Low Eh! Baritone Saxophone Adventures From Canada

Drum Genius 

Drum Genius is an app that I have been using for a few years, and I think that it is one of the best practice tools that is available. Essentially, it is a metronome, but functions with drum loops.

I use this app both in my practicing, and composing.

For my own practice, I like working out ideas with the drums as the only rhythm section instrument – I feel like it allows me to focus on the melodic and rhythmic content of the idea, and not be tied to my harmonic tendencies. I also find that it allows me to dig in to the beginnings of my phrases, and the overall phrase length – where I’m starting, and where I’m ending.

The app has 500 loops available, ranging from swing, pop, world beats, and odd-metered grooves. Each of these are customisable in tempo, but also pitch, and there is a “Metrogenius” function, that allows me to take a specific rhythm, and adjust it to fit my needs.

This applies to my composing as well. It’s been an extremely useful tool to set a groove, and work out a bass line, or develop a melody with a beat that I have in mind. It has also made me think of the way that I write drum parts – I’ve become more specific on what I want to convey to the drummer.

Have you ever used Drum Genius? Or another drum app?

Transcription: Gerry Mulligan – They Say It’s... 

Dream A Little Dream was my introduction to Gerry Mulligan. I remember being struck by his ability to float over the rhythm section, while having a subtle intensity in his sound. This recording became a favourite of mine, and years later, as I dug deeper into the baritone saxophone, I ended up lifting six solos off of the recording (I’m just now getting them down on paper).

Here’s the melody, and Mulligan’s solo.

Do have a favourite Gerry Mulligan solo? Or recording?

Gonzalez Reeds 

Last week, I received a care package from Gonzalez Reeds. I am extremely fortunate to have been a Gonzalez artist since November 2019. I love playing on these reeds! They give me the sound, feel, and consistency that I need to bring my music to life.

The summer before I became a Gonzalez artist, I had been playing the same reeds on my setups for a few years, and I was really happy with them – the sound was what I wanted, the tuning locked in, and the response across the horn felt great. Then festival season hit. Seemingly out of nowhere, the reeds started locking up on the shows, and stop responding the way they had – everything felt too soft. So I went up a strength, and another, and another, until I couldn’t get a harder reed in that cut – still every reed felt too soft. I thought that maybe it was time for a change.

I live in Ottawa, and reed selection is pretty limited, so I reached out to a few different companies, to see if I could get some reeds to try. Gonzalez was really helpful right away. I was able to get some reeds in my hands, and they gave me a chance to test drive different cuts.

At first, I used the Classic reeds across all of my instruments, except for clarinet, which I use(d) the GD cut. I later moved to the Jazz Local 627 cut on tenor, and eventually on baritone saxophone as well (once they came out). One thing that I noticed is that the reeds played harder than I expected, which they warned me of, and after trying several strengths out, I have landed on the reeds that work for me.

Here is what I have used for the last while –

I do notice that the reeds tend to swell quite a bit in the first few plays, which may be an Ottawa issue (the temperature and humidity swing hard here), but a few passes over the back of the reed with my ReedGeek fix that, and they play great.

One of the other aspects of Gonzalez Reeds that I love, is that the reeds are pesticide free, and they packaging contains no plastic. I wish that other manufacturers would consider this – my reeds always ship well, and I have never pulled a broken reed out of the box.

Have you ever tried Gonzalez Reeds? Do you prefer a classical or jazz cut reed?

Ronnie Cuber Transcription Goodnight Irene 

I stumbled into this recording as I was getting into Ronnie Cuber’s playing. I was looking for any recording that he had been on, because I love the way he solos, but also (and equally) how he anchors a horn section. I discovered Dr. John – Live In Montreux 1995, and Trippin’ Live (where this solo comes from).

He plays several solos on Trippin’ Live, and I’ll probably get to transcribing those in the near future, but this solo is the one that has stuck in my ears for the last few years.

Please feel free to download the transcription! I’d love to hear some versions of it. If you share it on social media, tag me!

Facebook

Twitter

Instagram

Enjoy!

Tonal Energy 

When I first saw Tonal Energy, I thought that it was a great tuner for my students – the happy face that takes over the screen (and multiplies) worked as a great motivator to keep my students focused on their pitch. I ended up purchasing the app to use in my lessons, and as I started digging deeper into the app, I discovered so many useful tools that I have used with my students, but also for myself in my own practicing. Here are some of the features that I have used regularly.

Tuner

Being able to adjust the sensitivity of the tuner is a great feature – from “Wide”, which is 5% acceptable on both sharp and flat, to “Ultra-Fine” which is within 1% acceptable, I can bring this tuner to my less experienced students, and give them an attainable goal. As they progress, I can tighten the tolerances, and they can adjust accordingly.

The transposition function is really clear, and easy to adjust. This is also great for my students who aren’t comfortable with transposing yet, they can find their instrument, and immediately get the transposed pitch on the display.

Other information that is useful is the Hz, which allows my students to see how far they need to adjust to bring the pitch into tune. Also, the meter at the top of the screen (coupled with a timer), which shows the percentage of notes that were in tune, almost in tune, and out of tune. I do wish that they froze when a student was done, because sometimes it disappears before we can really see what was going on.

Sound

I love practicing with drones! As an improvisor, I find the process of working through ideas against a constant drone allow me to focus solely on creating melodies. Being able to add any intervals to the drone has been a useful tool, even to the point of building chords to experiment over. For teaching, the sound wheel is great for matching pitch – reinforcing my students’ tuning. I also love the fact that the drone can be played on any instrument, and while I am partial to bassoon, bass clarinet, and tuba to improvise over, when matching pitches with students, it’s great for them to match against their instruments.

Analysis

This is the screen that I use the most – in particular, the Waveform/Pitch, and the Harmonic functions.

The Waveform/Pitch analysis is so helpful when dealing with articulation. The visual cue for my students to see their pitch while articulating (the red/orange/green line), how much the time/space the articuation is taking (same line), and their overall volume (blue background behind the line). I have found this function of the app extremely effective when a student has developed a “scoop” in their articulation – having them focus on keeping the line within the acceptable range of tuning, when playing something that they are comfortable with, has solved this issue quickly (when the app is outside of the lesson).

Harmonic

Being able to see how all of the harmonics ring in a player’s sound has been really useful when explaining how air and sound intensity are related. My students are able to visualize the differences in a dark sound, bright sound, what happens when they drive their sound and gain upper partials, or pull back their sound and make it compact. It’s interesting to see how they get more detailed in their approach to sound when there is a clear indicator of what is happening.

Metronome

The metronome has all of the functions that want in a metronome – different options for time signature, accented beats, subdivision, tap tempo, different sounds, but the Metronome Assistant is a great trainer where you can customize how the metronome changes while you play. The Metronome Assistant allows for tempo change, to random beat or bar silencing, and a time limit. All of these functions help my students work on their time in a number of creative ways.

I really like how the metronome is displayed on every screen in the top right, and the tuner is available on every screen except for the metronome screen. It really reinforces the need to play in time, and in tune with my students when I’m not in the room with them.

Have you used Tonal Energy? What are your experiences? Are there other tuning apps that you like?

What’s In My Case – Baritone Saxophone 

I posted a video on my social media accounts about what gear lives in my baritone saxophone case. I received several requests to write it out, so here’s a breakdown of it.

  • Yamaha YBS-62S
  • Theo Wanne Durga 3 #8*
  • Gonzalez Jazz Local 627 #3 Reeds (in a D’Addario Reed Case)
  • Just Joe’s Saxophone Gel Strap
  • Key Leaves
  • Yamaha Monster Swab
  • WoodwindDesigns Carbon Fibre Stand
  • Bam HighTech Case

What gear are you playing? If you have any questions about my setup, let me know!

My iPad/App Setup 

I’ve been using my iPad on most of my gigs and recordings since 2015. It always made sense to me – all of my sets were on it (in order or quickly moved), I couldn’t lose my music, I always had copies of music for my students, and I wasn’t carrying around music. Over time, I found myself finding apps for my own practicing, or apps that could help my students outside of their lessons.

Here’s my present setup –

  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9″ (2nd Generation)
  • Apple Pencil
  • ForScore
  • PED Bluetooth Foot Pedal
  • Notion
  • Dorico
  • iReal Pro
  • Drum Genius
  • Amazing Slow Downer
  • GarageBand, Voice Memo
  • iRig Keys Mini
  • AKAI MPD218
  • Dropbox, Google Drive
  • Social Media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube)
  • Bandcamp, Apple Music

I’ll be writing about the apps that I use regularly over several posts – how they make my life easier, and features I like/wish they had.

What apps do you use? Or apps that I should check out? Let me know!

Baritone Sax Shopping! 

I bought my Yamaha YBS62S a few years ago, and I haven’t really shopped for another bari sax – I haven’t had any reason to shop, I’m happy with my horn…

Tim from Embrun Music dropped me a message about checking out a P. Mauriat low Bb bari that he had in stock, and I had to go check it out. I haven’t played a lot of modern baris, and I hadn’t played a low Bb horn since my Mark VI and Conns.

The Mauriat surprised me with how well it played. I’ve tried some tenors and altos, and they weren’t really my thing, but this bari was fun! And I didn’t feel like I missed the A from my 62S. It was light, but felt solid – definitely a horn that I would consider taking to a jazz gig. Here’s a quick clip of the horn.

After I checked out the Mauriat, Tim offered to let me try his Yanagisawa BW02.

This baritone saxophone was frightening! I loved the way it played! It spoke so evenly, and I particularly found the response impressively quick in the low end. That low A popped out so easily. I found the keywork to be more comfortable than the Mauriat (possibly because it felt more like my own horn). I have never had a Yanagisawa bari in my hands, so this was a real treat. I could definitely take this horn to any gig, and I left seriously considering a Yanagisawa baritone sax. This horn was amazing, and I’d love to check out some of their other baritones as well.

While I knew that I wasn’t buying anything that day, I am always excited to check out horns. It’s hard in Ottawa to find several baritone saxophones to try in the same room, so this was a lot of fun.

What horn are you playing now? Would you trade it? Have you ever stumbled across a bari sax that blew you away, even if you weren’t shopping for one?

Double Lip Embouchure 

Just over six years ago, I had an accident on a gig – I broke two of my teeth on my metal Otto Link. Even though I had the teeth fixed, I couldn’t handle the vibration of the mouthpiece against them. I tried dental wax, double and triple mouthpiece patches, and finally thought about switching my embouchure (temporarily) to a double lip. I would use it until my teeth were less sensitive, and then I would switch back to single lip.

I started doing my research, and discovered Tom Ridenour’s videos on how to learn to play double lip embouchure.

I was biting more than I realized! At first, my endurance was terrible – after about ten minutes I’d have no face left. This was going to be a huge shift in the way I played. Over a few weeks, I worked my endurance (relaxed my jaw pressure) up to an hour with no pain. I also realized that if I went to setups that were less resistant, I would have more endurance (who would’ve thought?!?!).

I had Ted Klum make me a set of mouthpieces that were equivalent to a C* and paired them with a 2M or 2H D’Addario Select Jazz – a little extreme, but it got me through this period in my playing. Over the last few years, I went to harder reeds and more open mouthpieces, but I am more aware of the feel of the setup than I was previous to the switch.

The more I played with this embouchure, the more I saw the benefits from using it, and have used it full-time since trying it. I play more in tune, the registers are more even (especially up high), and I feel like I can pull more colours out of my sound. Also, when playing instruments across the woodwind family, double lip works very similarly across the different mouthpieces, so physically it’s comfortable to switch.

In my teaching, I love using it as a tool for students. I encourage all of my students to try it to see how it changes how they play. I find with saxophone students who’s upper register thins out because they are biting, it makes them aware (the same discoveries that I had), and for clarinet students it came make them more aware of their tongue during high register articulation, and become more conscious of their tuning from low C downwards.

I’ve also been surprised at how many young students play in a double lip naturally (and how many band teachers try and change it). I have found that when students are playing in their most comfortable position, they also tend to develop more quickly. Being a double lip player (and teacher) helps them eliminate the initial tuning and stability issues that are associated with playing double lip.

Do you play double lip? If you haven’t, have you ever tried double lip?

The Time Two Legends Tried To Pass Me A Solo…And I Rookied Out 

Don’t worry, it all works out a few choruses later.

In 2018, I was finally getting comfortable on the baritone saxophone as my primary instrument. I had sold all of my other gear, I had been playing in both large and small ensembles in a variety of settings, and I was getting booked for some of the shows coming through the Ottawa Jazz Festival.

I was called to be in the horn section for Jerry Granelli’s festival show, alongside Petr Cancura and Ed Lister. Jerry was touring the festival circuit with Robben Ford, Bob Lanzetti, and J. Anthony Granelli, and they would be playing selections off of Jerry’s recording, Dance Hall.

Credit – Jerry Granelli (from Facebook)

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to play with these master musicians (and really great hangs, too). Soundcheck went great, we talked through the charts, did a little playing, and then we grabbed some food.

I can’t remember if the quartet without horns played a tune or two before the horn section, but I believe that they did.

I distinctly remember being in awe of the sound that Jerry was getting from the drums. I’m not sure that I’d ever seen someone play with so much conviction…and that shuffle felt to good…and the comping with the soloist…and…and…and…I was lost in his playing.

Then, during the tune, Caledonia, Robben Ford turned around and passed me a solo, but I didn’t hear him, I was in my happy place – surrounded by a rhythm section who’s groove took me somewhere else. Then Jerry tried to get my attention, and Petr started playing a tenor solo.

A few choruses later, I ended up getting my pass over the blues and ended up playing a few others that night, and it turned out to be a great gig with some amazing musicians, playing really fun music.

It also became the night that I learned to always pay attention, no matter who is playing.

Have you ever played with any musicians who left you in awe during the gig?

Gear Review – Ted Klum London 8* 

In May, I dropped my Sebastian Knox mouthpiece. As soon as it hit the floor in my office, I knew the tip had broken. I had played that mouthpiece for a couple of years in every situation, and although I had checked a few other mouthpieces out, it was my main mouthpiece. I had to figure out what my next mouthpiece would be.

For a few weeks, I played on a few different mouthpieces, including an Otto Link that Sebastian had opened up for me, an Otto Link Super Tone Master, and Vandoren V16 B7. There were elements of each piece that I liked, but none of them were quite right.

Finally, I decided that I needed a bit of guidance and called Jack Finucane at the Boston Sax Shop. He told me that he was getting a good response from bari players who were testing out Ted Klum’s London Model. After talking for a bit, I decided on an 8*. I normally don’t buy gear without trying, but Jack reassured me that if it didn’t work, that we’d “figure something out.”

I have since filled out my London Model collection.

The sound of this piece is what first caught me. It’s huge. I can drive it as hard as I need it and I still don’t feel like I’ve hit the end of the sound. That’s a characteristic that I like in a mouthpiece – I love it when I feel like I can give as much air as I want and the sound keeps developing. It also handles at low volumes. I have played mouthpieces in the past that I love playing at medium and top volumes, but when I wanted to pull the volume back, the mouthpiece seemed to give up on me. The London Model allows me to manipulate my sound at all levels just the way I like.

The mouthpiece is incredibly reed friendly. Here’s a list of reeds that I have used on it.

  • Gonzalez Local 627 #3 **
  • Boston Sax Shop #3.5
  • Légère Signature #2.5 or #2.75
  • D’Addario Royal #5
  • D’Addario Select Jazz 4M
  • Marca American Vintage #3.5
  • Hemke #4
  • LaVoz Hard

All of these reeds work beautifully for me and give me different sounds. In addition to these reeds giving me the sounds that I want, they also tune really well – something that has become increasingly more important the longer I spend anchoring big bands and horn sections.

**Disclaimer** I am a Gonzalez artist and endorse the 627 Jazz Reeds.

There have not been many gigs since March, but I have had two with this mouthpiece. The first was an outdoor big band gig with the Prime Rib Big Band and I loved how Ted’s piece allowed me to hear myself through the whole gig. It was also flexible enough to blend with the saxophones, or trombones, and projected well above the band when I played solos.

The second gig was a gig with my quintet, Richard Page’s Night On The Town Band, which will be released next month through GigSpace Live. I play lots of clarinet and bass clarinet in my band, and when I jumped over to the bari, the transition was really smooth.

I can’t wait to get it on gigs (when the gigs return) to see what it will do in live situations regularly, but from this small sample size and every day in my studio, I have no reason to think that it will respond any different than it has.

For me, the beak angle and shape of the mouthpiece is perfect for my playing position. I use a double-lip embouchure and I am picky about the way the beak feels. For the most part, I find hard rubber mouthpieces a little too big, and metal mouthpieces a little small. Having a mouthpiece this comfortable allows me to spend more time on the horn – which is always a great thing!

The only drawback for me (and it’s more of an inconvenience for me, personally) is the ligature fit for the mouthpiece. I have lots of ligatures and my Rovner ligatures (I use the Van Gogh) have no play – it still works, but it’s tightened all the way, Selmer 2-Screw for tenor is a hair too big and slides too low, my “standard” hard rubber tenor sax ligatures don’t quite fit the way I’d like them. I have an alto clarinet, and it’s lig fits perfectly, but there isn’t a lot of choice for that perfect fit. I have a few other ligatures to check out, but I haven’t been out at the music stores as frequently over the last few months. I’ll update this when I find something that I like.

This mouthpiece has given me some more freedom in my playing and I can’t see myself switching to any other mouthpiece in the near future.

Are you playing on your ideal mouthpiece? What is it?

Three Things I Have Learned From Playing In R’n’B and Soul Bands 

My first experiences as a full-time baritone saxophonist were in horn sections. I was really excited to take this challenge on and I did not know that this would shape the next five years (and beyond) of my career.

For me, the concept of playing the bari part was a huge shift. It made me examine how I played rhythmically, how my sounds fit with a section, and how I articulated (and the variations). Also, it made me rethink how I wrote for horn sections and what gear I used.

Here’s a promo video from my first gig as a baritone saxophonist.

Using The Baritone To Its Fullest Potential

As someone who writes for horn sections, I learned a lot about writing for horn sections from actually sitting on the baritone saxophone book, and how myself (and many other writers) simply didn’t (or don’t) value having a baritone sax in their band. It’s not that they don’t like having a baritone sax close by, but that book may not be utilized to its fullest potential.

As a bari player, I love playing in the holes against the other horns, hooking up with the bass, and horn riffs, but too often the bari is treated like “just another horn”, where they’re playing unison horn lines instead of providing the foil to the rest of the horn section or band. Another situation that I’ve seen is that the bari part has to cover everything – against the horn section, with the bass and with the horn section with no place to breathe – it’s a big piece of plumbing.

For me, I like to know what job I’m doing – if I’m filling the holes, let me do that to the best of my ability. If I’m a supporting voice in the section, I like that too. If I’m driving a bass line with the bassist, drop me a note in my part so I can really hook up with them.

Personally, I still think that Tower Of Power has figured it best – and even then, when you listen to early recordings, there is far less bari independence than there is once they really developed their sound. When I listen to the horn section writing of T.O.P. it’s very clear what Doc’s job is every time he plays.

My Ears Changed

After figuring out where my new horn sat in the band, I noticed that the way I heard music and what I wanted to hear coming out of my saxophone change. This change in the way I heard the horn led to some physical changes on the horn as well.

Before I played baritone saxophone full time, I never focused that much on my tuning. I could play in tune, but finding where the pitch sat for every note wasn’t at the forefront of my mind – I could always adjust if needed. I knew that I could really undermine the composer or arranger’s intent by not being able to play in tune with a bass, and then with a section.

I also started to realize that I needed to articulate more forcefully, and it wouldn’t disrupt the tone as much as it would on a smaller horn. I noticed that on heavily articulated passages, the start and restart on the larger reed, mouthpiece and horn didn’t get harsh and thin, but rather barked – which was the sound that I needed in these situations.

I Wanted A Modern Horn With A Low A (Low Eh?)

The vintage horn enthusiasts might give me a hard time on this one – “There’s nothing that sounds like my Conn 12M” or “go get a low Bb Mark VI – it plays like a big tenor”.

You’re right.

Nothing sounds or feels like those horns, I’ve owned three (two Conns and a low Bb Mark VI), but they aren’t always the right tool for the job.

After I bought my Yamaha YBS-62S, I felt comfortable in all situations, but particularly in the studio – playing a horn that had all of the advantages of modern technology put into its design allowed me to be more relaxed and just play the music, use the mouthpieces that I wanted, and don’t forget about dropping that low A when I needed it.

What playing situations that have influenced your concept?