Free sax tip booklet at BestSaxophoneWebsiteEver

After many years,the amount of useful information scattered over the Internet continues to amaze me. Yesterday it was the turn of this great web site,BestSaxophoneWebsiteEver,which offers a 24-page booklet in PDF format,filled with tips that all sax players can benefit from. You can find guidance on purchasing a used sax,advice on keeping your horn clean and perfectly working,tips on practicing,and more. My favorite ones are the reccomendations on how to get the best from a microphone when recording at home.

The booklet is actually only an excerpt of what you can find on this website by saxophinist Doron Orenstein,where good tips abound. I have bookmarked the following pages:

6 crucial facts about saxophone reeds
11 tips for improving your altissimo
7 tips to tell how much mouthpiece to take in (partly based on this article by Pete Thomas)
8 tips for an open throat and big sound
Flatter tounguing –The sexy sax secret

Happy practicing!

Twelve jazz albums to send to Mars

I have just finished reading “Incontri con musicisti straordinari –La storia del mio jazz”di Enrico Rava,maybe the first Italian musician who played with famous jazzmen in US and all over the world,such as Steve Lacy,Don Cherry,Joe Henderson,and Gato Barbieri.

I found the book very entertaining and informative,and it’s surely a recommended reading if you can read Italian. (BTW,its title could be translated as “Meeting extraordinary musicians –The history of my jazz”,in case the book is ever published in US.).

Among the many stories that Rava tells,he reports that many journalists have asked him about the 10 albums he would ship to Mars to let Martians know about jazz. The question is quite weird,IMHO,but the answer is interesting,even if he mentions a little more than just ten records.

1) Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven (1927) – Satchmo at his best,with the absolute masterpiece Potato Head Blues. According to Woody Allen,one of the reasons for which life is worth living. More info here,and this is the Amazon page for buying it.

2) I’m coming Virginia – by Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer (1927),a demonstration of how modern Bix’s sound and phrasing are. Can be found in this collection.

3) Duke Ellington and the Blanton-Webster Band – The orchestra with Ben Webster and Jimmy Blanton that was active between 1940 and 1942. According to Rava,Cotton Tail,Concerto for Cootie,Ko Ko,and Conga Brava are the real jewels of this band,and can be found in the Never No Lament – The Blanton-Webster Band remastered album.

4) Any album by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – Rava doesn’t make any specific recommendation,but I’d suggest The Complete Savoy and Dial Master Takes,a 3-CD box that includes all Bird’s early studio recordings.

5) Billie Holliday with Teddy Wilson’s Orchestra and Lester Young (1939) – The most charming singer in jazz history,says the author. I don’t own this record and unfortunately Rava doesn’t provide more details about it. After a search on Amazon,I guess he means this album.

6) Birth of the Cool (1949-50) –by Miles Davis of course,with Gil Evans,Gerry Mulligan,John Lewis,Lee Konitz,and others. A break from bebop and the inspiration for all the West Coast jazz that followed.

7) Solo Monk – All Thelonious Monk’s records are compelling,thus picking just one is quite arbitrary.

8 ) Any recording by Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker – It’s easy to find re-edited versions of this music,so I selected the one that returned from an internet search,The Best of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker.

9) All albums by Miles Davis – Having to choose just one,Rava selects Porgy and Bess,with Gil Evans Orchestra.

10) Tijuana Moods – Charlie Mingus’ journey on this Mexico town near the border with the States.

11) Study in Brown – by Clifford Brown and Max Roach,but all records by Brown are a must-have for any trumpet player.

12) This Is Our Music – by Ornette Coleman,with Don Cherry,Charlie Haden,and Ed Blackwell. One of the best examples of the free jazz revolution.

It’s apparent that the fact that Rava is a trumpet player has affected his choices. Nevertheless,I found this list very interesting and I am going to grab the CDs I don’t have already.

I don’t listen to much pre-bebop jazz (shame on me!) thus my list would be quite different. Sooner or later I am going to publish it in this blog. By the way,what are your favorite albums?

Wikifonia,a repository for music scores of all kind

I wasn’t aware of this website until recently. Wikifonia is a large collection of scores covering many music styles,including rock,jazz,and Broadway musicals. All scores include chord changes and many of them also lyrics. As as important,the community behind the website is very active,and 2-3 new songs are added each day.

What makes Wikifonia really powerful –and interesting for woodwind and brass players –is the ability to transpose the music for Bb and Eb instruments,or to change the key by any given number of halftones. Each song can be downloaded as a PDF file and exported in MusicXML format. You can decide the page format (A4 or US Letter) and even render the page in Braille!

My thanks to Mike Powell for bringing this resource to my attention.


The end of cigarette paper?

For years I have used cigarette paper to dry the pads of my saxophones after playing,and I know I am in good company. I suspect that they sell more cigarette paper to woodwind players than to actual smokers.

It’s hard to change habits,but I wanted to give these pad dryers a try,and the overal impression is positive. They can absorbe humidity at least as much as paper and you don’t have to be careful about not putting the glued portion of the paper in contact with pads. Their maker –BG in this specific case –claim that they last for one year,but I haven’t tested them for that long. The only limit is:if you are used to leave cigarette paper under keys –most likely,the G# and low C# keys –you can’t use dryers for that,unless you buy them in quantity (and I suspect that in that case they would last much less than one year).

For now I decided to continue to use both:the dryer to absorb most saliva and humnidity and cigarette paper left under the keys to prevent pads from sticking.

Pad savers: beautiful but dangerous

I admit it:I love pad savers,because they are pretty,colorful and –supposedly –useful. Only recently I discovered that they can be a bit dangerous,thanks to my friend Domenico Bartolomeo,who repairs saxophones for living and for passion.

The fact is,pad savers should never,ever be left inside the horn,for several reasons. First,they keep humidity and therefore the prevent your pads from getting dry,which in turn make their life shorter. Second,they tend to leave dust inside the saxophone. Third,over time they tend to lose naps (hairs),which might prevent the pads from closing perfectly. I learned this lesson the hard way.

You can use a pad saver to clean the interior of your saxophone,of course. Just don’t leave them inside it. Used in this manner,I find pad savers especially useful with straight sopranos,whereas I prefer cleaning my alto by passing a cleaning cloth through the horn.

BTW,for the same reason I avoid –if possible,of course –to close the case of your sax immediately after practicing. I typically leave the case open for a few hours to let the humidity to go away,if necessary with a cloth over (not inside!) the saxophone to protect it from dust.

A book about economy and marketing that all musicians should read

In this blog I plan to review many books about the saxophone,improvisation,and music in general. But the first review in this series is about a book that has a completely different focus:economy and marketing. It only touches music,but what it covers is very intriguing.Chris Anderson may be relatively unknown among musicians,yet according to “Time”he is among the 100 most influencing experts in the world. He is the editor-in-chief at Wired Magazine,the bible of tech-savvy people all over the world. Free –The Future of a Radical Price is his analysis of how the economy has changed now that Internet has so much to offer –for free –to everybody,and covers fields such as software,videogames,magazines,websites,conferences,books,flights,and a lot more…of course,including music. 

When restricting the discussion to music,the question Chris asks is elementary:how can emergent musicians or groups hope to stand out from the crowd,sell CDs and make mony when so much music can be freely and legally download from YouTube and dozens of other websites? This is a question all people in the music world should ask themselves,but rarely do.

There are many intriguing answers to this trivial question,and the author has a few stories to tell. Some of them are well-known outside the music business,such as the experiment of the Radiohead‘s In Rainbows album,which everyone could download from the band’s website by paying an arbitrary amount of money (including nothing!). In Rainbows has outsold any other Radiohead album:over 3 million copies,plus 100,000 copies of a deluxe box version priced at $80. When the experiment ended,the “standard”CD became #1 in US/UK charts and on iTunes (with 35,000 downloads in the first week). Even more interesting,the Radiohead’s tour that followed In Rainbows was the most successful in their history (1,2 million tickets).

Elsewhere in the book,Anderson explains how Prince could give away his new Planet Earth album (priced at $19) to 2,8 million readers of the sunday edition of Daily Mail (UK) and still make a profit of about 18 million dollars by selling tickets of his London concerts.

These success stories might induce you to believe that the Free Economy only applies to stellar artists such as Radiohead and Prince,but the author has some juicy stories about not-so-famous musicians,at least in US and Europe. My favorite one is about Banda Calypso from San Paolo,Brasil,who mix traditional Brazilian melodies with techno rhythms,a musical style known as technobrega. The band records their CDs in a professional studio,but then gives away their masters to DJs,which in turn organize parties and give them to peddlers that sell these CDs for very little money,as if they were pirated copies (but they aren’t!).

Banda Calypso has sold over 10 millions CDs and yet made no money out of them. They don’t mind at all,because they are more interested in giving concerts. The word-of-mouth marketing generated by these lowly-priced CDs has an unbelievable impact on ticket sales. The anedocte that illustrates how effective this alternative marketing can be is told by Hermanno Vianna,a journalist at Globo TV. He invited the band for an interview and offered then to send an airplane to bring them to a desolated area of the country,but they reply:“No problem,we have our own plane!

Bottom line:if you want to understand more about how the music industry works behind-the-scenes,Free –The Future of a Radical Price is a must-read. Hopefully you can get some good insights on how to promote your next CD or tour.

Normal and altissimo fingering charts

I have published two new fingering charts:

Normal register fingering chart cover all notes from low Bb to high F# (Bb3-F#6),providing the standard fingering(s) and many alternate ones. Alternate fingerings can be very useful in trills,to play very fast phrases,or to add tonal variety to your playing.

Altissimo register fingering chart cover notes from high F# to very high B (F#6-B7) and includes the fingering that I have used and found to be playable with most of my instruments. Expect that some of such fingerings won’t work for you and be prepared to try different embrochure pressures and reed models/hardness.

You can quickly reach these charts from the top menu.

By any means these aren’t the only fingerings you can use for the altissimo register,and you can find a few more complete charts on the Internet,including:

The Woodwing Fingering Guide site is probably the most exhaustive charts for the regular and upper register.
Level 3 Solutions has fingerings for notes up to D8,with many fingerings that are specific for given sax models.
Insubrica Saxophone Society offers a chart in PDF with many variations for the alto sax.
WardBaxter chart goes up to C6,with many variations for each note.

Please Contact me if you use any fingering that isn’t reported in these charts.

David Sanborn clinic at Selmer Paris

If you have missed this 8-part video,find a spare hour,sit in front of your monitor,and enjoy David Sanborn speaking about his relationship with his instrument,his way of practicing,and a lot more. In my opinion,one of the more interesting sax talk you can find on the Internet. The clinic was held at Selmer Paris,on June 30th,2008.

In Part1 David talks about his fanatic quest for the perfect reed:


Continue reading -> David Sanborn clinic at Selmer Paris

A recording studio in 1.33 pounds

Yesterday 4PocketsAUDIO released an upgrade for their Meteor Multi Track Recorder for iPad.

Meteor is a digital recorder + mixer that supports up to 12 tracks with CD quality. It can’t be compared to a desktop DAW like Ableton Live or Cubase,because it only supports audio tracks (no MIDI),but it has a few features that makes it interesting for many studio musicians.

You tipically use Meteor to record small clips that you later duplicate,arrange,trim,split,and remix with the internal sample editor. You can import songs from the iPad music library and export the result of your work to compressed CAV and WAF files,or to other iPad apps that support the PasteBoard protocol,for further processing. It contains a few on-board effect processors and a few more (compressor,distortion,EQ) can be added via in-app purchases. You can apply these effects globally or to specific tracks.

The feature that intrigues me most –and convinced me into buying it –is mixer automation. You can draw volume,pan,and FX level lines for each individual track (see image),which makes it easy to prepare fade-ins and fade-outs for example. As far as I know,this is the only iPad multi-track recorder with this feature.

Video import (in-app purchase) even gives you the ability to watch a video while you arrange your music clips,produce a soundtrack,add a narration,and keep everything in sync.

The main issue with all apps of this kind is that audio processing can easily bend any CPU,especially if you add many tracks and effects. This is true even for PC and MAC apps and it’s even truer on the iPad. As a (partial) solution to this problem,Meteor allows you to “freeze”a track by calculating all the associated effects one and for all,or to bounce/mixdown multiple tracks into a single one. (Beware:freezing is reversible,mixdown isn’t.)

I haven’t played much with Meteor yet,but the first impression is quite positive. There aren’t many better ways to spend $19.99.

Slow down playback for easy transcriptions

You can find many utilities for slowing down playback speed and let you easily transcribe a theme or a solo.

For example,if you own an iPhone,iPod Touch,or iPad you can download Slow Down Music Trainer:this app is free but has a few limitation. Buying the Unlimited Edition (in-app purchase) gives you the ability to change the song key and a few other minor features. For just $2.99 it is a bargain.

Most Windows software for slowing down playback charge more than 3 bucks,thus you will appreciate the following tip,based on a a relatively little known Windows Media Player feature.

To use this hidden feature you should first enable the Now Playing view (use File-View menu command or just press Ctrl+3 key). Next,right-click anywhere on WMM,select the Enhancements submenu and the Play Speed Settings command.

Yes,it’s that simple and –above all –it’s absolutely free!

Windows Media Playeer speed settings