Low Eh! Baritone Saxophone Adventures From Canada

Gig Rig – My Teaching Rig 

It’s been amazing to be back teaching in person. I started back at the end of September 2021, and had a break over January, but now I have a large portion of my student load who are taking lessons in person again. In person allows me to be more detailed-oriented, and on top of habits that my students are forming.

After so much time away, it took me a little while to get comfortable with loading my teaching gear. I was always feeling like I was forgetting things, and it made me consider what I was taking to my lessons more than I had when I was in the rhythm of being out of the house four or five days a week.

I usually bring my alto or tenor saxophones, flute, and clarinet to teach. If I have a student who is specifically studying baritone sax, or bass clarinet, I bring those in lieu of the alto saxophone, or clarinet, but I love carrying the alto sax, flute, and clarinet in my Protec Triple Case – I can almost carry my whole rig in that case!

Outside of my instruments, I bring my MacBook Air for online lessons, pulling up/creating charts, and all of the other administrative tasks that I need to take care of throughout the day. I also have my iPad Pro which is great for pulling up new music for students, and playing backing tracks. It also has all of the teaching tools that I need, like the tuner and metronome. I also use the Apple Pencil – it’s great when I need to make charts on the fly! I also need to bring the adapters for power, and ethernet.

I’m fortunate that I keep most of my printed materials at my studio, so I’m never stuck when a student forgets their books.

There are many non-musical things that I bring to my lessons. Here’s a list of what is important for me to have for a good teaching day.

  • Water Bottle – I use a 40oz water bottle, and I usually fill It up three or four times through a full teaching day.
  • ChopSaver – I use it constantly. My lips feel great, and don’t crack!
  • Deodorant – when I have 6-8 hours of teaching it’s important to freshen up every few lessons.
  • Phone Chargers – I am not an anti-phone teacher. My students make voice memos, and take pictures of our lessons on the dry-erase board. I also have students who are coming from school, and they are walking home alone. I always encourage them to have their phone charged in case the need it. I carry Apple, and Android chargers.
  • Indoor shoes/spare socks – I haven’t been doing this as much because the weather has been cold here, and not super wet or slushy, but as the snow melts, extra footwear just keeps me comfortable when I don’t need to have wet feet for a day.

Are there any items that you bring that make your teaching day better, or more comfortable?

Branford Marsalis Transcription – Doxy 

After years of committing my transcriptions to memory only, I have been starting to write them down. This transcription comes off of the Branford Marsalis Quartet’s recording, Upward Spiral, which features Kurt Elling. I’m a big fan of this recording. The interplay between Branford, and Kurt, is pretty incredible – big ears all around!

Branford takes two choruses, starting at 2:04, and I love the bluesy-ness, combined with some great double-time at the end.

Enjoy!

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!

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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?