A few weeks ago Paul Nedzela prepared a great overview and history of the baritone saxophone as part of Lincoln Center’s Jazz Academy. The video is now up on YouTube! It includes a great basic history of the baritone saxophone in jazz with lots of listening examples, and at the end Paul answers a bunch of questions for everyone. If you didn’t catch the initial live stream check it out below:
There are a number of albums on the horizon or available now that everyone might be interested in. So in order of release please check out the following:
Brian Landrus – For Us
Brian’s new release features one hell of a band (Fred Hersch – piano, Drew Gress – bass, Billy Hart – drums, Michael Rodriguez – trumpet) as well as Brian playing his usual baritone and a host of other instruments. The album also features some string writing. What I’ve heard so far sounds excellent! So fans of modern writing for the baritone should definitely check this one out. Its available now, grab a copy here from Brian’s website.
Gary Smulyan – Our Contrafacts
Gary’s next album is another trio recording. I am very much looking forward to this one, which is a follow up to his last trio recording “Alternative Contrafacts“ that I enjoyed very much. Gary excels at trio playing – he is a master of harmony and the chordless setting really allows him to dictate all of the harmony very freely.
The album has listed release date of June 2020, but it looks like it might be available already? Head over to Gary’s site to check it out.
Ronnie Cuber – Four, Straight Street
Finding information on Ronnie can be hard these days. He doesn’t have a working website, and the record company (SteepleChase) that he has put some recordings out on doesn’t either. He’s also approaching 80 (78 as of now) and hasn’t been seen out performing as much, certainly not in the US. But he does seem to have produced a few recordings recently. The two most recent are “Four” and “Straight Street“, I believe from 2019. Fans of Ronnie will enjoy these as its still a powerful baritonist with a big sound and lots of edge.
However, I have to say this is not peak Ronnie Cuber. I don’t say this to be harsh, the man has played more baritone than pretty much anyone else alive. But I do want to warn fans to perhaps temper their expectations, and know that there are other recordings of Ronnie that better capture his incredible playing. Having grown up listening to him constantly, and even taken some (very strange) lessons with him, I’m glad we have more recordings of him even if they aren’t going to go down in history as his best.
I normally restrict my rants to the baritone saxophone and post them on this site. But over the last few years I’ve been tackling the bass saxophone. Its been quite challenging. I’ve also learned a lot about it. Most baritonists seem to appreciate a good low end, so I thought I’d share an article I recently wrote. It was published in the WAVE (We Are Vandoren E-Newsletter) today.
It covers a bit of the history of the bass saxophone, both the players as well as the instrument itself. There are also a number of video examples and it covers a lot of the modern practitioners of the horn. So if you have any interest in learning a little about the bass saxophone, head on over and give it a read.
After much skull sweat, and deliberating I would like to unveil two new articles.
The first is a list of 5 Essential Baritone Saxophone Albums. This list is intended to be a sort of primer for those looking to dip their toes into the deep pool that is the history of the baritone saxophone. I’ve done my best to distill 5 albums that are probably the most influential for the baritone saxophone in jazz. Not necessarily the absolute pinnacle of artistry, but good starting places for future fans of the big horn.
The second article is one that veterans of this website will find more interesting. Its a ‘Deeper’ Dive into the baritone saxophone. These are albums and/or players you may not have heard of but may find very exciting. The list goes from slightly past the main stream to extreme niche, so there should be something new there for just about everyone. Since this type of list in inherently far more subjective I reached out to some very prominent baritone saxophonist of today to get their input as well. So you can see what each had to add.
Whether you’ve come to this site for an initial foray into the baritone saxophone or are looking to delve quite deep, I hope there’s something here new and exciting for you.
Thanks to Benjamin Trimboli we have our first solo transcription of a Paul Nedzela solo. Paul is the baritone saxophonist with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and recently released his debut album. The solo is on “Strange Bedfellows“, one of Paul’s tunes that uses the chord changes from the popular Benny Golson song, “Stablemates“. This transcription is from that album, so head on over to the transcriptions page and check it out!
The story of how Serge Chaloff left Woody Herman’s band is an oft told colloquial story in jazz history. The story is often given as a humorous example of how to stay employed, although perhaps not for long. What is often less told is the story of how Woody did finally fire Serge. I have heard the story, both parts, from many reputable sources so I’m fairly comfortable posting the story without too much worry that it was false. There is a written, published account of the story that seems to have more details than most tellings so I wanted to reproduce it here.
Steve Voce told this story:
“Woody wanted to break up the Second Herd when, fronting it on the bandstand one night, he turned around and found that half the horns had fallen asleep. Serge Chaloff used to sell drugs to the rest of the band from behind a blanket on the band bus.
Eventually, because he was the source of the disruption, Woody fired Serge. But, since he was not a harsh man, Woody told Serge he could stay with the band until they reached Boston (Serge’s home town) on their tour.
The night before they were due in Boston, the band played at Nuttings in Waltham, on the Charles River. The building they played in was on a pier sticking out above the river. At the intermission Serge asked Woody to come out on the balcony.
‘Look down in the river.’ Serge told Woody, ‘and tell me what you see.’
‘Nothing,’ said Woody, ‘except a lot of pieces of paper floating about.’
‘That’s the band’s baritone book,’ said Serge, who knew the book off by heart. ‘Now you can’t fire me.’
He was right. Woody had to keep Serge another year before he could get the baritone parts copied out so he could fire him.”
Steve continues the story later. This is after a year or so when Woody Herman was able to have all of the baritone parts for his band re-copied out, and therefore was able to fire Serge.
“The pissing incident happened one night when Woody and Serge were standing crushed up against each other in an extremely crowded bar, after a gig. Woody took this opportunity to get some payback by peeing on Serge’s leg. Since the bar was so crowded, Serge couldn’t move away, even after he realized what was happening.”
Paul Nedzela is the baritone saxophonist with Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. On Wednesday April 29th at 4pm (Eastern) he will be giving an online masterclass. I’d highly recommend watching it!
Here’s the description from the Facebook event:
“Paul Nedzela guides you through the family tree of baritone saxophonists, highlighting some of the instrument’s most influential players, and playing examples of their work!
Join us through our Zoom link or on Jazz Academy’s Facebook page on April 29 at 4 pm EST.”
UPDATE: Paul did a great job! I’m hoping that Lincoln Center archives the presentation. If so, I’ll be sure to link to it on the site. – Andrew