This post comes from guest contributor, Tim Hecker. Feel free to leave a comment below.
The Selmer Mark VI- regarded by many as the finest saxophone ever made and shrouded in so many legends the truth is nigh impossible to uncover, represents for me the harbinger of one of the saxophone’s darkest eras in terms of design and construction. Merely stating that you think this legendary horn is enough to garner funny looks from fellow musicians, but today I will go into detail as to why I find the Mark VI to be so distasteful.
Walk into any music store today, and you’ll be bombarded with marketing for dozens of different brands of saxophones- Yamaha, Yanagisawa, P. Mauriat, Jupiter, Eastman and of course Selmer- amongst others. What is it that all of these saxophones have in common? They are all carbon copies of the Selmer Mark VI, some given fancy feature names and styling elements to disguise their common heritage. Does this mean that these saxophones are all junk? Of course not! I play Cannonball saxophones as my primary instruments, and I have enjoyed many Yanagisawa and Mauriat horns as well. What, then, is my big complaint? My issue is that the constant pandering to the mythic design of the Mark VI has eliminated the design competition that made our instrument great.
So what does that mean? Well, around the 1920s the saxophone burst into popularity in a frenzy of scandal and novelty music, accompanied by jazz and various orchestral attempts that were not as successful. From the 20s then through around the 70s, brand competition was fierce. From Conn and Selmer to Buescher and even oddball brands like Couesnon, new design features were going gangbusters. Beveled or rolled or drawn tone holes, proprietary register key systems, assorted key layout for different ergonomics- all of these made it matter what you chose to play and offered comfortable options for people who didn’t like certain features. With the Mark VI revered as being the end all and be all of saxophones, we are in a dry spell for innovations. This, however, is only one of my complaints.
Let’s talk about the Mark VI itself. Legendary though it may be, this horn is not immune to quality control issues and lemons. Mark VI’s have a reputation for being fairly inconsistent- I often hear guys discussing ‘good’ serial number ranges, debating whether the engraving affects the quality of the horn (I’ve heard it said that the horns were disassembled to be engraved and that unengraved horns are more desirable.) Having played a few, the inconsistency jumped out at me the most. I’ve played a perfect example of a Selmer Mark VI, and a terrible one. Neither horn had flawless intonation. Neither horn felt especially good to me- in fact, I think Conn’s pinky table cluster felt faster and better, all things considered. Again, I feel the need to stress that no horn is immune to issues such as these- I merely intend to contest the fact that the Mark VI is a god amongst saxophones.
The Mark VI is just a horn. Every horn is really, just a horn. Some are built better than others, yes- but in elevating the Mark VI to a divine pedestal, we have lost sight of the fact that it did us a great disservice in killing off a lot of the diversity that made vintage saxes special- after all, good or bad it’s just another horn.
While Adam Larson is not a baritone saxophonist, he is a great saxophonist and a very busy clinician and teacher. He has a written a new etude book titled “Leaps and Sounds”. Its not a baritone saxophone specific book, but I think its very relevant for any modern saxophonist. He has written 12 etudes over the chord changes to common jazz standards and incorporated large intervals and lines that move in and out of the altissimo register. I recommend these for advanced high school or college students, they are not easy!
I firmly believe that altissimo is especially important to the baritone saxophone. Not just as a way to remain in-step with the trends of saxophone in general, but also because I think its easier and more practical on the baritone. I hope to have a full article about altissimo on the baritone up soon, but in a nut-shell, because the first altissimo octave on the baritone is merely the standard upper octave of an alto saxophone I think those pitches are all usable and within comfortable listening range. The voicing, fingerings, and intonation can be tricky but worth the effort to have access to another octave of range for improvisation.
NYC area baritone saxophonist Adison Evans has released her second album titled “Meridian”. It was released earlier in July and is available now. Inspired by the beautiful Italian country-side, It has an excellent line up of musicians and some interesting original compositions.
Those in the NYC area can catch her album release show at Birdland on September 2nd.
We have posted the first new transcription in a while to the transcription page. This time around we have a solo from Roger Rosenberg, from a Bob Mintzer big band album. Roger is a long time NYC saxophonist, long standing member of the Mintzer big band and these days can often be heard on tour with Steely Dan.
Head on over and check out the transcription page, and our thanks goes out to Gio Washington-Wright for sending this one in!
There are never as many options for a baritone saxophonist as there are for the other saxophones. This is true for brands of horn, mouthpieces, cases, and perhaps especially instrument stands. From a business perspective it makes sense – baritone products are larger, harder to make, need to be able to handle more weight/force and of course are harder to sell since there are less baritonists out there overall. But today I would like to review a product that now goes with me to every rehearsal and gig.
Gijs van Leeuwen is from the Netherlands and has created a company called Woodwind Design. As far as I can tell he has been around for a while, mostly making specialty stands for woodwinds, especially clarinets out of interesting materials, often beautiful woods and other materials. In the last few years however he has developed new carbon fiber stands that he crafts in his workshop (garage?). We mentioned the stands a couple years back. Carbon fiber is quickly becoming a very popular material, not only for its sleek futuristic look but also because it is incredibly strong yet lighter than many metals of the same weight. Its being incorporated more and more into many instrument cases – although beware, some case manufacturers offer a carbon fiber “finish” that looks like but is not actual carbon fiber. Gijs is a woodwind player himself, but also a tinkerer and inventor. His stands in my opinion are the best option for baritone saxophone available.
Low Bb tube with Conn 12M
For many years I traveled around New York City and the east coast playing gigs and rehearsals without a saxophone stand. I have had plenty before, big solid steel ones, and even the lighter K+M plastic ones, but without a car it just wasn’t feasible to carry them to gigs, especially if I had a bag, music stand, and bass clarinet! So the horn inevitably got put onto the floor between sets and sometimes quickly put down all too harshly if there was a quick instrument switch mid song. The horn of course got battered and dinged, which as a baritone player you almost get to the point where you can live with it. With Woodwind Design’s new carbon fiber stands I carry a baritone stand in my case every day – while barely adding any extra weight – quite the life changer.
I have been using the stand nearly every day for 2 years – each stand has a unique serial number and my first stand was #4! The stand has held up beautifully and is in almost like new condition. After putting together a bulk order for a number of NYC saxophonists I received a newer updated stand, and I am very pleased that Gijs continues to improve and upgrade the design, the newer design is even more ingenious (and lighter!) than the first. Check out the photo gallery below, or the video from Gijs as well.
Great features of the Woodwind Design stand:
Carbon Fiber tubes sized precisely so they fit nested perfectly into one another to save space
The tubes will easily fit into the bell or in a side pocket of a case, the bell holder can be stored on the bell in the case – no extra bag for the stand needed
The whole stand weighs only 1.1 pounds!
Carbon fiber is strong and will not break easily, also seems to hold up well over time
4 leg design compared to most stands 3 leg design is much more stable, less likely to tip over
Screw on Bell holder allows for left to right adjustment if the bell on your saxophone brand is off center
Available for both Low Bb horns and Low A horns! You can even purchase an extra tube that allows one stand to function for either.
Rubber feet inset to the end of each foot tube keep the stand from sliding
Locking system makes sure that the upper tube that holds the bell does not move, as well as the bell holder
Alignment markings on each tube to make sure the feet and properly lined up
Rubberized bell holder is slightly bendable, adapts to each bell for secure hold and will not damage the horn
Each hole and tube are different sizes, so it is obvious to assemble
Woodwind Design Carbon Fiber stand
There are very few downsides to these stands. The main one is cost. They simply aren’t cheap! But carbon fiber as a raw material to work with is very expensive and each stand is had made and fit in the Netherlands. The next downside is how long it takes to get one – the wait can be up to several months from the time you order the stand – and so far they aren’t really distributed and sold in any stores that I know of. The last downside is that because these are hand finished stands, if you happen to lose a single tube, in order to replace it you have to send parts back to the Netherlands for a new tube to be fit precisely to the existing stand – but it can be done.
The stands are also available for all of the other saxophones, and possibly of more interest to baritonists, for bass clarinet as well! Those stands are also the most portable option for bass clarinet. JazzBariSax.com has a small stock of baritone and bass clarinet stands available for sale. Please contact us if you are interested!
UPDATE – 9/3/2018: We only have 2 small bass clarinet stands left.
Gary Smulyan has many records out as a leader, and his latest one is another excellent addition. Gary is known lately for digging up rare songs and standards and recording them. This album is no different with a bunch of great tunes and even a Smulyan original! Gary’s sense of humor is excellent, evident in his title “Alternative Contrafacts” – A contrafact is an alternative melody to a known standard’s changes – for example “Hot House” is a melody that uses the chord changes from the standard “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Gary’s original is titled “I’ve Changed” a humorous play on the standard title “You’ve Changed”.
The band for the album is pared down to a trio setting, with just drums and bass. But with Gary’s harmonic knowledge and capabilities there is no lack of harmony on the tunes.
Personally I really like this album, Gary’s sound on it is almost a little darker than before, an interesting and enjoyable change. The whole album is great, and the obscure song selection is a very welcome change of pace.
On Friday, May 18th, Lauren Sevian released her second album as a leader. It features an excellent band and looks to be full of original compositions from Lauren. The little we’ve heard so far is excellent. Lots of high intensity blowing, and plenty of straight ahead swinging that Lauren is quite adept at.