, and oral cavity. Of course your embouchure is important for many reasons but many people ignore some important factors like how the size of your oral cavity (including how open your throat is) works as an extension of the cavity inside the mouthpiece (which is part of the geometry of the whole system). This is one of the big reasons why different people sound different on different mouthpieces and why some guys sound dark with a high baffle mouthpiece and other guys can sound quite bright on large open chamber mouthpieces with very little baffle. In addition, minor differences in tongue position can angle (or block) your airstream in such a way that enhances or negates things you are doing in other areas.

There are other factors that have an influence as well. Your physical size and strength will probably go a long way towards choosing what saxophone you should play for instance. Also, I discussed critical listening in that post and several others since then. Obviously your brain is responsible for deciphering the inputs but your ears are what gets the information to your brain. On a meta level, it’s important to make sure that the information gets in there as clearly and cleanly as possible and that’s why I use in-ear monitors and try to protect my hearing as much as possible.

Some of these things you can’t do anything about but they are just part of the equation and don’t usually prevent you from getting the sound you want. Other factors like your embouchure, breath support, tongue position, ear training, etc. can all be trained and are usually more than enough to compensate for any potential¬†deficiencies or shortcomings in other physical areas. One of these days we can actually start discussing those mundane things like mouthpieces and reeds but I would hope that thinking about your concept and your physical makeup as being more important would keep you from dwelling on hardware like so many sax players do. It’s more important to use what you have and continue to hone your craft than it is to spend tons of time and money chasing after some elusive hardware combination.

I got thinking about this stuff again because I was at a rehearsal for a gig I have coming up this weekend. It’s a new band for me and a different horn section including a sax player I have never worked with before named Scott Young from the DC area. Scott has had a long and fruitful career and is a consumate pro. After rehearsal we stood outside and talked shop (you know mouthpieces and stuff) for quite a while and it struck me how long it had been since I did that…it was a blast. ūüôā ¬†I’m really looking forward to working with Scott this weekend, talking more shop, and hopefully playing more gigs together in the future. If you’re in the Bethesda, MD area on Friday come on out to Bethesda Jazz and Blues Supper Club to see Jr. Cline and the Recliners featuring Julia Nixon.

When It’s Okay To Suck

Well I just flew in from Korea and boy are my arms tired (ba dum bum). ¬†I was there for the last week doing stuff for my day job and now I’m home and all jet-lagged but I wanted to get something posted before I get too far behind.

As with my last post, my topic comes partially from a post on Sax on the Web Forum. ¬†In it, a younger player laments how dejected he is and how embarrassed he has been to play ever since the first time he tried to play the horn. This struck me as odd because it’s very rare for someone to be good at something right from the start. Also, I don’t think anyone has ever sounded great the first time they picked up a saxophone without some other prior knowledge like playing another instrument. Luckily, I had saved a link several months ago with the intention of writing a post about it and now I have the perfect opportunity.

This says it all

This says it all

I love Lifehacker¬†and I get tons of great advice from them and, yes, even some great ideas for blog posts. Back in November they posted¬†an article that was itself sort of a repost from a blog¬†from a blogger and author named David Kadavy. The post was about giving yourself the permission to suck and it struck me as being both a very interesting viewpoint as well as being very appropriate to musicians. In a way, David’s post was very closely related in intent to another famous statement from Ira Glass who was speaking about writing.¬†You can watch that Youtube video but I actually prefer this version:

The point of all of these statements is that everyone has to start somewhere and you will probably not be very good for quite a while. In fact, it’s safe to say that everyone you might idolize whether it is Chris Potter, or Michael Brecker, or Bob Sheppard, or even the person ¬†sitting first chair in your middle school band started right where you were or are and maybe they weren’t even that good. What they have is drive,¬†perseverance, and a desire to improve and that’s something that anyone can have and use.¬†One of the problems we often run into is summed up in another quote:

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel” ¬†Steven Furtick

This is a very important distinction because when you are living your day-to-day life it’s often hard to see any real progress because progress is often minimal and incremental. Have you ever tried to lose weight and you keep looking at the scale and thinking you aren’t making any progress only to have someone who hasn’t seen you in a while tell you how thin you look? The reason that they see it and you don’t is because you are mired in it and they can look fresh from a point of reference that is removed from that standpoint. They can compare you to the last time they saw you so what is incremental and minimal for you could be striking depending on how long it’s been since they saw you. ¬†The same is true for music or art or any other creative endeavor you attempt.

The key is that it has to be okay to suck and that your gratification may be delayed but if you care about it and want it then you can find ways to improve without losing heart. The other key is recognizing that we’re human and we will always find some comparison that will make us believe we still suck…and we probably do but it should be a call to action rather than a¬†disincentive. Here are a couple personal examples:

  • My playing has come a long way over the years and it’s good enough to make me a sought after member of my local community but if I listen to Chris Potter or any of my other idols or even some other players in my area I can find ways that I still suck and maybe even suck really bad. That’s cool, I may never be as good as those people but I’m game to try.
  • Last summer I decided to write this blog. ¬†I sucked at it then, I probably still suck at it now but I’m enjoying myself and I like having a place to get these thoughts off my head. ¬†An old Monty Python line comes to mind, “I’ve suffered for my art…now it’s your turn”. ūüôā
  • I used to be a fairly good doubler on saxophone and flute but several years of not having a reason to play them have left me woefully lame on them. I’m getting ready to start at least practicing flute again to get back where I was because I think there’s work out there if I do it…long tones here I come. Clarinet? Not so much but I may start messing with bass clarinet real soon. I’ll suck of course but it’s all about the challenge and entering uncharted territory.
  • One of my hobbies is bonsai gardening and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I truly suck at it but it provides me with another chance for expression and a lot of stress relief. ¬†I’ll keep plodding along and I’ll probably sacrifice a few more trees to the bonsai deities but I have every intention of producing show-able trees before I stop. I may even start a blog about my journey to help push myself.

Anyway, I’m probably a little long for this post but check out the various links in my post because I think you will find they say things different and, yes, in some cases much better. But that’s okay.

Here’s What to Say

If you’ve been playing for a while it’s kind of inevitable that someone will either see you somewhere or hear you on a recording and will take the time to tell you they thought you sounded good. ¬†They might say, “Hey, you sounded great!”, or “I really enjoyed your playing” or some other variation of that. For many people I know and especially younger players the response is usually some sort of self-deprecating explanation of why they didn’t “really” sound that good or how much better they could have been but this kind of response does a disservice to the social exchange that could be happening if they would just say the right thing. Believe me when I say that this is something that took me a long time to figure out and it’s something I still struggle with sometimes so don’t think of it as preaching.

First let’s examine the complimenter’s side of the interaction. They were in a situation where they heard you play and they wanted to take the time to make sure you knew they enjoyed the experience. That’s pretty special no matter how you played so keep that in mind. ¬†Now maybe they aren’t some great musician with a finely honed sense of¬†discretionary hearing or maybe they are biased towards you because they are a friend or relative. That shouldn’t matter at all but it does because I think players go even farther out of their way to explain how “bad” they were when it’s another musician. I also think everyone discounts the bias of friends and family. No matter what the connection just think of the context as exactly what it is…one human reaching out to another to tell them they did a good job. ¬†That’s a powerful thing and you should treat it as such.

Another way to look at it is this. ¬†When you negate someone’s compliment by being self-deprecating or simply disagreeing with them it makes them feel bad because you are essentially calling out their lack of musical knowledge or discerning ear. ¬†No one wants to hear that. ¬†No matter the person’s musical ability or knowledge they know what they like and their individual tastes should be respected. ¬†Just remember that their experience is the sum total of many things like who they are with, what their expectations were going in, and yes even how much they may have imbibed that evening along with your performance.

On the other hand let’s look at your motivation. ¬†You probably want to tell them how much better it could have been. ¬†This is, of course, invalid because musicians are always perfectionists and it could always be a little bit better than it was. ¬†I’ll bet even Michael Brecker had nights where he wasn’t happy with what he did but I would have still thought he was amazing. I remember seeing David Sanborn and when I was talking to him backstage (after he had thanked me for my compliment and then realized I was a sax player) he told me how much trouble he was having with his reed…sounded like first class Dave Sanborn to me.

Now sometimes people will pay you a “backhanded” compliment that’s really not heartfelt like, “I really dug what you were trying to do up there.” or something like that but these instances are rare and you should just ignore them anyway. Better to take the high road I always say.

So what should you say? ¬†Simple is better so just say, “Thank you” (and mean it) and fulfill your part of the social contract. ¬†Whether the person is a music expert or not doesn’t matter. ¬†Neither does your true opinion of how well you did. ¬†The fact is that something you did struck them in a profound enough way to make them reach out to you and you should respond in kind. Here are some things I do in addition. ¬†If I really didn’t think I was that great I will often add, “You’re very kind” – it makes me feel better sometimes. ¬†I’ll also often add, “I’m really glad you enjoyed it” because I really am. ¬†I love playing live for people and my goal is that they have a good time. ¬†Sometimes with other musicians or people I know to have a discerning ear I will follow up by discussing some things that may have prevented me from being totally comfortable but no matter what I always lead with a simple thanks to get things going.

It’s a tough lesson to learn and it sometimes feels counterintuitive but saying thank you will make you feel better and make the people who complimented you feel good as well. ¬†Give it a try and I think you’ll like the results.


My How Far We’ve Come

Closeup of original Adolphe Sax alto

Closeup of original Adolphe Sax alto

I wanted to take a break from the recording stuff for a little bit but don’t worry I’ll get back to it soon – assuming you’re a fan of course. If you’re not a fan of the recording posts it’s more like, “Oh geez, he’s going to write more of that nonsense?”. But I digress.

A good buddy of mine and an excellent sax player named Scott Paddock posted this video on my Facebook wall a while back. It’s a quick overview of an original Adolphe Sax alto and it’s absolutely fascinating. I mean I’ve seen a lot of vintage horns in my day and some of them had some pretty interesting key work but this is just so bare bones. It only goes down to low B instead of Bb but it does go all the way up to F above the staff. There are far fewer linkages and rods – the left and right hand stacks don’t interact whatsoever. One of the most mind-blowing things is the two octave keys. We actually have two octave keys on modern horns but we access them through the same mechanism and the horn automatically makes the switch for us. On the original horn there is one octave key for D to G# and then another for A and up. I’m sure it’s something you could get used to but it makes me glad for my modern horn.

One of the BIG changes is weight because of the major difference in the amount of keys, posts, and ribs. ¬†I imagine this horn is maybe half the weight of a modern one..especially something like my Buffet or a Keilwerth. I’m also a big fan of the very simple G# mechanism because that’s one of the keys that seems to always stick with the modern mechanism.

When I look at this video I find it fascinating but I also find myself really appreciating all of the advancements that help me play with more facility and probably more in tune. I have an old college buddy named Ellery Eskelin, though, who has made a career out of studying old horns and adjusting his approach to try to make the most out of them – I think his current main horn is from the 1920’s. He posted on my Facebook page about how much he would love to try it and I think he would probably make it sound awesome.

I’ll get back to the recording stuff soon with a discussion of the actual software you can use. I’m also looking forward to some fun shows in February after a very empty January. I have gigs with both Technicolor Motor Home and Jr. Cline and the Recliners and I also am meeting with some great musicians and good friends about starting a recording project that could also turn into a live band. Wish me luck.

Merry Christmas!

Just a quick post to wish anyone who is reading this a happy and healthy holiday season. It’s always a busy time but I did a really quick and dirty version of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas playing along with the Aebersold track. It’s just a one-take wonder but you get the idea. I was definitely too close to the microphone but I didn’t want to obsess over it. My buddy Roland Rizzo (an excellent sax player by the way) helped me with the mix by adding a little compression and some high-end rolloff in the EQ. He also gave the whole thing a touch of reverb and made the balance better than what I had.

I am also uploading a big band version of Yo, Tannenbaum from the Gordon Goodwin book. This was done by the Ken Ebo Jazz Orchestra I played with a couple weeks ago but the recording is probably 6 or 7 years old. I hope you find some enjoyment in them and take them in the spirit in which they are given. For the gear heads out there, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas is My Phil-Tone Eclipse on a Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series with the fat neck. Yo Tannenbaum was most likely a Strathon Adjustotone on my Selmer Mark VI.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

Saxophonist Jimmy Greene

In the tragic shooting in CT yesterday, one of the victims was the young daughter of saxophonist Jimmy Greene, Ana Grace. ¬†I have seen it suggested that it would be a great sign of support for him if musicians (or anyone really) would download the song he wrote for her on his album Mission Statement. ¬†I think that’s a great idea although my heart definitely goes out to the families of all of the victims of this senseless act. ¬†I went to iTunes and loved what I heard so I actually downloaded the whole album. ¬†Please take the time to show some support for a fellow musician and join me in finding other ways to support the families of all of the victims as they become available.



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.


Here’s my first post of hopefully many. ¬†I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now and I really hope it’s something people find interesting or fun but if nothing else it’s a way to spend some time analyzing and organizing things I do as a player and getting them out of my head and into a useful format. ¬†I’m hoping you can find some of it useful or interesting or thought-provoking. ¬†It’s probably going to take a little time to get some things worked out like how often I post or even what my site is going to look like but I think it’s more important than ever for musicians to have an online presence and this is my first volley. ¬†Thanks for visiting and I hope you feel like you want to come back.