Sam Newsome

Sam Newsome
"The potential for the saxophone is unlimited." - Steve Lacy

LIVE on WFMU with Kurt Gottschalk

Monday, August 13, 2018

Thought of the day: Outsider/Insider

When you decide to become an artist, even when you become famous, you’re still an outsider. So get used to it. And for the record: Being an outsider or insider is usually not about the number of fans you have, nor the amount of money you have, but the vision you have. Embrace it. Share it.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thought of the day: Ruler

Most people live in a world that they inherit. Artists live in a world that they create. And not just any world, a micro-world.  Even though it starts off small,  it can become so influential that it changes the macro-world at large. Don't settle for macro-world citizenry. Become a micro-world ruler. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Thought of the day: Having a Job

I'm a big proponent of artists/musicians getting 9-5 jobs. It's nothing wrong with paying the bills while continuing to stay focused on your vision. Is it better to be continually gigging and having lost your direction, or selectively gigging keeping your focus intact?

Thought of the day: The Harvest

I release recordings for three reasons:

1. So I won’t forget them.

2. So I can share them.

3. So I can then move on to the next thing.

Focus not on the harvest, but on planting the seeds. Fertile the world with your uniqueness.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Thought of the day: A New Business Paradigm

Old way: 
  • Artist makes demo;
  • Artist gives demo to manager;
  • Manager gives demo to lawyer;
  • Lawyer gives demo to A&R rep;
  • A&R rep signs artist to label;
  • Label records artist;
  • Label releases record to the world.
New way: 
  • Artist makes recording;
  • Artist makes recording available to the world.

Thought of the day: Hope

Many don’t realize we’re experiencing a music business revolution. That’s because they’re telling themselves a story from the 1980s. This is a new day of abundance, filled with hope, and opportunities to share and connect. Don't squander it.  Start telling yourself a new story.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Thought of the day: Doing the Work

As artists:

Do the work people don’t know needs to be done;

Do the work people don’t want to do;

Do the work people are afraid to do;

Do the work that years later, people will say, “Man, I wish I had done that.”

Thought of the day: Creativity

Creativity is like a parade of ideas marching through the metaphorical town known as our work. The best view of any parade is from the sidelines. Get in front, you might get trampled. Get in the middle, you might get lost. Get in the back, you might get left behind. 

Just observe.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Thought of the day: Success

Four Must-haves for Success in the Entertainment Business
1. Must have friends
2. Must be at the right place at the right time
3. Must have an organization of people in support of what you do
4. Must have lots of luck

If these four things are clicking, your talent will develop just from opportunities to work.

Thought of the day: Storytelling

Musicians often don't realize that the music scene is exactly how it should be. Usually, the only thing wrong is the story we tell ourselves about it. We can be the optimist basking in the middle of it, or the naysayer peering at it from the outside. 

What story are you telling?

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thought of the day: Sharing

Many musicians think that piracy is our biggest worry. That’s 1980's thinking. In this internet age, obscurity should be what we fear most. Don’t worry about people stealing your music. You should be so lucky to have someone want to steal something you created. SHARE don’t HOARD.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thought of the day: Communities

Many see music as a means to build a business. I see music as a means to build a community. Businesses make money; communities make a difference. One receives, the other gives.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Don’t Spam, Connect: The True Path to Building Audiences

Finding an audience with whom to connect is something we all want to do as musicians and artists. And why not? These are the folks who will attend our gigs, purchase our music, and support our artistic endeavors. Our base.

My issue is not so much wanting to have a unified group in our aesthetical corners, but how we often times treat those we're trying to woo, is something to be desired. Instead of satiating their hunger for artistic enrichment, we often resort to spamming them to death. I'm talking about the barrage of emails, tweets, Facebook posts, snail mail, you name it. As I see it, spam is an acronym for:


We all need money. This I get. The problem with spamming is that you betray the trust of those who are interested in what you do. They opened your email, read your Facebook and Twitter posts for the first time, maybe even the second, third, and forth, and after a while, they know never to do it again. Why? Because they opened their door, and you showed up, not bearing gifts, but things they don’t want or need. 

So what’s a fella to do?

First of all, don’t spam, speak. More importantly, speak to those already eager to listen. 

Don’t hustle them. Lead them. Lead them to where they're already yearning to go, but did not want to go there alone. Be a guiding light, not an annoying flickering one, only screaming for attention.

And if you do want to connect with your audience, here’s an acronym to guide you: 



Monday, June 4, 2018

Quarter-Tone Studies for Saxophone - Part 1

One of the best exercises one can practice on the soprano sax is quartertone studies. I consider this the full-body straight horn workout.

(1) Sharpens pitch control. One's sense of pitch becomes heightened after intense quarter-tone study. Since the semi-tone becomes larger, you have a more nuanced understanding of intervals as a whole.

(2) Widens your timbral understanding of the instrument. Since many of these notes require unorthodox fingerings, you also get introduced to new note timbres, quarter steps below and above conventional notes.

(3)  Improves dexterity. There's something about playing these awkward fingerings in succession that leaves the fingers very nimble. I think it's the equivalence to running with ankle weights on. You might be moving slower, but you're working harder.

The Music
This piece shown below is from a book by Ronald L. Caravan titled Preliminary Exercises & Etudes in Contemporary Techniques for Saxophone.  A must-have! This is the first piece in a series of etudes the appear in the section of the book called Quarter-Tone Etudes for Saxophone.

I've included a metronome click with my reading of it. It makes it easier to follow. I also give a universal 4 counts out front.

The recommended tempo is quarter note = 84 -92. But I would say take it at a quarter note = 60, if you have to. The pitches and the fingerings take some getting used to. So take it slow.

 Let me know how it works out for you!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Talking Shop with Soprano Saxophonist Jane Bunnett

Have you ever wondered about the setups other saxophonists are playing on soprano? 

NOW you can find out!

During this installment, we will be talking shop with soprano saxophonist Jane Bunnett. Jane, who's based in Toronto, Canada is mostly known for her Afro Cuban explorations. Her most recent being with the Grammy-nominated group Maqueque; this being her fourth Grammy nomination in total. Jane has also won numerous Juno Awards, Jazz Journalists Awards, and has won both the Downbeat Critics and Readers polls in the Rising Star Flute categories.

So I am extremely grateful she was generous enough to take time from her busy schedule to talk shop with us.

Sam Newsome: Hi Jane, so let’s get down to business.  What type of soprano saxophone do you play?

Jane Bunnett: I play a Selmer Mark VI.

Jane's soprano

SN: Is this something you settled on immediately or was it a lot of trial and error until you found one that worked for you?

JB: It was what Steve Lacy played. I wanted that!

SN: Say no more. If it’s good enough for Steve Almighty….

So what is your take on some of the newer, built-to-perfection sopranos played by saxophonists these days? Or do you resist the urge to experiment?

JB: A little. The newer horns are not made out of the same metal. You cannot compare them, in my opinion. Even if you can get around with the fingering, play faster, and it’s not as awkward, the sound is not there for me. I prefer a great sound, a warm sound. On the Mark VI you must work hard at the tuning, but still, the sound is great. 

SN: I agree. And that seems to be a reoccurring sentiment with soprano saxophone specialists. We are willing to work hard for the sound. There’s certainly a no-pain-no-gain sound production philosophy that we seem to embrace.

What kind of setup do you play on? First, the mouthpiece.

JB: I had a metal Dave Guardala mouthpiece. I loved it! Played it for many years along with the ligature that came with it. Then the ligature rotted on the mouthpiece and fell apart. So I was looking for a long time for another. I used a Selmer ligature, and then it broke. The ultimate disaster came when the mouthpiece just went kaput! I did not have a backup. It was strange because I thought that my horn was broken. I went to the shop, tried different mouthpieces, and it sounded fine. The mouthpiece just bailed on me overnight. So I began the long road of looking for a new mouthpiece and ligature. Nothing was close. But I settled on a metal SR Technologies Soprano Legend mouthpiece, with a Selmer  (Paris) silver plated ligature, with a medium La Voz reed.

Jane's SR Technologies "Legend" metal soprano mouthpiece

SN: I can certainly empathize with you. When something as integral to your sound as a mouthpiece or horn gives out on you, it’s as though an essential part of your musical identity disappears along with it. 

So Jane, being someone who plays in a lot in large ensembles where projecting might be a challenge, do you ever have to resist the urge to switch to one of those high baffle mouthpieces that’s more easy blowing and projects more easily? Or maybe what you’re currently playing on gives you precisely what you need. And for the record, it doesn’t sound like you need to change a thing.

JB: I gotta just work with what I got!

SN: I think that’s the best way. Tinkering with your setup only hurdles you over issues, it doesn’t address them head-on.

Do you fiddle around with different types of ligatures, or do you just keep it simple? For me, I do notice a big difference in the beginning when I switch ligatures, but then the same issues seem to surface once I get used to it. 

JB: Nope. I should experiment more, but I prefer to just work it out.

Jane's silver Selmer (Paris) soprano saxophone ligature

SN: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That definitely works for me. 

How about reeds? 

You stated earlier that you play medium La Voz soprano reeds. Do you ever find that you alter your reed strength depending on the musical setting? For example, playing with Maqueque might demand a different kind of reed response than playing duo, as you did on Double Time with pianist Paul Bley— an excellent recording, by the way.

JB:  Thanks, and no.  Same old answer: same gear.

Jane's brand of reeds and strength

SN: Speaking of Steve Almighty. I know that you studied with Lacy. What lessons did you learn from him as far as sound, and maybe even setups?

JB: Sound is everything. Different sounds. Still, I do not experiment like you and Lacy. I should do more. But between all the stuff--composing, band-leading, administrative responsibilities, setting up--you just have to decide on what feels good, and work on it. I do not want to spend my time shopping around.

SN: That’s smart. You don’t want to create problems where none exist. Life is never stingy with giving us legitimate worries to agonize over.

Lastly, what’s new in the world of Jane Bunnett? I know you’ve been tearing up the road playing with Maqueque—your all-female group from Cuba. And congratulations on all of your success. It is indeed well deserved. 

Do you have a new project on the horizon, or will you be releasing a follow-up Jane Bunnett & Maqueque CD?

JB: We have been doing a lot of touring--the USA, Brazil...The group has really developed into something special. And audiences love the vibe of the group. I think we are inspiring a lot of young women. And that was our intention from the get-go. The last CD, Oddara, our second, received a 2017 Grammy nomination. We are now working on our third CD, yet to be named. It will feature many young women artists that have been playing with us in our short history. The group was founded in 2013.

SN: That’s so inspiring.

JB: Thanks again for your interest. You are an inspiration to me with all that you do, too, Sam!

SN: It means a lot coming from you. And I really appreciate you taking the time to do this. All the best!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Art of Sound Exploration - The Sam Newsome Trio: Live at Smalls

My take on free jazz is a little different from some in that my commitment is more to the in-depth sonic exploration of my instrument than solely using it as a means of playing lines and patterns. My musical philosophy is rooted in the idea that if you’d like to arrive at unconventional sonic outcomes, the process through which you produce sound must also be conventional. And like many free jazzers, I do enjoy my noise and screeching moments, but overall, I find it much more satisfying creating music that’s nuanced with a wide dynamic range.

The following are the four sets I played at Smalls Jazz Club on Friday, May 18, 2018, and Saturday, May 19, 2018., with bassist Hill Greene on bass and drummer Reggie Nicholson. Two veterans practitioners of freer styles of jazz

My weekend at Smalls is significant to me for two reasons: One, being that Smalls is known for presenting more mainstream groups,  it was rare to have a group perform there playing totally improvised music. This type of jazz is more common in the East Village and Brooklyn than in the West Village. Much to my surprise, the crowd was really into it. Which proves my belief that's it's the musicians and industry folks who polarize music more so than the listeners. 

Secondly, this trio format allows me to showcase many of my sound explorations and extended techniques in the context of a rhythm section, and not just hearing me play them solo. Using them in a more interactive context is certainly more challenging, but these performances do prove that it is indeed possible.

I've also taken the time to catalog the different sonic explorations and extended techniques used in each set. This is helpful to those interested in analytical listening. 

But do check out both nights. There's a lot of interesting ideas and concepts being explored. Each set is a basket full of musical fruit for thought.

And shout out to Don Mount for the nice camera work. 

Friday, May 18, 2018 - First Set 

00:00 - Pitched lap tonging

06:25 - Doppler effect

10:53 - Harmon mute, Doppler effect and circular breathing

14:17 - Hanging wind chimes

23:34 - Tube extensions

31:06 - Aluminum foil

38:00 - Hanging 260 balloons

Friday, May 18, 2018 - Second Set

00:00 - Groan tube noisemaker inside of soprano

8:45 - Wood chimes

21:35 - Short tube extension with Doppler effect

25:23 - Short tube extension with flugelhorn bubble mute

37:14 - Long tube extension with aluminum foil and circular breathing

Saturday, May 19, 2018 - First Set

00:00 - Saxophone without the mouthpiece

08:02 - Tube extensions

21:40 - Hanging chimes

27:42 - 5 inch round balloons

31:52 - Aluminum foil

45:59 - Tube extension and flugelhorn bubble mute

47:53 - Flugelhorn bubble mute

48:24 - Trumpet Harmon mute

Saturday, May 19, 2018 - Second Set

00:00 -  Hanging chimes

05:40 – Harmon mute and Doppler effect

14:10 – Tube extensions, flugelhorn bubble mute and Doppler effect.

16:50 - Tube extension and mouthpiece only

17:40 - 5 inch round balloons

20:04 – Aluminum foil and Doppler effect

31:04 – Long chimes

49:55 – Tube extensions and circular breathing

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Prepared Saxophone with Balloons: Kayla Milmine-Abbott

This prepared saxophone submission is by Toronto-based soprano saxophonist Kayla Milmine-Abbott. In addition to being a solo saxophone performer, Kayla co-leads the Toronto Improvisers Orchestra (TIO) as well as FASTER, a sax/guitar duo with her husband Brian Abbott, also heard on the featured track “Nuclear Fishin.”

Like myself, Kayla is very much interested in making horn preparations as a means of arriving at unexpected sonic outcomes by altering the way in which air enters and passes through the instrument. Kayla’s saxophone preparation involves an un-inflated round balloon placed over the neck opening of the soprano.

In describing how this works, Kayla said, “... basically half of the hole in the neck of the horn has to be uncovered in order to get sound to play. Also, I cut the part of the balloon off that you blow the air through because it was too tight around the cork - I place the mouthpiece on the very end of the neck, so that the rubber and cork don't have too much contact, as it squeezes the cork, and causes it to chip.”

In describing the different sounds produced, Kayla said: “I especially like the multi-phonics in the low register." This sonic reference can be heard at 3:12 of the recording. (The featured track below)

When I first heard Kayla use this technique, the rubbery/latex aspects were pretty apparent. There seemed to be a built-in glissando effect in the sound.

But do check out it. And check out the entire recording. Pretty innovative stuff!

Stay tuned!




Nuclear Fishin'

Nuclear Fishin' by FASTER
Kayla Milmine-Abbott - Soprano Sax
Brian Abbott - Guitar

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Moral Licensing: Balancing Good and Bad

Moral licensing is a phenomenon where we're less bothered acting less virtuous after doing something virtuous. Simply put:  After a positive action, we feel less guilty doing something negative. 

If you work out before going to dinner, you're more likely to have a dessert or eat more carbs than usual. 

Let's say you've spent considerable time advocating on behalf of a group outside of your own race, religion or culture, and have invested significant time nurturing meaningful relationships with folks from these groups. You'll feel less guilty about saying something that's culturally inappropriate to or about them.  

Remember Bill Maher's public blunder? He probably felt he had a moral license to say "house nigger" since he's dated black women and often advocates on behalf of blacks and other minority groups on his television show. When he said it, he probably felt, "Hey, I'm Bill Maher, the super liberal, they know that I'm cool." I have no doubt that it was coming from a harmless place. However, someone who's a stark conservative and has little association with blacks would never feel comfortable saying that publicly and so nonchalantly.

How does this affect us as musicians? 

  •  If you have a gig where you're able to pay your band handsomely, you won't feel guilty about not paying for dinner or offering to cover the car fare. 
  • Maybe your gig from the night before goes really well, you're more likely to take the next day or two off. I'm guilty of this more times than I want to admit.
  • Let's say after a gig everyone is telling you what a great sound you have,  the next day, we're more likely to skip the long tones portion of our practice routine. Again, guilty as charged.
  • You're doing well career-wise.  Now you're more likely to skip practicing, altogether, especially if you're playing a lot. 
  • Here's one I'm sure many can relate to. Let's say we're having a good year financially, you're probably less prudent with your spending. Instead of putting away the extra income for a rainy day, we're more likely to spend it foolishly. In fact, we probably spend more wisely when we're making less.

But as you can see, moral licensing can lead us to less productive and regressive places.  

What's the remedy? Moderation.

This is one of the reasons I stress maintaining an equal-tempered perspective on things that happen to us--the good, and the bad. 

With the exception of stopping practicing altogether, none of the aforementioned are catastrophic. But it’s good to understand moral licensing so that we can embrace progressive behavior, instead of regressive behavior as a consequence of doing something positive. 

Move towards the sun, not towards the dark.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Popeye Effect: The Path to Transcendence

Artist Jeff Koons refers to Popeye as the archetypal figure of transcendence. Before he eats his spinach, he is just an ordinary man. In fact, his mantra is “I am what I am.” Meaning nothing special, only Popeye. That’s until he eats his Spinach. Then a miracle happens.  He goes from ordinary to extraordinary. 

This idea of moving into a transcendental state is what we do as artists. 

I’ve often felt that the only time I can command respect is when I play. In fact, people who mainly know me as an artistic civilian are usually surprised at how differently I appear when performing. I imagine I would probably feel the same way if I were observing me from their perspective.

As artists, it’s crucial that we don’t merely perform or merely create. If we don’t transcend, we are not maximizing the mystical side of creativity; the unexplained. It’s sort of like being an actor and merely reading the script instead of transforming and becoming that character. I’m not convinced that our earthly self and our creative self should be one in the same. Our earthly self-has way too many societal barriers to contend with.  Whereas, our creative self has but two: imagination and courage. Imagination enables us to envision, courage gives us the hutzpa to bring it to fruition.

Don’t let your human self-perception stand in the way between you and transcendence. As the army says, “Be all that you can be.” Even if what you become is not of this earth.  Give outer space a try. It seemed to work for Sun Ra.

As Friedrich Nietzche said, "No artist tolerates reality." 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

End of the Week Tweets" April 16 - April 20

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Friday, April 20. 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Week of Tweets (April 9, 2018)

Friday, April 13, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Monday, April 9, 2018

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Talking Shop wth Soprano Saxophone Specialist Gianni Mimmo

Have you ever wondered about the setups other saxophonists are playing on soprano? 

NOW you can find out!

During this installment, we will be talking shop with soprano saxophonist Gianni Mimmo. Gianni, who is based in the Milano area of Italy, is a genuine renaissance artist. His accomplishments are voluminous. First off, his level of soprano playing is top tier.  Like many specialists, he is heavily influenced by the late Steve Lacy. In fact, Gianni switched to the soprano in 1994 after having taken numerous lessons with him.

As a composer and improviser, Gianni has a large body of work ranging from freely improvised solo saxophone pieces, to more intricately composed chamber music. In addition, he runs his indie label Amirani Records, on which he sometimes releases two to three CDs per year. And to top it off,  he is also a saxophone repairman. 

As a performer, Gianni also tours extensively throughout Europe and the US, collaborating with such luminaries as Peter Brötzmann, Enzo Rocco, Harri Sjöström, Alison Blunt, and many, many, others.

So I am extremely grateful he was generous enough to take time from his busy schedule to talk shop with us.

Sam Newsome: Gianni, let's get right to it. So what kind of soprano do you play and how long have you been playing it?

Gianni Mimmo: My main horn is a Selmer SA III. I bought it in 1994, and it’s still my preferred one, but I owned a lot of soprano saxes including a gold-plated Conn from the late 20s, a number of Mark VI, Yanagisawa Elimona, Yamaha 62 and custom models, King, Buescher and a Martin too. I recently also modified a silver Mark VI working on ergonomics, which is a project that was lying for years in my closet.
But I’m stuck on that SAIII, it’s not the best, but the relationship is more challenging, in a way. I lately dedicate some practicing on a Selmer SA I which is pretty good too.

Gianni's Selmar SA III with the detachable necks

SN: What is it about this particular instrument that was the deal breaker?

GM: The complexity of the sound, a sort of blessed disorder in the overtones. It was new, but promising a lot. Other horns in the shop were more explicit, but already assertive, tending to drive the player, in a way. The one I chose was harder but elegant. The only flaw is the weight.
The tone had some geometric resonance to my taste…

SN: You said that the Selmer SA III is “not the best,” which I can relate to. Do you feel because you specialize on the soprano that you’re better equipped to play an instrument with more challenges, consequently, making you work harder for a sound, which ends up being more personal?

GM:  Yes I’d say it’s for that reason. I owned some great soprano saxophones:
I recall the Conn, a gold-plated one, that was really fantastic: the tone, the dynamics, the subtleness of its medium range. The keyboard wasn’t that ergonomically easy because it was a very old design as the project dated back in the 20’s, but the sound was really something. Although it made me play “old style” in a way: Everything was too velvet, a little bit too perfect. It affected my phrasing, and after a little bit, I thought I was playing the way the Conn wanted.

This SA III I’m playing now is one of the first of that series Selmer made.
It needs more attention, I had to work a lot to get a decent tone on it. It’s like a jealous woman, and it turns its face on the other side if I don’t play it for a couple of days. It still has some mysterious areas and a number of frequent little surprises that ask for your continued attention.
But it’s a relationship, I cultivate it day by day.

 SN: What kind of mouthpiece do you play on? Or do you have a few in your arsenal?

GM: I play a Selmer Soloist that has been refaced by Filippo Bucci in Rome to a .067. All mouthpieces I played in the last 20 years are actually a development of a couple of squeeze chamber mouthpieces that Jon Van Wie refaced for me in the late 90s. I really loved his work, and I was really sad when he passed away.  I always looked for that flexibility. My impression is that flexibility means a lot of clarity in the sound, but it also needs to be driven. After a little bit, I started looking for darkening the sound, just to round up a bit the projection. My opening range looks to be between .064 and .070. It seems as though I prefer a thin front rail.
I own six or seven mouthpieces, I actually had a lot, but my arsenal is limited to those ones now. I’ve another couple of Soloists, a current production HR Otto link, a very unusual chambered Meyer, another Link, another Meyer Joe Giardullo refaced for me.

All of them have been accurately refaced following my boring requests…I’ve to say I also spent some time experimenting with different necks: the SAIII is a detachable neck model.
I always play straight necks, but I’m intrigued by how different metals and/or shapes can affect the sound and its nuances. 

Gianni's primary mouthpiece, the Selmer SA III 

SN: How is this mouthpiece different from what you previously played on?

GM: I sometimes switch to another Soloist, but the two mouthpieces are very, very similar. What is changing is the subtleness of the resistance in the attack. How high is that initial step? Sometimes I get a more bodied tone with this second mouthpiece, probably I lose a lit bit of flexibility. They’re very close each other, and the listener wouldn’t recognize the difference. And sometimes the player as well!

 SN: Do you find that having so many mouthpieces to be a distraction, or are you pretty disciplined. Personally, I’m not disciplined when it comes to this sort of thing, so I tend not to give myself options. 

GM:  They’re not distracting. Actually, they’re very similar as I restricted my research on certain facing and chamber size. The main differences lay in the matching relationship between that facing and the chamber size and shape. These are subtle things after all.

Gianni's Meyer, Otto Link, Selmer, and Meyer

SN: Now, ligatures. Do you have a collection of them, or do you play what came with the mouthpiece?

GM: I play several ligatures, I also invented one which is my main one. 
They have a different kind of response quickness, resistance, projection, and warmth. In my saxophone case, I keep three of them: The one I invented, the one Mr. Ishimori made for my mouthpiece,  and the last model Marc Jean did.

Gianni's collection of ligatures

SN: Is the Gianni Mimmo ligature available for public consumption? Or is this particular ligature something that was tailor made for your personal needs and taste?

GM: Masterclip ligature is really the result of years of research and experiments. I’m still keeping about 70 experimental models that drove me to its final and actual form. Yes is available on order, no problem. Each ligature is handmade and takes two hours and a half to be made.

Gianni's own Masterclip ligature

SN: Reeds are often a never-ending problem for saxophonists. First, what brand (or brands of) reeds do you use? And secondly, do find soprano reeds to be more forgiving or more temperamental than reeds for the other saxes?

GM: Reeds are the very problem for me: I think I played all brands of reeds in the world. I also did a long research on synthetic ones, and I’ve been playing Hahn synthetic reeds for years. The second series Mr. Hahn did were really fantastic, and many of my albums have been recorded playing those reeds. After that Hahn production discontinued, I came back to cane reeds: When I started dedicating myself to soprano sax only almost 30 years ago, I was playing Marca and Vandoren reeds. I’m now playing Vandoren Java reeds mostly, but I’m not stuck with them: it’s a constant re-adjustment. Rigotti cane is great, but I can’t find the proper strength, in a way. 

I’ve been positively impressed by Steuer Reeds, I’ve still to dig the thing a little bit…
For my playing, the soprano reed is more temperamental than on alto and tenor. Anyway, I’ve to say that if one wants flexibility and bodied sound at the same time, a sort of compromise must be found. I’m pretty patient after all. But I like to understand the design of a reed, the thickness of the spine, profile, etc. It’s an interesting thing.

Gianni's Vandoren Java reeds

SN: That’s all very fascinating. I’m curious, after playing on the Hahn synthetic reeds for so many years, was it difficult trying to get used to cane again? 

GM: No, it wasn’t difficult. Of course, you have to spend a couple of hours just to understand how less geometric is the cane and how the cane reed tends to decay in less time. It wasn’t that difficult to manage.

SN: Also, one concern many have of playing synthetic reeds on soprano is that the sound is too bright and sometimes too harsh. Did you find this to be the case?

GM: Yes that’s the risk with synthetic reeds and actually what generally happens. Mr. Hahn was really doing something different. I really liked his second series production, and I continued playing them for few years after that production. The idea to work on high-density foam and to reproduce on it the cell design of the Arundo donax is simply marvelous.

I know very well other brands, carbon fiber ones, injection molding ones, hybrid natural-synthetic ones, etc., but for some reasons, mainly the consistency of the medium range, I preferred those reeds.

A well-done synthetic reed is usually offering great flexibility. It is very symmetrical, and all the overtones and the altissimo range are usually where the player expects to find them. On the other hand, the sound leaks a little bit in the medium range, becoming less bodied and bright-- harsher, in a way. This is more noticeable on soprano and much less on the baritone or on the bass clarinet for instance.

 SN: What are your thoughts about equipment obsession, in general? Because some believe it's all about the equipment, and some think you can make anything work if just work at it. So I'm just wondering if you feel that having so many possibilities is making us lazier? Feel free to unpack this however you like.

GM: My starting position is always to work with/on what you have. The work will tell you which if you need to improve your equipment, which element of it. One should refine his or her attention to sound and make proper choices. As a painter does try a new brush, or a larger spatula and understanding how that particular tool will adequately help to express the thing he feels. The relationship between the player, horn, mouthpiece, reed, and the ligature,  is a kind of constellation, I think. When you touch one parameter, all the system is affected, someway. Finding the right balance among all the components is always a struggle. 

 Some aspects are more important for the player than for the listener. What seems so important from behind the horn and makes us tell ourselves stories like, " Wow! This ligature is so sensitive!" or "This is finally the reed I was looking for, " is sometimes un-relevant for the listener as it doesn’t change the complexity of the delivered sound image. Attention to detail is often closely related to player parameters: brightness in the horn high range or ease in lower dynamics are typical examples. 

I need a certain number of uncertainties to give my best, I don’t want to be completely comfortable: the goal is “good quality in what I’m doing.” The answer does not lie in the equipment only, of course, but in a good relationship with all the involved elements. When a musician becomes more conscious, his steps will be more accurate. 

SN: Many may not know this, but in addition to being one of the top soprano players playing today, you’re also a saxophone repairman. Do you find that having this much knowledge about the inner workings of the saxophone to be a blessing or a curse?

GM:  Repairing, restoring, and rebuilding saxophones have been a blessing. That work drove me right inside the sound and made me know different musicians and their peculiar and personal approach to the horn. After so many years, it still feels like a form of meditation to me.  It helps me to give each saxophone character a sort of sound-image that I like to describe to myself. It’s also great to listen to great masters, considering how their style can be affected by the horn they’re playing. 

I do pretty much the same when I observe certain painters work, considering how their style is developing through the use of different brushes or special tools.

Gianni wearing his saxophone repairman hat

SN: Lastly, please let us know what you've been up to lately. Any new CDs, groups, projects?

GM: I’m leaving for a tour in Japan with Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura. The trio album with pianist Satoko Fujii and double bassist Joe Fonda will be released on next month for Long Song Records. Within the year,  two additional records will be released: my duo with Vinny Golia, and a new Italian trio called Clairvoyance, with pianist Silvia Corda and double-bass player Adriano Orrù, will be out on my label Amirani Records. The next year my Sestetto Internazionale, whose album has been so well received and reviewed, will be on tour in Germany and North Europe.

I’m so intrigued by writing graphic scores and hopefully premiering my work Prossime Trascendenze for chamber quintet and sextet soon!

SN:  That sounds amazing. I'm looking forward to hearing it. And thanks, again for sharing your insight and wisdom. It's been an inspiration and a great learning experience.

And please check out some of Gianni's recent recordings on Amirani Records

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