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

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Brave New Neckstrap

Consider the lowly, under appreciated neckstrap. (I've tried with limit success the various harnesses. The simple ones are better. Anything else I can't seem to get on and off without getting something cinched or a clasp out of place.)

I remember how in the 1970's every saxophone player had to rush to get a Ray Hyman strap from Selmer. These were the wide ones, with the very wide hook. They looked pretty classy up against the clothes of the day. This was around the time that Dexter was returning to New York frequently and I recall he had a Hyman around his neck (of you'll forgive the expression) in his publicity photos. The result was every person occupying every level of the saxophone ladder had to have one of these, not just because Dex (at the top of the ladder) favored them, but because this was a radical new design which eclipsed the Micro saxophone neckstrap and its string-going-to-a-felt-pad look-alikes. This was a bold departure in neckstrap design.

Cut to the nineties and we find the Hyman largely extinct. There's a new high end emerging with the Oleg designs, but they cost plenty. The Neotech neckstraps have evolved slightly from their wetsuit-material roots, and Rico is building some string-and-pad things which I for one succumb to. (There was a galley helper who used to call me Rico when he served me on the QE2 because I'd show up with my neckstrap on–emblazoned with the RICO logo–just after our gig.) More recently, Neotech had build a neckstrap of more stable material than the wetsuit stuff, which lets the horn rest a good deal more. Rico had built a padded version of the one I used on QE2 which uses memory foam against the neck.

But there's a new neckstrap in town, and it's got a very special feature that makes a big difference when you have to have a saxophone around your neck for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch. That neckstrap is the Revelation Ergo Strap from Hollywoodwinds. Oh, it's lavishly padded all right. It comes with two choices of hook, either a twisted metal hook reminiscent of the Rico, or a clicking swivel hook. It sits low on the shoulder–not as low as the Olegs, but enough to take some stress off the neck muscles. But the real revelation of the Revelation is its removable piece of rubber insulation, about the size and shape of a 35mm film can, which slides into and out of the center of the neckstrap's inner pad.

Feel your neck. Go ahead. I can wait.

Did you notice the knob a bit higher than the level of your shoulders? That knob is where this rubber piece does its thing. As Shun-Hwa Chang, the Revelation Ergo's inventor, explained to me, the knob on your neck is a accupressure point and the mistake designers have made is to ignore this fact.

Well, I'm here to tell you this neckstrap has it all over every other design. I've been playing gigs for the last couple months using the Revelation Ergo and even when I'm playing baritone sax for extended periods I've really noticed a difference in the fatigue factor when the gig's over.

If I had a gripe it would be that the Revelation Ergo comes in two lengths, each of which is available in the aforementioned two hook styles. The long style (SNS-EX and SNS-EMX) are a little long–too long for alto, while the short versions (SNS-E and SNS-ME) are a bit too short for playing tenor comfortably. But this is a minor quibble, something sure to be worked out in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, I'm packing both sizes, and if the gig calls for extremely different, I'll use both sizes.

The Revelation Ergo lists for $25 and you can see it here, on Hollywoodwinds' site. We have a bunch of them in Santa Cruz at Thomas Musical Instruments.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Sylvester Alto Saxophone

This saxophone came by way of the late Jay Clark's store, Four Winds Music, in Berkeley by way of Santa Cruz. It appears to be intact. Good thing too, because you'd have to fab any missing part.

Still, it's an interesting piece that looks like the same guy who designed my old Underwood typewriter had a role in its design. The only repair visible is the low C# guard, which was repaired with solder. Also the bottom brace has been punched in slightly into the body, but a slide hammer applied to the post would take care of that in a hurry.

Interesting saxophone. Anyone know about this, beyond that it's covered by US Patent # 2569029, which is stamped on the upper stack's connecting brass piece?

We're listing it as a non-player for practical purposes on eBay. No case or mouthpiece.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Listen! Another giant has fallen.

Herb Pomeroy, a man who had a lot of effect on people I know, has died at age 77 of cancer.

I met him once, when my friend Ginger (who now teaches flute in Houston) took me to one of his Duke classes, in 1975. Ginger was a composition major at Berklee, a school which then doted on its guitar players but had enough respect for Herb that it practically enshrined two of his classes, Line Writing and Duke Ellington, after Herb returned to the school in the mid-seventies. Even though he had never met me, he made me feel right at home auditing his class, during which he played 78 rpm records and explained, as best as anyone could, what was going on. It was an impressive performance.

Afterward we talked, and to my astonishment, Herb told me about my dad's writing when they were both at Berklee--then called Shillinger House. He told me about a big band book my dad had written for a 13-piece band and how he was so proud of it that he had tried to get Herb out to Fitchburg to hear it. (Forty miles was a lot longer back then.) Herb continued until I had to leave, filling me in on a few details I didn't know about the band, and about my dad's education. (My dad was the first drummer to be admitted to what became Berklee. Back then drummers hardly ever read music.) The funny thing was, my dad's 13-piece big band was started right after I was born. At the time I met Herb I was 24, just off the Stan Kenton band.

There's nobody I know that Herb didn't touch this way. He made you feel special for just being there. He ran rehearsals the same way. Believe me, it's a struggle to get to a band rehearsal when you're playing 2nd Tenor Saxophone. You need to know that you're making a difference to make the rehearsal. Herb knew that, and knew how to bring out the best in your playing, because he knew what was going on musically all around him, and how important the internal parts are. This he learned himself from a lifetime of study of Duke.

It's easy to grow cynical in the world of music. While music becomes not so much an artistic pursuit as a study in survival, there are plenty of posers who get paid more than Crosus and Duke put together ever imagined. And yet, these are the people the mainstream press talks about as "musicians," people who mastered the are to lip-synching and who perform not music, but spectacle, and derivative spectacle at that.

That's what made Herb's life all the more remarkable. When he was 22, he was playing with Charlie Parker. Yet he never wavered in his resolve as a bandleader, as a teacher, as a player. He didn't have any bad habits. He never went to rehab or drove a Jaguar into a tree.

The night Duke died, I had tickets to see the Basie band play a gig in an old movie palace in Oakland, California. Needless to say, there was a bit of a wet blanket on the festivities. Basie himself pulled the plug a little early. I remember thinking that, if Basie was upset, there was something to be upset about. There was something, I reasoned, that would not and could not be replaced by Duke's passing. And so it was. No new Duke rose.

And so it is with Herb Pomeroy, son and grandson of Gloucester dentists. You made a difference.

See Herb's Wikipedia listing here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Distribution Issues and a Possible Solution

If you're like me, you've spent the last couple decades dealing with Dennis Bamber of the Woodwind (and, eventually, Woodwind and Brasswind), the powerhouse music retailer in South Bend, Indiana. Let's make it clear that I like Dennis--unlike some of the people I know in the business--and he is not any longer at the company he founded, because the Woodwind went bankrupt back at the end of October, leaving a lot of companies holding worthless invoices. Guitar Center took over the remains of WW/BW and continues operations, although how much longer is in question because of an ownership change at GC.

I first ran into Dennis in 1984. I was on the road with a big band show (Helen Forest, the Modernaires, Johnny Desmond, and Horace Heidt, Jr.). We had a day off in Chicago, stayed at the Palmer House, so I hopped in the Interurban with my clarinet, which was giving me problems. I was playing the bari chair and, thanks in large part to a San Antonio native named Ernie Caceras, who had played the Glenn Miller book 40 years before me, I had to play a lot of lead on clarinet. The more I played the parts the more I wanted a clarinet with a larger bore, something I could put more air through. I had called ahead and explained the situation, and Dennis said to come on down to South Bend. (I remember that when I got on the bus for that road trip, I had a copy of Byte magazine under my arm announcing the new Macintosh computer.)

So I took the train to South Bend, and what I found at the end of the line was a red barbershop with a music store behind it. What I found inside the music store was Dennis Bamber and chaos. I showed him my clarinet--a Selmer Series 9--and he led me into a jam-packed storeroom with cases to the ceiling. Dennis seemed to know where everything was and suggested a large bore Yamaha that I liked a lot. He took my old clarinet in trade, which had all the trademarks and the serial numbers filed off because the guy I bought it from had also picked up a Mark 6 alto in Europe along the with Series 9 and that's what the Customs Service made you do back then.

Afterwards, I visited a friend from the old days in Santa Cruz who was in grad school at Norte Dame and his family and headed back to Chicago.

When I got back home to California I sent Dennis a letter thanking him, and suggesting that he might consider putting his inventory on a small computer. Little did I know . . .

From then on I spent 2 decades ordering through Dennis' 800 number and, eventually, his website. Reeds mostly, but sometimes something more substantial.

When I was on the road with that big band show my son, Brendan, was just learning to walk. Twenty-two years later he was working at the headquarters of Pier One Imports in Ft. Worth as I finished my contract with Princess Cruises in the Baltic. I was very interested in the new Macintosh that Steve Jobs introduced with great flourish back in 1984, and now I'm writing this on a Macintosh unimaginable back then, one that cost $650 less than that first generation Mac.

In the intervening years a company called Mars tried to impose the big box model of retailing to the music business. I worked there a bit. But they couldn't make the same techniques that sell stoves work on musical instruments. It's a relationship-based business, and every instrument is different enough (again as opposed to stoves) to make a difference to the end user.

Meanwhile, Dennis kept on rolling along.

And the stores we call the Mom and Pops were crushed in the process of these elephants battling over the limited amount of business.

Mars went Chapter 11 in the fall of 2002. And when I walked off the gangway in Copenhagen in the fall of 2006, the Woodwind and Brasswind. There's no telling how many Mom and Pops were brought down by Woodwind's rather aggressive pricing over the years.

This much I'm sure of: There's a vacuum in the music business. Now that the remains of the Woodwind are going to be spun off, presumably, by Guitar Center, as they were bought by a private equity company. That vacuum will grow.

Here's a possible solution to the declining number of music stores overall.

We're thinking of empowering some savvy private teachers with dealerships so they can sell Vespro Saxophones and some of our very nice flutes, clarinets and oboes.

I'll be making a website explaining the whole program this week. Look for a link in my next posting.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

News from the Front

Another couple of trade shows are looming this weekend and next. The Texas Bandmasters Association will convene at the end of this week, with the tradeshow floor opening Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Then a couple days off and we move in to the Austin Convention Center for Summer NAMM.

Steve Goodson will be at both shows. Of the two, I suspect that TBA in San Antonio will be the easiest for a civilian to attend. You can actually buy a day pass, for $20 if memory serves.

And what's Orpheus been up to?

Well, we no longer deal with Pearl Flutes. And we've expanded or own flute lines so there's a lot of quality that overlaps and meets the lost models with a little price drop. (A lot more flutes are on the way, including a hand-made series along with altos and basses.)

We will be showing clarinets, 2 Bb models and a bass to low C. We'll have a prototype oboe and pic. We just need a bassoon and we'll have all of the woodwinds. Stay tuned.

I got to write and design all the pass-out catalog sheets for the shows. We did one for clarinets (shown), one featuring Tom Scott for Saxgourmet, another for Steve Goodson Models--a double truck, one for DVDs of repairs, one for replacement Mark 6 necks, one for Richad Egües Model Flutes, and one for Vespro, which seem to be selling themselves, as they should.

We are going to have a few of the new Orpheo model saxophones at the show.

Lots of stuff, in other words.

We'll be showing the

Sunday, July 08, 2007

My New Favorite Application

I've been building web pages since 1988. I remember being horrified when I was the first URL on a mudflap. I was thinking at the time that the web would generate its own volunteers who would catalog all of life in one pleasant non-commercial utility that would sit there humming on my desk, awaiting my orders. How this would all pay for itself was none of my business. Microsoft was thinking the whole web thing would blow over. AOL picked up a failed Apple project and ran with it.

I ended up working as a reviewer for Macworld magazine because the regular guy handing music notation software was "tainted" because he wrote the manual for the new rev of Finale. That guy was David Pogue, by the was, the guy who writes technology reviews and stars in zany videos for the New York Times.

Macintosh developers were on a mission back then. They were really busy making their platform of choice the most innovative ever. And they came up with some very interesting stuff. At the time, for example, my son was singing with a boy's choir. I had a great little program that drilled Solfeggio (do-re-mi---) and my son thought it was a game. Every time he went to choir rehearsal the director commented about how great Brendan's sightreading was.

Well, through the Gil Amelio years and the constant struggle to keep Mac alive, there was a little diminution of the essence of Mac developer ju-ju. They weren't fun to hang with anymore. All that changed again around OS-X release, then iPod, and, well I guess you know how things turned out.

My new favorite program (and the one I abandoned Dreamweaver for) is RapidWeaver, which is as much a community as it is a program. I thought I'd gone back in time when I started hanging around their website (which is here). These guys and gals have the ju ju, the moxie, the whatever it takes to get this tent up and get the circus underway.

I'll spare you the details, but go have a look at the program, download a trial version, then buy it! At $40, you won't find a better deal. Because the program uses CSS it's thematic, and there's a whole community of theme developers who sell their stuff at usually $10 each. The great thing is this is a global product, made in Brighton in the UK, with developers of themes and add-ons all across the globe. And the community extends to a first-rate tech support forum.

So here are a couple of samples:

Orpheus Musical Instruments has a new site here.

The Original Recipe Band, the band my brother and I co-lead, is here.

My hat's off to the Real Mac Software guys, some of whom I gather were not around when the Mac arrived on the scene! They've got a great product, at a great price, and you join a very excellent club when you buy it, a club made up of people all over the world!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Another killer instrument . . .

You better hold on to your wig, because it's likely to flip. I've always dug the sound of charanga, the Cuban music where violins play the montuna and a five-keyed (usually) flute dances on top of the stings and the rhythm section. Artie Webb used to kill me with Ray Barretto! I suppose I dug it because it was a way of playing rhythm flute, if you know what I mean.

This weekend I had a chance to play one of the prototypes of the Richard Egües Model flute from Orpheus, which is almost ready for sale at your dealer. Richard was himself a fine flute player from Cuba, notably for the nearly 30 years spent with Orquestra Aragon.

What's prevented everyone from cranking out wooden flutes is the same reality that's slowing down clarinet production worldwide: bad wood, green wood, knots in the wood, declining craftsmanship, and so on. The wood cracks. Simple as that.

Orpheus decided to make a noble experiment out of the new model. It's a composite version of the wooden flute, only it's got all modern keywork, like a spilt E and low B with Gizmo.

I played another gig this weekend and brought the Egües Model for a workout, and let me tell you, this flute is something special. With that sharp attack you get from a wooden (or in this case composite) headjoint you get all kinds of percussive effects just by playing arpeggios. Your only limitation is the speed you can tongue.

The flute is LOUD, which is something I didn't think was possible, but there you are. I was playing into a Sennheiser condensor mic, which is really sensitive but once I pulled the gain down a little bit from where I usually have it, I was cool. This is a very well-made instrument, with perfect finish and fit of the keywork.

How'd the gig go? Did I ever get compliments! How it looked (it has gold-plated keywork, and a silver-plated keywork version is available), how it sounded, how clear the high end was, how ballsy the low end was . . . Sweet!

It may not be the flute of choice for somebody who just plays in flute ensembles and does section work, but for someone doing solo work--especially Latin jazz--you've got a flute made just for you. It looks like street price for this model is going to be $1300, although if enough folks buy them, look for them to go down in price.