Resources for Students

Lately I’ve been creating my own resources to use with students and others who may be looking for materials. As of now this has been limited to fingering charts for the altissimo register (for soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone), but I’m going to expand it to include quarter-tone fingering charts, overtone exercises, fingering exercises, etc.

Please let me know if anyone is interested in these materials. I’ll make them available to anyone who may benefit from them.

The Benefits of Adaptation

I’ve thought about this a great deal and am now prepared to share some of my thoughts about it.

I’ve conceded to playing more jazz over the past five years and it has proved to be very beneficial to my playing. At first I was hesitant to begin working on this style, having studied classical music for the better part of fifteen years at that point. However, my reluctance was all for nothing. My independent study of jazz has proven to me that there are benefits to my classical playing, and my jazz playing has benefited from my classical studies.

Some of the benefits include: classical technique improves jazz performance, aural skills acquired for jazz benefit classical playing, the more flexible embouchure used in jazz helps to “loosen up” my classical playing to create a more flexible sound palette, my jazz playing has never been “academic” — which I believe has made my playing more personal and expressive.

These are just things that I’ve noticed in my own playing. I’m sure that others out there will notice similar (or perhaps even different) things in their playing.

As I continue on my musical journey, there will be other things that will contribute to my playing and musicianship. Two things that will always influence what I do are: 1) my heavy classical training, and 2) my love for both classical music and jazz.

Some Recent Thoughts about Mouthpieces

Over the past few years, I’ve had numerous thoughts about mouthpieces and reeds–mostly about how my tastes have changed. Following my guest artist recital last month, I was fortunate enough to try a mouthpiece with a very different facing from what I currently use. I must say, I was impressed with the mouthpiece’s response and quality. To that end, I’ve put together some additional thoughts about mouthpieces that I’d like to share.

First of all, my taste in sound has changed over time. Being separated from my university studies and constantly being in an environment of classical saxophone for some time now, I’ve really come to appreciate the various types of saxophone tones that are out there. Don’t misunderstand me, I still have my preferences and I still believe that there are tones out there that are not of the best quality–but I have accepted and even encouraged the exploration of different types of sounds.

Though I prefer a dark, warm, and focused tone, I believe that the tone should be responsive and flexible, capable of adapting to the demands of any type of music. The mouthpieces that I’ve played on over the years were certainly capable of that; however, I now think that some of my mouthpieces are not the most conducive to providing a flexible tone. I’ve noticed a real consistency of tone with these mouthpieces, but not always the ability to change it if the music demanded it. I think that this new perception of mine is possibly due to the amount of jazz playing I’ve done over the past 5 years. It is essential while playing jazz to modify the tone according to the demands of the music (sometimes even within a single phrase or line). Why can’t this also hold true for classical performance?

I’ve also preferred playing on softer reeds over the last few years (again, possibly influenced by my jazz playing). There was a time when I played on very hard reeds (strength 5s) on a mouthpiece that was opened up and already resistant. But at that time, the type of playing I was doing demanded that I do that. Since then, I’ve cut down on the reed strength (no harder than a 4 now), as well as experimenting with different cuts of reeds. Instead of resistance, I’m now looking for a more responsive reed/mouthpiece combination, more “core” in the tone, and a more flexible embouchure.

As I’ve noticed some deficiencies in my playing, I feel that making some slight changes will allow me to focus on correcting those deficiencies. As long as the tone and intonation don’t suffer, I think these alterations will prove to be beneficial to my overall playing.

Guest Artist Recital

It’s been quite some time since I last wrote a blog post. This past Thursday I had the wonderful opportunity to present a guest artist recital at my alma mater, SUNY Fredonia. My incredible teacher, Dr. Wildy Zumwalt, helped organize the event, and I’m so very grateful and pleased that the performance went well and was well-attended.

I also had the privilege of performing with the incredible pianist Amber Shay Nicholson (who was on the piano faculty at USM when I studied there). With her collaboration, we performed three incredible works for alto saxophone and piano: Andrew Martin Smith’s Amalgamation, Brandon Nelson’s Unbecoming, and Paul Creston’s Sonata, op. 19. I’m very pleased with how the performance went and I’m looking forward to hearing the recording!

Two unaccompanied works were also performed: Jamie Leigh Sampson’s With No Name and Everette Minchew’s Figment. These also went well.

Afterwards, I got to reconnect with my teacher, composer Andrew Martin Smith, saxophonist Diane Hunger, and my friends in the Decho Ensemble.

The entire experience was musically fulfilling, and I’m looking forward to some jazz performances in the coming months.

From a research perspective, I was able to finally visit the Sigurd Rascher Archive and do some more research into his relationship with composer Roman Palester. I found some information that I was not privy to back when I began my dissertation, and I’m going to begin writing another article about them this summer.

Diversification

I have been thinking a lot lately about diversification. I should have begun diversifying myself more while I was still in college. However, it’s never too late.

What drew me to the saxophone in the first place was the pop/rock music of the late 1980s — which was when I started playing the saxophone in the 4th grade. I discovered jazz in middle school, which further cemented the saxophone’s hold on me. Once I entered college and discovered the classical side of the saxophone, I was immediately hooked and I focused all of my energy on that particular style, to the detriment of learning how to play jazz well.

Now that I have been out of school for almost 10 years, the value of playing jazz and doubling has come full circle. I have Oliver Nelson’s “Patterns for Improvisation” and some of Jamey Aebersold’s “Play Along” series on my music stand, in addition to Ruggiero’s etudes. I am doing my best to structure my practice time and divide it evenly between classical and jazz. I also have Klose’s Clarinet Method and Belwin’s “The Flutist’s Companion” to work on my doubling skills.

I encourage all saxophonists to study as much as they can while still in school, because it becomes much more difficult when you’re out of school and have many other things that need your attention: teaching, bills, house, etc.

Let’s get to work!

Fall Updates

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted, and many things have happened in the interim. I’m please to announce that I have been appointed as a member of the Peer Review Team for http://www.thesaxophonist.org, where I join Christopher Creviston, Bob Fuson, Matt Olson, Heidi Radtke, Idit Shner, and Michael Shults. I’m extremely humbled and excited to be a part of this group and to continue contributing to the online magazine. On a related note, my interview with my mentor, Dr. Lawrence Gwozdz will be published in The Saxophonist in the near future.

My activities in the Hudson Valley are really taking off this fall, with several performances coming up between now and Christmas. If you’re in the area, please come on down and hear the concert and introduce yourself afterwards! I’d love to meet anyone who comes by.

Something that I’m very passionate about right now is a new mouthpiece that I just recently acquired. I just received a handmade Morgan GM baritone mouthpiece and it is the best jazz baritone mouthpiece I’ve ever played on. The tone is very warm and focused, the intonation is excellent, and the articulation is effortless. I’m excited to play it in performances this fall! If you play any jazz baritone, I highly recommend this mouthpiece. If you happen to play a vintage instrument like mine, the XL version is designed with those instruments in mind.

I will be creating a YouTube channel this fall which will focus on many playing topics, as well as containing playing demos. I will announce the official launch on Facebook in the near future.

Ideas for a Recording

I’ve had ideas for a recording for some time now, and I’d like to be able to actually follow through with it. I know that it is a time-consuming and expensive process, but it’s totally worth it. I made one as a member of the Sax-Chamber Orchestra when I was just starting my doctoral work at USM, and I recall how intense the process was, and how much preparation was needed.

I’d like to record music that I truly believe in and can play well, not just anything that I can put together on short notice. I have several pieces that I’d like to record because of their artistic quality, as well as my joy and fulfillment when playing them. Works by my colleagues would make up a large portion of the recording, if not all of it.

One thing I’m not sure of yet is whether I should record only works for alto saxophone, or include works on the other saxophones too. Since 2008, I’ve worked with several composers and many have used the alto saxophone, but some have used the soprano saxophone, including Jim Willey who wrote a fantastic piece for me called “Mood Swings” for soprano saxophone and piano. Currently, I’d like to have a variety of works on the program, including unaccompanied works and works with piano, by a variety of composers. I keep vacillating between some choices on the program, but the core pieces have not changed.

I think that the recording may have to be produced in stages – that is, recording a piece or two in one location at one particular time, and then recording another piece or two at another time in another location, etc. This may be the best solution overall, but certainly not the most cost-effective. Finding a pianist is also a challenge – some of the pieces are very demanding. I know a few fine pianists, so I’m going to start with them.

This dream of mine to record music written for me has been in the back of my mind for many years, and I’m hoping to finally produce it and be able to share it with my colleagues, students, and other saxophone enthusiasts. If anyone has any thoughts or ideas that they’d like to share with me, please feel free to contact me.