Sam Newsome

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

Please check out my interview on THE JAZZ SESSION w/Jason Crane

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!

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