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Another "special" Ornette Coleman's axe ?

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Low A is a yes. It's been written about here, somewhere.
 
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sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
You're welcome, Jacques.

I had an encounter with another Selmer low A alto just a week or so ago. I was doing a rehearsal in preparation for a composer's gig in NYC, and I noticed that the alto player's horn had a slightly different neck and that there was a strange arm running horizontally across the body of the horn. Later, when the alto player stood to solo, I realized that the horn was a mk6 with the low A. The horn looked pretty much the same as Ornette's did with it's original finish.

The horn is owned by a great alto player, Jorge Sylvester. I spoke to Jorge about the horn and he told me that at this point, he wouldn't play or own the conventional low Bb alto, that the low A alto had won him over. I didn't have time to question him about this rather mysterious statement as I was at the time trying to figure out how to play music that was even more mysterious. But when I listened to his horn when he soloed or when it stood out in the section, it seemed to have a bit more body than the conventional alto.

Another very highly skilled NYC saxophonist, Joe Ford, also plays the mk6 low A alto. Joe's an old friend and was playing his low A when I first met him, when he was playing in McCoy Tyner's band back in the early '70s. Both Joe and Jorge sound great on their horns, as does Ornette. So maybe there is something to the low A alto that appeals to certain players.

BTW, the gig went great!

Julian
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I'll mention it here, again, as it bears repeating: I've only played one Mark VI alto and I thought it was OK. There is that (baritone sax) school of thought that says horns with low A extensions are more "stuffier sounding" than the low Bb ones, but I'm rather non-committal on the subject. I think it might depend on a conical bell extension as opposed to a straight one. In any event, Mark VI low A altos are generally less expensive than the low Bb variety.

I still want to find Selmer low A horns other than baritones and Mark VI/VII models. Haven't ever seen one.
 
(...) There is that (baritone sax) school of thought that says horns with low A extensions are more "stuffier sounding" than the low Bb ones, but I'm rather non-committal on the subject. I think it might depend on a conical bell extension as opposed to a straight one (...)
I think you're right being non-commital about this issue. I for one owned and played a MkVI low A, a Keilwerth, a Conn NW II - a "Chubari" -, a Conn 12 M and now a 11M, with the cylindrical extension. Never had a punchier and broader sounding bari than the latter, even in the low B and Bb. If the way the body is tapered in the upper body, and even more, of course, in the neck, is crucial to the sound production, the way the bell is extended doesn't seem to influence anything. A long time buddy, now playing the bari in a bigband where I play tenor, owns and plays 7 baris (!), among them 2 MkVI lowBb and 2 MkVI lowA; the best sounding, on the whole range, is by far one of the low As...the worst, thinnest, also a low A. The manufacturing unevennesses seem to play a greater role than the bell. But you'll find many a baritonist swearing the opposite is true....that's sax life (and one of its charms).
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
I nod agreement your way, Jacques.

While I did not have the opportunity to test same-manufacturer/model low Bb and low A baris when I bought my last new horn -- a YBS-52 in the 1980s -- I went for the best horn with a low A. I wanted the A because I did use it and none of the low Bb horns I had a choice from was better, tonal wise, than what I got. I could also tell a difference between the YBS-62 and 52 -- one piece bell vs. 2 piece; the one-piece being superior -- but the difference was more in response than tone.
 

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
I also agree with you, Jacques. And I also agree with the Broccoli guy. But I'm also thinking that the question of choice between the low Bb and low A baritone is sort of out of our hands at this point. At least for the working musician.

Case in point. I was called by a producer friend to do a sweetening session in the afternoon. I was to lay tracks on alto, then on baritone. My friend likes to write for the bottom of the baritone, so I was prepared for lots of low A's. So we layed tracks with trumpet, alto, tenor, and two trombones. Tom then sent the trumpet player, the tenor, and one of the bone players on break and called for the bari and for bass trombone. James, the trombone player went into his case and produced the wildest looking bass bone that I had ever seen. It had two triggers and wild tubes and plumbing.

Well, we started cutting. I was pretty much near the bottom of the bari. James was AN OCTAVE BELOW ME! I had to look over to see if he had found a tuba somewhere in the dirt in that studio. He had to stop the take to get permission to leave out a short phrase because of the extra air required to push through all that plumbing. That was cool, I just played that little bit without him while he was getting a breath for the next, more important phrase.

During a break, I asked James about his horn. He told me that the horn was the top of the line when he bought it a few years ago. But since then, he said, bass bones were required to play in a much lower range. So he took his horn and had it modified to extend the range at the bottom. So lots of recording and pit orchestra jobs in NYC require the low horns to have an extended range compared to the requirments just a few year ago. I don't play the clarinet but I know that Broadway pit jobs require a bass clarinet with the most extended bottom that's available today. And bari players on Broadway are required to have a low A horn.

My baritone is a mk6 with the low A and I passed up the opportunity to buy a couple of new low Bb horns while I was waiting for mine to come off the line. I've never had a problem with response or stuffyness, I'm still like a kid in the candy store when I play it. But, in my estimation, the low blow just keeps getting lower, and the working player has got to go with it.

Julian
 
(...) But since then, he said, bass bones were required to play in a much lower range. So he took his horn and had it modified to extend the range at the bottom. So lots of recording and pit orchestra jobs in NYC require the low horns to have an extended range compared to the requirments just a few year ago. I don't play the clarinet but I know that Broadway pit jobs require a bass clarinet with the most extended bottom that's available today. And bari players on Broadway are required to have a low A horn.

(...) in my estimation, the low blow just keeps getting lower, and the working player has got to go with it.
Julian,

That's good news to be: I love being right at the bottom of a big band arrangement and, yes, low As are the name of the game in most pieces nowadays. It's also fair enough: why wouldn't we go lower and lower when trumpets are going higher and higher. Since the Maynard Ferguson days, most arrangers seem unsatisfied when most of the the tp section doesn't screem in Super-high-you name it. And, to finish this highly hijacking post, at one of the very first Montreux Festival, end of the 60's, I remember having heard, and for a while listened to, the then famous British bari John Surman who kept playing endless, freeish choruses on his bari, never descending under 6'000 Hz. Keeping with his soprano would have saved much extra-luggage cost.
J
 
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Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
Interesting Julian. Perhaps J'Elle Stainer's horns, or Lopes' (both South American companies) low G extensions for tenor, bari, & bass, will start to catch on here in North America, and eventually pit players will be dragging around monster horns to gigs. :p

I've often wondered what drives the demand--presuming there is one--for these extensions of conventional horns in South America. Lopes is not the only company that does them. I just don't remember the name of the other company ATM. Also, I had a fellow drop my site a couple of months ago, and he posted about 30 or so pics of really low horns, from a few different South American companies (and more pics on the previous page). That makes at least 4, IIRC, different saxophone manufacturers from South America, who specialize in low saxes.

Is there something special about authentic Latin music that requires it? I played in a Latin band lead by a man from El Salvador, and my low Bb bass did fine as it was. Are these horns being used in gospel music to cover another part perhaps? Whatever the case, our South American sax playing colleagues seem to have lots of options when it comes to low, low horns.
 

sideC

Artist in residence
Distinguished Member
It just seems to me that the nature of music is to be all over the place these days. I think that when it comes to the larger commercial money making ensembles, no one is safe these days. It used to be just the reed players. You were expected to double. "Man, bring your alto, tenor, bari, sop, flute, pic, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and oboe, and everything should be cool." And for all that, you got $10 extra per show! But today, seems like everybody doubles. I have a drummer friend who used to work the broadway pits and he was complaining about the plight of today's pit drummer. According to him, drummers are expected to be able to program electronic drum equipment and deal with that plus play the conventional drum kit.

Musicians are over a barrel these days. There is a fight on in the Broadway pit scene to eventually replace the live musicians with tapes. The companies have been sucessful in reducing the number of musicians required to be in the pit for the shows. So today, it's easy to make more demands on the musicians who are fortunate to be working regularly.

As for as the low G saxophone is concerned, I feel that right now, ignorance is bliss. The minute someone runs down to SA and brings back a low G horn and plays it in the presence of a big time arranger, orchestrator, or contractor, then our geese will be cooked. They'll be writing low G's into everything and you'll be required to bring a low G horn to the gig. Of course you'll be compensated for the extra expense and cartage. You'll get an extra $2.50 per show!

Julian
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Remember that the first sax was supposed to have been a C bass: A. Sax loved the low end.

Anyhow, there is a point of diminishing returns where you can't make a traditional horn longer or you either screw up the acoustics or you kill the intonation, particularly if you're using straight extensions rather than conical.

I'm trying to think if there was any chart I couldn't have played on bass rather than bari and I can only think of some solos that were transpositions. Maybe create a bass that can extend down to a lower c and have altissimo keywork to an altissimo C. I think that'd be enough range for everyone :p.
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
Staff member
Administrator
As for as the low G saxophone is concerned, I feel that right now, ignorance is bliss. The minute someone runs down to SA and brings back a low G horn and plays it in the presence of a big time arranger, orchestrator, or contractor, then our geese will be cooked. They'll be writing low G's into everything and you'll be required to bring a low G horn to the gig. Of course you'll be compensated for the extra expense and cartage. You'll get an extra $2.50 per show!

Julian
:D Ain't that the truth. (Especially the $2.50 per show thingy.)

When I fronted my own jazz band, I played 5 saxes (soprano through bass). It was A LOT of work each week to go to our house band gig, and set-up and tear-down all the horns and sound gear each week. Add a few other shows in during the week, and I really was missing my single or even double horn days.
 
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