In the next installment of the JazzBariSax.com interview series we have with a us a veteran of the baritone saxophone. Kenny Berger is a complete wealth of knowledge and history of the baritone saxophone. We are very glad he has shared some of his experiences with us.
Why the baritone? – I have always had an attraction to lower pitched sounds and I find the baritone register compatible with my own speaking voice. I also was attracted to its versatility as an ensemble voice as well as a solo voice.
Favorite recordings? – “Reflectory” by Pepper Adams on the Muse label is my favorite record of his and the title track features what I consider to be his best recorded solo. Dakar (Prestige)issued under John Coltrane’s name but actually led by Pepper, features a front line of Trane, Pepper and Cecil Payne. Several of Harry Carney’s features with Ellington are essential listening, including “The Telecasters” from such Sweet Thunder, “Frustration” from the Bethlehem sessions as well as La Plus Belle Africaine and Chromatic Love Affair. I love all the Mulligan Concert Jazz Band records. though my interest in them is primarily from my point of view as an arranger.
Equipment setup? – My horn is a low B-flat Selmer Mark VI ,110,000 series which dates to the early 60’s. Mouthpiece is an old rubber Otto Link Tone Edge 7* that I bought around 40 years ago and used for several years on my old Conn. When I began playing the Selmer I had the piece worked on by Phil Barone and have been using it exclusively for around 20 years. Reeds are Alexander Superial DC 2 and a half. The reeds are so much better than any others I’ve tried that my biggest fear is that like many good pieces of baritone equipment, they may one day stop making them due to lack of demand. So help keep me in business. Buy several hundred boxes today!
Low A or B-flat?– I am a devout low B-flat advocate. Adding the extra tubing for lowA throws the horn out of tune with itself and alters the tone quality of all the notes below written low D and can also cause the palm keys to tune flat. On any conical stopped pipe ( sax, oboe..) the note nearest the bell (low Bb) tends to be bright in quality and relatively free in response while the next note up ( B natural) tends to tune a bit flat and be somewhat stuffy in response. With the low a added these qualities get thrown out of whack and also can have bad effect on the lowC# if the tone hole is not placed right. Every time I play a low B-flat on a lowA horn, I want to reach into the bell and remove the dead animal that I’m sure must be stuck in there. I have several ways of producing a low A without the key. I could describe them but then I would have to kill you.
Anything specific to the baritone you recommend practicing?- The main things I recommend practicing are articulation and overtone exercises. For a jazz baritone player it’s all about articulation as far as I’m concerned. Every time I hear a player whose lines get garbled, whose time is shaky and/or can’t be heard without a mic, it is due to a lack of command of articulation. If you have trouble projecting the solution is not using the brightest sounding setup available, it;s getting your tongue to play more of a role in how you shape your lines and where you place the time.
Tips for young baritone saxophonists? – The horn is an inanimate object. A piece of brass tubing. You, presumably, are a human being with the ability to make inanimate objects conform to your needs. Therefore don’t let the baritone’s size and weight distort your air-stream and and body shape. Try to have the horn hang in a way that allows you to address the mouthpiece and the keys without scrunching up your shoulders and folding your windpipe. No matter how intense the music gets, try not to make what I call the “Jazz Face” (squeezed tight with all energy directed toward the tip of the nose). Keep the so-called facial mask relaxed and open. This is one of the most important lessons i learned from the great Danny Bank which he learned from watching Harry Carney up close.
Try to maintain the integrity of your sound regardless of how loud or unresponsive the rhythm section may get. Don’t change to a bright,uncontrollable setup purely for the sake of projection. Other players’s insensitivity is their problem, not yours. Of course in situations dominated by amplification all bets are off. Best to just ram those earplugs in, cash the check before it can bounce and live to fight another day.
Airplane travel? I long ago gave up the ancient practice of engaging in the ritual dance with airline employees. I have a specially made flight case made by Calzone. It goes under the plane. They make a tracing of the horn and create the tray to fit the individual horn. I had one that was made of wood and lasted me 22 years. The new ones are made of a material that is lighter, thinner and more durable. Never had any damage with a Calzone case.
Favorite quotes about music? – Perhaps my favorite quote about music was not said about music at all. The great Lawrence P. Berra while watching a young hitter try to copy a famous player’s batting stance said “If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him”.
When not playing music? – I am a rabid baseball fan and an avid reader. I sometimes have 2 or 3 books going at once including books on space science, evolutionary science, history and the occasional murder mystery.
I also dig trail hiking, camping and birding. Playing and writing music takes place in too many windowless rooms. Got to get outdoors.
And of course be sure to check out the rest of the interviews from the JazzBariSax.com interview series.