My Musical Equipment Closet

An opinionated collecton of short reviews of saxophones and woodwinds and the accessories which they require.

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Location: Santa Cruz, California, United States

"Other cultures are not failed attempts at being us. They are all unique manifestations of the human imagination and the human heart." Wade Davis

Saturday, May 12, 2007

From the front lines . . .

One of the great things about being a working class musician is that I never am at a loss for complexity in my life.

Our band, which has usually 11 pieces, plays all sorts of gigs. My brother and I are co-leaders, so the band may continue to exist when I toddle off to various port cities courtesy of Princess Cruises. We seldom turn down anything.

Last night was a "short band" gig at Del Webb's Sun City in Georgetown, Texas, seven to ten, for 8 players.

We added a trumpet player for the evening because my good friend Andre is moving here from Las Vegas this week. Andre and his wife were due in Thursday and the gig was Friday. By Friday afternoon, I started to get a little stressed because Andre hadn't checked in yet. As I-35 started filling up between Austin and Georgetown, my phone rang. It was Andre, who had just arrived in Austin because his rental truck broke down, delaying the move for a day. Andre begged off, and under the circumstances I agreed and wished him well.

Hanging up the phone, I realized that I was in a pickle. My book (and I mean that literally; I wrote 300+ charts for 4 horns) is for trumpet, alto/tenor sax, trombone, and bari. Tommy Poole (alto/tenor) and I (bari) would now be the only horns. We needed someone up in the trumet range. Then the light bulb over my head went off.

Lucky for me, I had a few new Vespros in my living room. I picked out a box, opened it, pulled out the case, opened THAT, and started picking out the cork wedges which protect the horn in shipment, and blew a few notes using the stock mouthpiece. It played pretty well, it seemed, so I put it back in the case and was on my way to Georgetown.

The traffic was thick. It took over an hour to get up to Sun City, so by the time I got up there it was nearly six. I thought I'd better spend some time affirming my impressions of the soprano, so once I has set everything up I went off to the dressing room to put it through its paces. The soprano had a gorgeous nickle plate finish with silver keywork. It has one of those backpacking cases that the young players like because it fades in to your school kit, I suspect. The stock mouthiece was BETTER than the Bari brand soprano mouthpiece I'd been playing for years.

It was clear from my woodshed time in the dressing room that this instrument was going to work out fine replacing trumpeter Andre. The most progress of any saxophone over the years is most dramatic (excluding the Steve Goodson Model baritone, which is in a class of its own) in sopranos. Just listen to recordings from the past, and the none too distant past too, and you'll hear how much struggling players had to do to coax music out of a Conn or, especially, the highly prized Mark Six (think Coltrane on this, or Joe Farrell on the Return to Forever album) and ask yourself how much more music would have come out of a horn that played as effortlessly as a tenor did back then.

This horn is astounding. For your estimated $1100, you get a horn that is keyed to high G. You get the gorgeous finish and the utilitarian case. You get a stock mouthpiece that actually works. Most importantly, you get a horn that plays without effort from bottom to top. Going "upstairs" doesn't change the timbre of the horn, and in fact you get more open as you ascend.

So I spent most of the gig playing trumpet parts, and the folks were none the wiser.

Let me recommend that you chase down one of these new Vespro sopranos. You ought to be considering one as a replacement for your old Mark Six, which should fetch two or three times what a Vespro costs. You ought to be considering it if you don't have a soprano in YOUR equipment closet right now. That's my situation, but not for long. I've decided to get a Vespro.

Wait a minute . . . Isn't this supposed to be a student horn? Well, check out the two previous posts for two opinions about what a student horn ought to play like.


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