An interesting interview with baritone saxophonist Dana Colley. If you don’t know Morphine and you’re a fan of the baritone saxophone, especially in non straight-ahead jazz settings, this is a must listen band.
Dana and drummer Jerome Deupree made up 2/3 of the band Morphine and took part in a podcast interview recently. Its worth listening to.
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: