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AllenLowe

A Tale of Some Saxophones

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years ago I interviewed Sonny Rollins in a hotel room somewhere in Connecticut for a book I was working on. Sonny was nice but the interview went nowhere. Suddenly I mentioned a saxophone I had just purchased, a Martin, and Sonny's eyes lit up - and for the next 40 minutes we had the nicest conversation about horns - he told me, for instance, that he had recorded Alfie on a Buescher Aristorcrat - "I loved that horn but I had to give it up because it wouldn't play in tune." Years later I picked up a 1930s Buescher Aristocrat alto, played the octaves and - sure enough - it wouldn't play in tune. Sonny was right.

A few years ago I decided to give up the tenor saxophone for the alto - first of all, there's too many tenor players in the world (they ought to be spayed, but that's another thread) - second of all, my growing carpal tunnel makes it easier to play the smaller horn. Which I've actually grown to love, and now think I was playing the wrong horn all along.

A few years ago I purchased a Conn Chu Berry alto, 1923, for 1,000 bucks. Fantastic horn. The other day I'm in a local music shop and what do I see? A Buescher Aristocrat alto - but a much later vintage than the one I'd played before. This was made after Selmer bought Buescher, and the serial number put it at about 1967. Lucky enough, according to internet sources, that was the last good year for them. It played well (octaves in tune) in the store, so I picked it up for $200. A nice added bonus was the old Brilhart Ebolin mouthpiece in the case (these are not the real valuable ones, though they're very nice; these, in original shape, go for 50-60 bucks on Ebay).

I took it home and started A/B ing it with my Conn, which is now worth probably 1200-1300 dollars. And guess what? I like the Buescher better - the action is great, the sound just a little bit denser. Though these were allegedly student horns, I am now looking to buy another.

Moral of the story? Always do what Sonny Rollins does. Just make sure you're in tune.

Edited by AllenLowe

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That's really interesting, Allen.

I'm amazed that Sonny didn't stick with his Selmer MK VI. If it ain't broke ....

I was lent a Beuscher alto years ago. The owner's grandfather had played it with Jimmy Durante, I was told. It was a solid horn, with a good tone, and I don't remember any intonation problems. But the keywork was clumsy - it was awkward to play it fast. I've never played any sax with keywork as good as on the Selmer MK VI.

Currently I've got a Selmer Super Series 80 Soprano (or some similar name, ho hum). It doesn't even come close to the MK VI soprano that I used to have. I had it in the repair shop recently, and the guy there showed me a MK VI that he said he might be selling. I said I would like to do an exchange. But Cursedmass intervened and when I went back to get my horn, he told me that the MK VI was already sold. D'oh!

Edited by Shrdlu

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Allen,

You ever consider playing a C-melody? Vintage Conns, Beuschers, etc. can still be had quite resonably and 20-30 years ago they could be had for next to nothing (I bought a playable, if just barely, ing for $50 twent-five years ago, more for a Conn recently). There's even a guy from NZ having 'em made in China now (haven't played or even seen one of these).

D

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I thought about a C melody, just to help me with certain keys (tired of transposing all the time) - I've only played a few and they all were so tough to get a decent sound out of, even with the right mouthpiece. And they always need work, it seems (and the cost of an overhaul these days, I was told, is $750 - ouch.)

so i'LL probably just stick with the alto, which I'm loving. I've managed to accumulate 4 of those Brilhart's, which have a nice warmth to them. Selling my three Steve Broadus mouthpieces this week on Ebay (he was a contemporary of Brilhart, fine mouthpiece, just a little too closed up for me).

You're right about those Mark VI's - I played once and it practically played itself. The Conn Chu Berry actually has pretty respectable action, and the new Buescher plays very swiftly, which I like. I recorded with Shipp and Rudd with the Conn, and I like the way it sounded, very full, nice edge when needed. Still not as good as the 6M I sold years ago (damn) -

Edited by AllenLowe

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I'm surprised - I wouldn't have thought any Buescher horns from that period were any good. Glad it's working for you. My baritone is a mid-forties Buescher, and it does have intonation issues, but it has such a great sound that I deal with it. I'm mostly an alto player, and I alternate between a mid-sixties Mark VI and and mid-forties Conn 6M, depending on what kind of group I'm playing with. I love them both, but Shrdlu is right about the superb keywork of the Mark VI. Of all my horns (altos, bari, clarinet), it's the only one that feels like an extension of me - it's just effortless to play.

And I've never heard a C-melody that I like.

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I was surprised too that it sounds so good - but than I hit places like Sax on the Web, which have some very knowledegable people. Interestingly enough they put 1967 as the last good year for Buescher/Selmer - which is exactly, by serial number, the year my horn came out. Apparently the manufacturing methods changed after that.

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My folks bought me a new Buescher Aristocrat alto in 1966, my very first horn. It was good, but not a Selmer, which I got when I went to college. Not a bad horn by any means, but advances had been made, even at the time. Definitely noticed the difference once I got the Selmer.

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I've done a lot of Googling about the "C melody", and I'm curious to try one. My early sax mentor called it "neither one nor the other", lol. It would be good if it had a proportionate bore and a dedicated reed.

After noticing that Gerry Mulligan avoided the Selmer baritone and used a Conn (from when they were good), I'd love to try the variant that he used. Apparently, the low A on the baritone fucks up the intonation of some notes, and Gerry and Pepper always used the low Bb horn. Who needs a low A anyhow? (I blew one once at a jam session, and it was very easy to play.)

I didn't know what it was called when I had it, but my first sax, a Selmer, must have been a "balanced action". It was in poor shape and I didn't like it. What a difference when I traded it in for a new MK VI alto. As Allen said, it just about played itself. (Though it was hard to blow below low D, for some reason, a problem not shared with my MK VI tenor or soprano.)

Every Yamaha that I've tried (alto and tenor) played great too.

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