The post is worth a read and the album is definitely worth a listen. I think this is one of Gary’s best albums, especially in trio format.
Head on over and read the article to learn more about contrafacts and Gary’s album.
This interview was conducted and provided by Tim Hecker. Noah Pettibon is a student at Central Washington University and young aspiring baritone saxophonist. Big thanks to Tim for conducting the interview and writing it up for us at JazzBariSax.com!
Up and coming artist and undergrad Noah Pettibon was kind enough to give an interview with jazzbarisax.com after the recent release of his new straight-ahead and cool jazz influenced trio EP entitled Plus Two. For clarity, my questions are bolded and the artist’s answers are standard text. – Tim Hecker
First of all, what is your background in music? Who have been your mentors, teachers and inspirations?
I was born in 1998 and I’m from University Place, Washington which is next to Tacoma, a suburb of Seattle. I don’t come from a musical family, but music was always playing on a speaker somewhere. I always wanted to play music. I was given piano lessons from the age of 6 until I started playing alto saxophone in my 5th grade band. I switched to tenor eventually and started getting serious about music, then began pursuing the baritone in 10th grade. I played in a few local college and community bands in high school and the following year. Just before leaving for my first year at Central Washington University, I finally picked up clarinet and actually study it classically in the studio. I am heading into my second year there and will also be studying in the composition studio. Since 9th grade, I’ve been studying privately with alto saxophonist Tracy Knoop, an 80s Berklee graduate and staple of the straight ahead scene in the Pacific Northwest. He’s had a big influence on me and, most importantly, has taught me how to teach myself!Tell me a bit about your setup?
-1950 Conn 12M “Lady Face”
-RPC .95 refaced by Matt Marantz
-BG Leather lig
-D’Addario Jazz Select 4M Unfiled reeds
-Boston Sax Shop Balam strap
What are your interests outside of music?I love the arts in general. I enjoy learning about all kinds of creative mediums and crafts. I can always apply what I learn to music in some way. The internet can be an exceptionally constructive cure for boredom!
Let’s talk about your new EP, Plus Two-Right away I hear a lot of Gerry Mulligan; were you trying to emulate a Mulligan sound and style?
It’s interesting you say that. In my mind I’m actually thinking about Pepper Adams a lot, at least baritone-wise. This is kind of controversial, but I think Mulligan would have been one of my favorite musicians had he played tenor. To me he doesn’t sound at home on the baritone. That said, I do very much admire his writing, his time, his melodic sensibilities, etc. To give some credit to your observation, I was undoubtedly playing at the lighter aspects of my sound a lot of the time here.
Why a trio? Was the lack of piano another cue from Mulligan, was it who was available at the time or were you just experimenting and found something that worked?
Acoustically, the baritone tends to get kind of buried. The sound of the instrument is so rich and complex that it blends in with many different timbres. Sonically the low saxophones hold their own very well which we see being fleshed out a lot lately with solo work by artists like Colin Stetson and the like. That kind of music is not something I’m currently working on, so the best way I could see to display my sound in a straight ahead jazz setting was with this instrumentation. It was primarily an acoustic choice. Also a trio is cheaper!
Tell me about your choosing the straight-ahead style; is this subgenre a personal passion for you, or a homage to things past before you forge ahead into the future? Will you continue to release albums in this style or do you plan to experiment with new blends and mediums for your sound?
Like I said, the straight ahead jazz tradition is what I am focusing my studies on at the moment. It is at the core of the variety of styles of western improvised music today. I don’t think those styles could exist without it. I imagine I’ll always be playing and sharing this style of music, but I have begun putting serious effort towards expanding my palette. My musical interests are pretty diverse, and I set my standards quite high. After all, there are still so many things I’m yet to hear the baritone saxophone do! Ultimately, I want to be making music I would want to hear. No one but you can make music the exact way you would want it done!
A number of the tunes on this album are ones you wrote; what is your process?
Yes, two of the seven tracks are my original compositions. They say Duke Ellington wrote every day. It’s one of those things that you improve at just by doing and self-analyzing. Pepper Adams said “As a composer, I use up erasers faster than lead!” and I can also relate strongly to that. It’s like chipping marble off a massive, cumbersome block until you manage to refine it to something beautiful.
Do you write for baritone specifically?
It depends. Take Malocclusion for example, which is featured on this record. That was my effort to write something that could really only sound any good on baritone, using all the beautiful registers while providing a nice challenge. I don’t usually do that, though. I certainly never write with the saxophone or for it. Always on piano and with little regard for the so-called difficulty level. I would rather rise to meet the sound in my head rather write down to my abilities.
Tell me about some of your influences and favorite composers?
There are so many prolific writers across all of music, especially in this genre! If I had to name a few favorites, they’d be Thad Jones, Billy Strayhorn, Benny Golson, Vernon Duke, etc. When I was very young playing piano initially and thinking critically about music for the first time, I always gravitated towards Beethoven very heavily. Such passion and emotion behind every note! It’s not about the theory (although that aspect is beautiful too) but about how the music is being played!
What’s the story behind Dunning-Kruger Blues?
It’s kind of a convoluted story. It was originally an untitled 4-horn septet tune I was working on with my combo at CWU. One of the local guys, a wonderful flugelhorn player named Dmitri Matheny, came as a guest artist and performed with all the combos in the program. Since I’m rather poor with titles, I asked him for suggestions. He made note of the fact that the music looks rather difficult on the page, yet lays surprisingly well. He connected that observation to something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which I just recommend googling. To be honest, the rationale is rather shaky. Really, it’s just something to call the tune!
What do you want people to take from this album? Is there a personal meaning for you that might be different than others’ interpretations?
There’s no special message behind the music. I wasn’t trying to make a killin’ barn-burner record. I’m just excited and proud to be someone who’s barely 20 playing straight ahead as well as I know how. It’s not paying homage and it’s not looking to the future. It’s simply what’s happening right now!
Interview by Tim Hecker.
Dr. Jared Sims is the current Director of Jazz at West Virginia University and the former Assistant Director of Jazz at the University of Rhode Island. He performs on all of the saxophones, clarinet and flute, and has recorded with such artists as Bob Brookmeyer, Cecil McBee, the Temptations, the Four Tops and many others. He has both toured internationally and inspired young artists at home as the guest conductor of All State ensembles in multiple states. This week, he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule in order to give an interview to jazzbarisax.com. Here’s what he had to say–
I know you play a lot of baritone- in fact, you once told me that you are a bari sax guy at heart. What kindled your fondness for the baritone sax? What keeps you coming back to it?
I like to say that I did not necessarily pick the baritone — the baritone picks me. I like it because it feels natural to me. The other saxes feel great too, but the baritone has always felt normal and in some ways easier for me. I first had the baritone in my hands when I was in the fifth grade. The band teacher tried to slow me down but instead I was playing bari in the high school jazz band by the end of my fifth grade year.
What artists and recordings have influenced you as a saxophonist, especially but not exclusively on baritone? To what degree do those who came before you influence your own recordings?
I really like the fire of Ronnie Cuber and Pepper Adams and the imagination of Sahib Shihab and Cecil Payne. Tradition is very important and to me. I think we have to reference tradition in our playing to add depth to our sound, but we also need to know the tradition in order to find new ways of presenting the music in terms of forms, or harmonies, or phrasing.
What is the first thing you notice when listening to a saxophonist, and what draws you to that element of playing?
I think the sound is the first thing. If the sound is not full or it is out of tune or uncentered, it is really hard to hear. Otherwise, I notice the phrasing and the rhythm of what is being played. In some ways the sound of the instrument is the HARDEST and MOST IMPORTANT thing that we can do on the saxophone but so often students do not make this a primary focus of study.
The classic question- what is your setup, and why is your equipment what it is? Do you think equipment makes a difference, or do you believe that it is all up to the player?
I have two baritone setups and go back and forth between them. One is a silver Buescher True Tone/Big B from the 1930s. It is a strange transitional horn and only about 900 of them were made. The other baritone is a silver Conn Naked Lady from the late 1940s. The mouthpieces that I use are a vintage Berg Larsen and a new Theo Wanne. I use Marca reeds either 2.5 or 3 strength.
I choose a setup based on the gig – the style and what instruments that I need to blend with. I think it’s up the player to live with the setup and not expect the setup to feel good right away. That said, I think players need to experiment a lot with every aspect of the setup — including where the ligature sits on the mouthpiece, the reed placement, etc. At the end of the day, though, yes a great player will sound great playing anything.
Another classic question- what is your practice routine? Do you have any practice rituals specific to bari sax?
My most recent favorite practice routine is to play 20 minutes on each instrument starting with flute, then clarinet, alto, tenor, and then baritone. My entire baritone technique is based on efficiency, which means that the air and the fingers and everything needs to be as perfect as possible to have the right sound and precision. That said, I could pick up a baritone cold without playing a bunch of other small instruments, but it’s good to have a nice long routine to put the air and fingers in the right place.
What are your interests outside of music? Do you find that they influence your playing, and if so in what way?
I really like to travel, to go to art museums, and to be outdoors. These are all things that help to investigate the creative process and to contemplate creativity.
Do you aim for certain qualities in your sound? What do you do to achieve the sound that you want?
I like a FULL sound with all of the different ranges of the sound included. Sometimes, I record myself and listen back to hear the true sound of the instrument. In general, mouthpiece sirens and overtones open up the sound. At this point, I have done a lot of that work so just making music and hearing my sound is enough to center the sound. A lot of musical issues get taken care of by simply having the horn in hand and spending time making music. It is all very intuitive to me.
If you could say one thing to people interested in specializing in bari sax, what would it be?
There is a misconception that the baritone takes a lot more air and that you have to play slower or fewer notes or perhaps play more simply on baritone. I think it probably does take some more air, but if the setup is right I think it is possible to do all of the same things on baritone that other sax players are doing.
My work on this website didn’t make it to the article, but there is a nice piece in DownBeat Magazine from an interview I did where we discussed being a DIY or Indie musician today.
Click on the picture to download and read the article from the June 2018 issue of DownBeat Magazine. Article by Bill Milkowski.
While we have done some more recent interviews with great baritone saxophonists, there are some excellent historical interviews floating around the internet and we’d like to highlight some of them for you.
- Interview with Harry Carney and Johnny Hodges, from Downbeat Magazine in 1962
- Harry Carney interviewed by Valerie Wilmer in 1964
- Another interview with Harry Carney, this time from Crescendo Magazine in 1966
- Danny Bank, interviewed by JazzWax in 2008. Full interview now found on AllAboutJazz.com
- Hamiet Bluiett, interviewed by Fred Jung of Jazz Weekly
- There is a whole slew of Pepper Adams interviews listed and linked to at PepperAdams.com
- GerryMulligan.com has a number of nice Video Interviews with Gerry Mulligan
- Dana Colley Interviewed in 2000
- There is a nice series of Videos produced by Jazz At Lincoln Center, interviewing the late Joe Temperley, collected nicely on modernbarisax.com
Check out this excellent featurette on baritone saxophonist, Gary Smulyan:
- Why the baritone? I found my voice on the baritone saxophone during my senior year of high school. I had been playing the lead alto chair in our jazz band for three years however was trumped in the audition by a great friend. We had both been studying with David Glasser from NYC at the time and had both learned that the two most important chairs in the saxophone section were the lead alto and the baritone…support! Since my friend and I each knew one another’s playing, it was an easy switch for me to hopefully offer a stronger support in the section instead of playing the second alto chair. Needless to say, I loved it and never looked back.
- Favorite recordings of and/or with baritone saxophone? 10 to 4 at the 5 spot, Encounter & Julian by Pepper Adams; The Concert Jazz Band stuff by Gerry Mulligan; Stop and Listen by Cecil Payne & anything by Leo Parker
- What’s your equipment/set up? Right now I’m floating between two set ups: 1. Berg Larson Hard Rubber 110/2 SMS chamber with a Rovner Lig and Rico Jazz Select 3M reeds 2. Vandoren B9 with their M/O Brass Lig and Vandoren ZZ #2 reeds. I find each suitable for many different occasions but if there is an extra punch needed, then I throw on my Berg
- Low A, Low Bb, or “My favorite horn is the one in front of me” ? I currently play a low “A” horn; Yamaha 62 with some custom work done after an extensive repair from an airline incident. I’ve owned a 1920 Silver Conn low Bb however did not play it that often so I sold it to someone who is playing it full-time. I’d love to find another low Bb horn as I believe they speak better all around the horn…and as a soloist, I find that the horns themselves resonate with more colors than a low A horn
- Anything specific to the baritone you recommend practicing? Just think of it as another saxophone, not a baritone…that’s a common stereotype, that this horn we love is SO different than the other saxophones. Don’t be scared, put some air into it and your back into it and have some fun! LONGTONES!!!!!!!!!!!!
- Favorite venue/place to play? Anyplace where the audience is involved/engaged. They want to feel the energy as well…not just the musicians playing for themselves (or each other). I love live clubs where there is conversation going on music related…not just obscene talking or chatter. In Los Angeles, I really enjoy the Blue Whale, Jazz at the CAP, Alvas, The Lighthouse, Vitello’s and then anything that In-House Music represents.
- When travelling, does the horn go under or in the plane? IN THE PLANE – but be nice! Everyone is just trying to do their jobs and being an ass gets you nowhere! Be accommodating as well. Most of us traveling with the new “Manning” custom cases also take pics on our cell phones of the horn in the overhead/closet on the different aircraft models that we are flying on. But overall, JUST BE NICE and they are usually pretty understanding. If not, stand your ground in a polite and reassuring way and continue to ask for their supervisor.
- Favorite quotes about music? Keep On, Keepin’ On (Clark Terry); Take care of the MUSIC, and the MUSIC will take care of you (John Clayton); the 5 “T’s” of playing (Oscar Peterson) and Dizzy’s list (can’t remember what its called at the moment)
- What do you do when not playing music? Enjoy the outdoors…mother natures natural symphony. Compose and sing; work in another field which I feel allows me to focus in on music at a much more heightened state when I get the chance. Read and spend time with my family. All of which I’ve mentioned above leads right back to my passion, our passion, which is music.
- Bonus Question: “A penguin walks through that door right now wearing a sombrero. What does he say and why is he here?” Humor Me, you look just as lost as I do…but lets enjoy today for what today brings and hopefully make a few smiles and memories along the way
The latest installation of our interview series is with a baritone saxophonist who is taking over the world. Paul Nedzela was kind enough to spend some time while on the road with the prestigious Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra to give us some insight into his artistry. He has recently been seen performing with the Village Vanguard Orchestra and you can catch him with the Ted Nash big band later this month at Dizzy’s in NYC. On a personal note, I have great respect and awe for Paul’s talents and his congenial vibe. I am glad he has shared some insight into his world with us. – Hadro
Sound is always the first thing I notice about any player, regardless of what instrument they play. And personally, I think that sound is the defining characteristic of most baritone players. Though the sound wasn’t what initially drew me to the baritone in the first place. When I went to junior high school, everyone picked up an instrument, and I picked tenor sax. It wasn’t til a year later, after I showed some proclivity for the horn, that they switched me to the baritone; in part, because I was a little bigger than the other kids. Looking back on those first couple of years, like many other bari players, I looked forward to getting the chance to honk out a few low notes and make my mark. It wasn’t until I started studying privately that I started to mature, and slowly approach the instrument differently. I began to hear some of the great baritone players around town; taking in the unique voices each of them had on the instrument. I slowly grew as a musician, assimilating as much as I could, and working as hard as I could to take what I heard and recreate it in my own way.
The baritone, more than other horns because of it’s register, can have very different personalities. It is able to sound light and romantic in the upper register, full and vibrant in the middle, and sharp or robust in the lower. It can take on the characteristics of a tenor sax or a trombone, but also a cello, bassoon and even the human voice when played well. Each player must decide for themselves what it is they want to hear in their own sound. Of course, set up can have a lot to do with that. Different horns and mouthpieces will lend themselves towards one approach or another. Personally, I prefer a low Bb horn and I tend to think that older horns have warmer and richer sounds, though that is certainly a generalization. There is nothing inherent in modern horns that prevent them from being able to do that, I just don’t think it’s a priority for those who make the horns these days. Low A baritones have to add a fair amount of metal tubing to the horn which changes the intonation and sound of the horn. Low A’s are recalibrated to account for this of course, but I tend to believe that the extra note isn’t worth it. Ultimately, however, I believe that it is the man or woman behind the horn that makes the sound, regardless of what he or she is playing. Michael Jordan will always be Jordan, no matter what shoes he is wearing. Bird will always sound like Bird, and Coltrane like Coltrane.
My influences have changed over the years. My first exposure to the baritone was with the album, Birth of the Cool. That got me checking out a lot of Gerry Mulligan. I loved his pianoless quartet albums. He would certainly be my first influence. After a while I started to feel that my playing was mirroring his a little too much and I started to move away from it. I started listening to a lot of Pepper Adams. I loved his playing with Thad Jones on Mean What You Say, and with Charles Mingus on Blues and Roots. Then I started seriously listening to the baritone players I could in NYC like Joe Temperley, Ronnie Cuber and Gary Smulyan. After a while, I really started listening to and transcribing a lot of other sax players, not just baritone. Now I would consider some of my big influences to be Cannonball, Coltrane, Joe Henderson, and Bird. The real benefit to that for me was realizing that the baritone, like any instrument is to any artist, is a medium or a tool; a means of expressing the music in each of us. And why restrict our appreciation to those who happen to play the same instrument we do?
Now in terms of practicing, I find it hard to give general tips to an unknown audience. But I will say that it’s important to know how to get to Carnegie Hall. For sound, there is no replacement for long tones. There are many different ways to approach long tone exercises, but no real substitute for doing them. Technical exercises can depend on what you’re going for as a musician. I do think that fundamentals will always be important. Knowing and being able to play all types of scales in all keys, at all tempos. A simple enough idea, but a difficult one to master. Then anything from etudes, to an endless combination and permutation of patterns to practice getting around the horn. I think transcribing is a great way to train one’s ear and also assimilate the playing styles of the players we love. Then there is the idea of playing in an ensemble. There are so many skills and concepts to practice in that setting that it’s hard for me to know where to begin. I would say that it’s important to know one’s place at all moments within the group; how your note fits in the chord, what your role is in the composition, what other instruments you’re playing with, and who is leading and who is following. But an overarching idea that I’d like to stress is the importance of focus in everything we play and practice.
The best lesson I’ve learned is that the goal of a musician should not be how to impress or make his or her mark, as I once thought as a child, but rather how to make as much music as possible. And the goal of music, for me, is to evoke emotion, whatever that emotion might be.