Sam Newsome

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

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Talking Shop with Soprano Saxophone Specialist Jasmine Lovell-Smith

Have you ever wondered about the set-ups other saxophonists are playing on soprano? 

NOW you can find out!

 TALKING SHOP is the most recent feature on Soprano Sax Talk where I provide answers to one of the most frequently asked questions amongst sax players: "Hey, what kind of set-up does___________ play on soprano?"

During this installment, we will be talking shop with soprano saxophonist Jasmine Lovell-Smith. Jasmine, who has studied under such luminaries as composer and saxophonist Anthony Braxton and composer Paula Mathussen, is also a prolific composer in her own right, whose harmonious compositions are perfectly matched with her lyrical and thoughtful improvisations. Jasmine has released two recordings with her band Towering Poppies—Fortune Songs (2012) and Yellow Red Blue (2015).

She currently resides in her birthplace, New Zealand, where she is pursuing her in Doctorate of Music Arts in composition at the New Zealand School of Music, while still performing occasional tours in the United States and Mexico.

Jasmine was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Sam Newsome: Jasmine, first off, please tell us a little bit about the set-up you're playing on?

Jasmine Lovell-Smith: The Super Action 80 Series II is the first and only soprano I have owned. I previously played a Selmer Super Action F80 Series III tenor saxophone, so the keywork and style of the horn was comfy for me straight away. I started out on a more open Selmer Super Session mouthpiece, which I found incredibly difficult to play, but since I changed to the Otto Link Tone Edge 7 (around the time I got serious about the soprano) I haven't looked back.  I like that my setup is familiar, pretty consistent and what I would describe as 'neutral' sounding. By this I mean that the sound of my setup is pretty simple and clean - I want any added nuance to come from me rather than the intrinsic tendencies of the equipment as much as possible.

Jasmine's soprano saxophone:  Super Action 80 Series II

As you can maybe tell already, I'm not very into gear. I definitely think it is important to have a good horn in good working shape so that it isn't a hindrance when playing, and figuring out the reed and mouthpiece thing involves some trial and error, but once I find something I'm happy with, I'm happy to stick with it indefinitely.

SN: Personally, I've never played the Selmer Super Action 80 Series II soprano, at least not extensively.  But I do know that many consider this horn to be a vast improvement on the Selmer Mark VI Series, especially with regards to the palm keys. And those flat palm keys were undoubtedly a deal breaker for me.

Just curious, have you ever played on any other soprano? I'm just wondering if you can say precisely what made you decide on the Selmer Super Action 80 Series II?

JLS: I bought the Series II because my teacher in my first year of university, Johnny Lippiett, was selling it, so I had the opportunity to try it out and knew I was getting a good horn at a good price – it was as simple as that. I didn’t start playing the soprano seriously ‘til nearly ten years later. Before that it was something I would pick up every now and then, get frustrated with quickly, and then put down again. Since playing more soprano I’ve tried out a few friends’ instruments briefly, but haven’t played anything that has made me feel the need to switch instruments.

SN: The makers of the Otto Link Tone Edge describe it as a mouthpiece with a “very rich, full, and gutsy tone quality, accurate natural intonation and very good playing response.” Do you find this to be the case with you?

Jasmine's mouthpiece: Otto Link Tone Edge

JLS: I did find that the intonation was a vast improvement with the Link as compared to the Selmer Super Session J I had previously, and I like the tone quality – I think it does sound full and rich, though thus far nobody has yet described my playing on it as “gutsy!”

SN: Jasmine, as far as reeds, you said that you usually play on Vandoren Traditional #3 soprano reeds. However, you’re now playing on Gonzalez #2 ¾ soprano reeds. The Vandoren Traditional reeds I know, but this is the first time hearing about the Gonzalez reeds. Did you discover these while living in Mexico? And how do they differ from the Vandorens?

                      Jasmine's reeds: Vandoren Traditional #3 (L) and the Gonzalez #2 (R)

JLS: I actually first heard of Gonzalez reeds from the great tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry, who gave me a couple to try when I took a lesson from him a few years back. They are made in Argentina. They weren’t readily available where I was living in Mexico, but I started playing them again recently as I found them in a local music store when I was in need of reeds. I would describe them as having a slightly lighter, flutier tone than the Vandorens. I like both!

SN: I know that you use the stock ligature that came with the mouthpiece. Have you tried different ligatures, or did you just figure if it’s not broken, don’t fix it? Some sax players are pretty fanatical about ligatures.

                                Jasmine's ligature: Stock ligature that came with the mouthpiece.

JLS: If it’s not broken, don’t fix it! You’re giving me ideas though, perhaps it is something I will look into.

SN: Not to worry. What you are currently using is working fine!

So maybe you can tell what you’ve been up to, lately?

JLS: Since releasing Jasmine Lovell-Smith's Towering Poppies  "Yellow Red Blue," which came out in 2015, featuring a string quartet on some of the tracks along with my quintet, I have moved to New Zealand (my homeland) and started work on a doctorate in composition, which has been challenging but rewarding so far. I'm currently getting ready to record some chamber music influenced works that I wrote as part of my studies this past year. The recording will include multiple ensembles and I won't be playing on everything, which is new territory for me, but I'm excited to be exploring a wider variety of instrumentations.

SN: Well, I’m very excited to hear it. And please do let me know when it’s finished so I can feature it on Soprano Sax Talk. Thanks again, for sharing your time and knowledge.

JLS: Always a pleasure to talk with you Sam, thanks for having me!

And please check out my Soprano Sax Talk interview with Jasmine on February 11, 2015, titled “Jasmine Lovell-Smith: The Flying Kiwi”

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