Tone vs. Notes

 As I previously mentioned on the home page, I have always concentrated on perfecting a sax tone that is both distinctive and scintillating. To me, what makes the tenor sax so sexy is a properly executed growling, edgy tone. Many players concentrate on playing as many notes as possible during riffs and solos. While this may demonstrate technical excellence, it  fails to capitalize on the distinctive soulful sound the sax brings to the table. A playing style that combines a growling, soulful, raspy tone with fewer and long held notes produces a sound that no other instrument can replicate - it is distinctive and provides an abrupt change of pace to and helps eliminate the monotony of a song. Clarence Clemons was the absolute master of this style - his mid song solos elevated and changed the feeling of Springsteen's songs which helped make them so successful. A classic example is "Jungleland" - coming right after a sequence of powerful vocals and screaming guitars, his long solo featuring long held, growling, soulful notes was absolutely mesmerizing; not "technically" difficult in terms of the notes played, but the TONE changed the song and racheted up the emotion that Bruce was trying to convey with his lyrics. 

Sax in Rock and Blues

 Of course I'm coming from a position of prejudice here, but I've always believed the sax can be an important element in many rock and blues band projects. It adds a distinctive change of pace to the sound of a band's core instruments - guitars, bass, keys and drums. If used properly, the results can be electrifying - as was the case with Bruce Springsteen's use of Clarence Clemon's sax solos. His solos in the middle of Bruce's songs added a jolt of excitement and energy to the songs and his live shows. The sax can also be a very effective vocal accent instrument alternating with guitar accents to add variety to the sound. BUT, to be most effective, the sax should come and go and not played continously throughout a song, except of course in some R & B songs that contain continual structered horn riffs and Elmore James type blues songs in which the sax is a prominent player. The soulful sound of the sax is....well, just plain sexy!

Sax Tech

 Here's a little known fact about the saxophone (EXCEPT of course sax players who KNOW this already!) - but the brand, type and style of the horn (the main section of the sax below the sax neck) affects  only about 15% of the sound it emits. The main reasons for buying a more expensive model is the workmanship, the design (ie. like the Keilwerth with a larger bow and bell),  the material, the quality of the keys mechanisms/pads and the general "feel" of the horn. The 15% sound variance is mainly due to the material (ie. brass, copper, silver, or hybrid metal) and any plating that's applied. Plating usually results in what's called a "darker" more traditional tone, while unplated horns are "brighter" - the rock and blues sound.  Also, brass and copper horns are darker in tone while silver is the brightest. BUT, remember, we're only 15% of the way into the overall sound...

The neck, which is the curved piece between the horn and the mouthpiece, affects another 15% of the sound; and again it's the material used and somewhat the shape that is relevant to different sound qualities.

Finally, the "holy grail" of the sax - 70% of the sound is a result of the mouthpiece design, which can be a very detailed and intensive discussion in its own right - here is a great reference site if you're so inclined: . 
My infinitely reliable silver Keilwerth SX90R tenor sax

The Rock/Blues Sound

 I talked in the previous section about the importance of the mouthpiece design. To get an aggresive rock and blues tone with lots of buzz and edge you need (1) the proper mouthpiece, (2) deep, diaphram breathing and (3) "the growl". Growling is a technique in which you simultaneously blow and hum from the back of your throat. This requires quite a bit more air stream than just blowing which is why proper diaphram breathing is so important. If you hum a tone either below or above the note you're playing, the sound will be distorted, giving it that desired raspy, nasty sound. But If you hum the same as the note, there is no effect.

Theo Wanne

 Not unlike ANY good sax player I have spent a GOOD portion of my life trying to find the ultimate rock mouthpiece; and I've basically tried them all. Then I stumbled onto Theo Wanne Classic Mouthpieces...and the rest is history! Theo custom made one for me based on his SHIVA 2 model that is the nastiest, raunchiest, edgiest thing I've ever played. Here's a link to his incredible products:

In Memoriam