I have covered Larry Dickson’s first, second, and third, installments in his 4 album project that mirrors the seasons. Today I am happy to say I’ve had a chance to enjoy the latest one from his quartet titled, “Winter Horizons”.
Similar to all of the other albums this album is very well done. The playing on the album is great, but what always stands out to me is Larry’s choice of songs and arrangements. There is an especially nice arrangement on Well, You Needn’t. On this disc there is a balanced and enjoyable mix of originals, standards, Thelonious Monk songs, and even a less-known but very enjoyable Billy Taylor original.
The format is again a chordless quartet. Being familiar with the baritone saxophone one might immediately think of the Mulligan/Chet Baker quartet. But this album uses alto saxophone instead of trumpet. This instrumentation might lead you to remember the “Two of a Mind” album that Mulligan did with Paul Desmond, but that’s not really the feeling here either. Rick Van Matre has a more modern slightly edged alto sax sound that contrasts nicely with Larry’s more mellow rich sound.
Eden has a very interesting approach to the baritone, and often shares the unusual methods for practicing. He is especially adept at using the upper altissimo range of the baritone, often playing alto or trumpet parts at pitch.
The new album is a very playful group of original songs. He has a robust sound, but a fairly gentle approach to playing. There’s no lack of variety on the album despite not including a chordal instrument. This time around Eden used some non-standard saxophone sounds (key clicks, overtone rolls) to create new sounds in a very listenable way.
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.
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.
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.
The good people at MusicMedic.com recently sent me a Wilmington-Conn 12.5M neck to try out. Check out the video for an overview and some sound comparisons. Here’s the basic takeaway: if you have an old Conn that plays really sharp, this neck is a fantastic option to adjust the pitch.
Check out the video for an overview and playing demonstration, otherwise dive in below for the details and more.
What is it?
Some older Conn baritone saxophones, usually 12M’s play really sharp. One thought is that the problem is derived from modern mouthpieces having smaller chambers and therefore driving the pitch higher. Personally in my measurements and observations of baritone mouthpieces the chambers in modern mouthpieces aren’t that much smaller, and certainly not enough to account for 20-30 cents of pitch difference. Furthermore, not all old Conn’s have tuning issues and on many of them modern mouthpieces tune really well. I also don’t hear this reasoning applied nearly as often to altos or tenors or other brands of vintage horns. So it might be horn or mouthpiece dependent.
The 12.5M neck and 3 12M necks
Some people try soldering extensions onto necks, or adding extensions onto mouthpieces, but this is just adding length and can make the response and overall playing very uneven, as a proper fix is to not just add length, but adjust volume as well. The 12.5M neck that Music Medic developed is newly made neck that is longer as well as having a larger diameter and bore dimensions. This has the net effect of lowering the pitch without screwing anything else up. There are plenty of other differences as well that we’ll get into, but the main objective behind these necks is lowering the pitch. The Wilmington part of the title refers to Wilmington, North Carolina – the location of Music Medic’s shop.
Curt Altarac, who is the mad genius behind Music Medic is a big Conn fan and a baritone fanatic. This project is clearly a labor of love for him. There have been newly made necks for baritones before, almost always for Selmer’s though. And lately a lot of people are getting into the custom made neck game (KB Winds in Queens NY, Boston Sax Shop to name a few) but they almost always focus on tenor, sometimes alto, and again, almost always for Selmers.
Whats in the box
The neck comes very well packed. It has a custom made box, with a fit styrofoam cut out to protect it in transit. They even made custom stickers for the box, which is a very nice touch. A lot of times small batch custom made saxophone parts or accessories come without any real branded packaging. There is a nice custom pouch that comes with the neck, sized to fit, with space for a mouthpiece perhaps. The neck was in a zip lock bag, with what I think is a silver protector strip to prevent tarnishing – a small detail, but a nice touch. The neck I had to try was silver plated with a sand blasted finish, but there are a number of different plating and finish options.
Inside the 12.5M neck
The neck is beautifully made. All of the soldering and construction is very clean and sturdy. I don’t have a way of testing the quality of the metals used, but given Music Medic’s reputation and the fact that this is a project derived from love of vintage horns more than sheer profit, I feel pretty safe in assuming that very high quality materials would have been used. The tenon and brace seem very solidly put together and the octave mechanism is substantial and should hold up very well.
I don’t personally love the aesthetic of the silver “satin” look – silver plating with what I think is maybe a sand blast finish. But the plating and the satin finish looked to be very well done, with no blemishes or inconsistencies. They also offer regular plating with or without the satin finish, silver, brass, and even gold. And hey, some people love the satin look so kudos to them for offering so many options.
My Conn 12M doesn’t suffer from the intonation issue these necks are designed to fix, but I did play the neck and check it with a tuner. I put the mouthpiece about halfway on, so I could easily lower the pitch further or raise it a bit. With the mouthpiece in the middle, the neck tuned approximately 30 cents lower than my normal neck! This should definitely give enough room for even horns that are a quarter step (50 cents) away from normal tuning. I found the tuning consistent throughout the range of the horn, or at least no more inconsistent than my normal Conn neck!
Octave Mechanism – No more hissing!
An interesting new octave key
Other than the length/tuning difference possibly the biggest difference from regular 12M necks is the octave mechanism – both the arm system and the chimney/hole. As opposed to the normal two small posts soldered directly onto the neck the 12.5M has one solidly built piece with a very interesting double headed screw system. This holds a flat spring similar to the traditional necks, but the whole thing feels a bit more substantial and perhaps less prone to damage. One thing to note is that due to every conn 12m being different the alignment of the bottom of the arm to the receiver and mechanism on the body of the horn may need to be customized or adjusted by a repairman (or a handy saxophonist) to make sure the octave opens properly and the proper amount at different angles etc.
I also noticed that the cup for the octave key pad is quite over-sized. I am not sure of the purpose of this but it’s definitely intentional, being maybe twice the diameter of the original. The pad installed was a black pad, I’m not sure if it was a dyed leather pad, roo pad, or synthetic, but it looked up to the job.
Octave key chimney on the 12.5M
Octave key chimney comparison – original in front, 12.5M in back
12.5M Neck octave system
A very important and large difference is the actual chimney or hole in the top of the neck for the octave key function. A lot of Conn 12M necks (including mine) have a very audible hiss when you play A, Bb, or B in the upper octave. This is due to a poor design in the octave key – it disappears if you play these notes without the octave key engaged, but you don’t get the assistance you normally would with the octave key. The proscribed fix is to stretch a piece of nylon over the opening to disrupt the air stream, and while this helps a little it does not resolve most of the hiss. The design and shape of the chimney on the 12.5M neck is completely different. It actually resembles the design of the secondary octave key stem found on the horn. I don’t know if its this, or the combination of the bore, over-sized pad etc, but the hissing is non-existent. This to me alone, is worth the price of the neck, let alone with the tuning help.
Tenon and cork
The size of of receivers and therefore tenons on old saxophones and especially Conn baritones can change drastically from one to the next. I actually provided the diameter of my receiver to Music Medic and they were kind enough to make sure the tenon was properly sized to fit. I originally went to try these necks a year or two ago and couldn’t because they didn’t fit my horn. Music Medic was also kind enough to size the cork to my mouthpiece as well. Both these things are something a local repairman should be able to do without too much difficulty.
The length of the tenon can also vary, but according to my comparison of 4 different necks the tenon length of the 12.5M matches the length of most of the necks, so should fit the length of most receivers just fine.
The design of the brace is quite different. On the standard 12M neck a thick band of brass is soldered to the under the neck following the curve. This is primarily to help prevent the “pull down” that can happen to necks especially when a mouthpiece is attached acting as a lever. The brace on the 12.5M neck is more of a bridge looking design. Instead of a band soldered the whole way its a large piece of metal affixed in 4 places that should provide stability. There is also a Wilmington logo built in. You’ll see in the photos that there is a blue covering on the brace, but I am not sure if this is the design or some protective covering left on from manufacturing.
Neck Angle & Playing the neck
Longer, but also with a higher angle
Perhaps the only thing I didn’t immediately love about this new neck is the different angle. The angle of the neck is a bit higher on the 12.5M than a regular neck. I personally didn’t prefer this angle but I know some people who would – personal preference here. The higher angle in addition to the extra length of the neck put the horn much farther away from me while playing and changed the feel quite a bit.
The neck played incredibly well. At least as well as my own neck – possibly better if you take into account the fixed hiss. This is an incredible achievement as I have tried a lot of old Conn necks and I prefer mine to any other I’ve tried so far, with some being really terrible. Playing the actual horn felt great, very similar sound and articulation response/attack wise. Perhaps a little brighter with more projection – possibly from the silver material? Hard to say. How well the neck played is particularly astounding given that I was playing about 30 cents flat – horns tend to respond and play best when closest to in tune since the tone holes are designed with that in mind – and my horn doesn’t have the tuning issue this neck is designed for, hence the flat pitch. Check out the video for the back to back playing examples.
The 12.5M neck with brass satin finish
As mentioned, the neck I had to review was the silver satin finish. The satin finish referring to a matte finish that I think is done with sandblasting. They also offer a straight plating finish for those that don’t want the satin finish. I image the satin option is purely aesthetic as I don’t think that would have too much affect on the sound or playing of the neck. They do offer a gold plated, gold satin, regular brass, and brass satin finishes as well as the silver plating and silver satin finishes. I imagine the straight brass and gold plating will alter the sound somewhat.
The brass or brass satin finish are $750. This a bit more than you’ll find most replacement necks for, especially if you’re buying a standalone neck on Ebay. But those necks can be terrible. Also, if you have a horn that is too sharp to comfortably play this neck is a fantastic option, and the only thing of its kind out there. If you want silver plating it’s an additional $150 ($900 total), and the gold option is an additional $290 ($1040 total).
The only other thing I’d like to note is that Music Medic also offer’s a regular 12M neck replacement, as well as high quality made necks for Buescher and Martin baritones. Check them all out on their site!
Do you own, or have you tried the 12.5M neck? Leave a comment below!