Search Site

RSS / Atom

9/2008 BJAM Session Newsletter

(September 2008)

Previous issues of the BJAM Session are available online at http://www.bakersjazzandmore.com/news/

You are welcome to copy and distribute these newsletters to other directors, students, or anyone else who might be interested.


INTRODUCTION – New Beginnings
FEATURE SOLO – How to improve your sax section
OPEN CHORUSES – Open for discussion
SHOUT SECTION – Upcoming Jazz Concerts
CODA – Final Words

INTRODUCTION – As we launch into the Fall season, we’re all working our way through many new beginnings – a new school year, students entering a new grade level, possibly even at a new school. Younger students are just beginning their band experiences while those just a few years older are learning what it’s like to be a member of a marching band. There are plenty of new band directors taking the helm for their very first time, too. There are even those brave enough to be starting a jazz program for the very first time! To all of you – congratulations, both for the courage to take that first step and for the tenacity to keep taking the ones after that.

Here at BJAM, we’ve got some new beginnings of our own.

First, in addition to our semi-regular addition of new jazz charts to the catalog, we’ve begun a whole new category of charts – Marching Band. Check our website for MIDI recordings and descriptions.

Second, BJAM music is now available through RBC Music in San Antonio as well as from us directly.

Third, there’s a new big band in Austin – Baker’s Dozen. Led by Paul Baker and featuring music from the BJAM catalog, as well as other composers and arrangers, this 13 piece ensemble plays on the second Wednesday of the month at the Elephant Room in Austin, Texas. We’ve had great audience response so far and we hope to be able to record a CD in the coming year. There will be a full announcement here when it’s time for the release. In the meantime, if you’re in the Central Texas area, or going to be in the area, on a 2nd Wednesday, please put Baker’s Dozen at the Elephant Room on your calendar and come up and introduce yourself.

Featuring some of the best players in Austin, many of whom teach professionally or privately, Baker’s Dozen is also available for concert appearances and for clinics as well. Get several programs together to spread out the cost and spread out the benefit!

Finally, in more ways than one, the Texas Jazz Educators Association (TJEA) should be up and running by now. Alex Parker, President of the Texas Chapter of IAJE and Director of Jazz Studies at Baylor University, has told me that a committee met over the weekend of the 13-14th to finalize a constitution and bylaws, and an advisory board will be in place shortly. Following that, all the necessary paperwork will be filed with the State of Texas.


NEW MARCHING BAND MUSIC – “…And More” now finally has the catalog to back up the title. We are proud to offer three new stand tunes, all in the jazz salsa style, that are fun and original – you won’t hear them being played back to you from across the stands – YET – but that won’t last long. Our three titles – “Blanca”, “Senor Frio”, and “Sesos de Huesos” are tried and proven crowd pleasers from the library of Beto y los Fairlanes. MIDI demos and descriptions are now available on our website.

In addition to “El Gato Chulo” announced last month, we’re pleased to offer “Riffin’ On the Duke”, a grade 3 medium swing chart based on the chord changes from the Ellington standard “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore”. Featuring a new bebop melody that moves through each section of the ensemble, and full of melodic quotes (how many can you find?) from other Ellington tunes, there are solos for trumpet, trombone, alto sax, and piano. Written solos are provided along with the chord changes. Trumpet range is to written high C.

MIDDLE SCHOOL MUSICBJAM is pleased to announce the addition of “Steppin’ Up”, a Basie/Nestico style medium swing chart. A recording will be forthcoming.

As always, check www.bakersjazzandmore.com/charts/ for all of our charts for middle school, high school, and college programs. If you’re looking for a particular type of chart, let us know. We might be able to fill your need with something we have already in the works – OR – we are available for commissions and will be happy to work with you and your band to create custom music for your band. Contact paul@bakersjazzandmore.com to discuss further.


FEATURE SOLO – How to improve your sax section

When I judge at jazz festivals, I’m always surprised at how rarely I hear a good sax section. The good ones stand out, not so much because of their technique, but because of their sound. They blend. They’re balanced. They phrase together. In the following paragraphs, I’d like to address several issues that can improve the sound of your section quickly and regardless of level.


To start with, before anyone plays a note, it helps to be set up correctly. The proper seating arrangement (L to R jazz tenor, alto 2, alto 1, tenor 2, bari) is counterintuitive to the traditional concert band seating arrangement (L to R alto 1, alto 2, tenor 1, tenor 2, bari), but it really does work better, and these are the reasons why.

First, it places the lead alto in front of the lead trombone and lead trumpet chairs. The brass section, because they’re behind the saxes and can’t hear them well, if at all, sets the ensemble’s pitch. Since the rest of the saxes get their pitch from the lead player, it’s best for all concerned to have the lead player in the optimal – center – position.

Second, it places the jazz tenor soloist next to the rhythm section where they can hear each other better. This results in an extra level of comfort for everybody because they all can hear what’s going on and can therefore interact and react that much more musically.

Third, it puts the bari sax directly in front of the bass trombone. Since these two parts are often written in unison, it helps to have the two players as close together as possible to match pitch and phrasing.

There is an added bonus to this alignment, too. The sound of the entire ensemble is that much stronger and more focused when the sounds are grouped this way – lead players in a row and bari/bass trbn in a row. This results in more impact on the audience and a more impressive performance all around.

Another seating trick that’s really helpful, but that I rarely see, is to place the sax chairs in a slight arc rather than a straight line. As a sax player myself, I know that when you’ve got 8-10 brass players blasting away behind you, it can be difficult to hear as well as you’d like. Placing the chairs in an arc forces the saxes to play to each other a little more which makes the lead player more audible to the section and vice versa. Brothers and sisters on the front row gotta stick together. Each member of the section has to be able to hear the lead player clearly. As the saying goes, “If you can’t hear the lead player, you’re playing too loud.”


Mouthpieces are one of the most important components of sound production on a saxophone. Assuming a quality reed of the appropriate strength (usually nothing harder than a 3 1/2), sufficient airstream, and a properly functioning horn, the mouthpiece selection is crucial to a player’s sound. When multiplied five times across the section, you can see how significant this piece of equipment is.

The major scourge of middle school and most high school level saxophonists is the dreaded C* or S80 mouthpiece, followed by any stock mouthpiece that comes with the instrument. While these mouthpieces are fine for concert band music, they are diametrically opposed to the requirements of a jazz band sax section. I’m not going to rant on about this, other than to point out that the function of a sax section in a concert band setting is to sound warm and blend with the ensemble. Rarely are they required to project or compete with the brass section. C*‘s and S80’s are ideal for this purpose. HOWEVER…….

Jazz sax sections are required, constantly, to play out and balance with twice as many brass players seated directly behind them. Jazz mouthpieces are a great help in even beginning to keep up. Not only do they focus the sound for greater projection, they are also easier to play in the upper ranges of the instrument where concert mouthpieces tend to thin out or disappear altogether.

At this point, I want to point out that I understand mouthpieces, especially these days, cost money, hundreds of dollars in some cases. I’m not saying everybody has to rush out and rob a bank. What I would like to suggest, if at all possible, and as start, if the student is unable to do so, have your program purchase a Meyer 5M for your lead alto player to use. This is probably the most widely used jazz alto mouthpiece, and it can be had for less than $100. If nothing else, pitch will stabilize, sound will focus, and the section will start to have some definition.

Notice that I recommend a #5 facing and not a #9 or something huge. Most professional players do NOT play on extremely open mouthpieces. Most play on something in the range of 5-7, and they use medium strength reeds (2.5-3.5) for the most part. These setups require the least amount of work and provide the most amount of flexibility and control. There’s no reason to work harder than you have to when playing music.

Also, the Meyer is made of hard rubber, not metal. In my opinion, metal mouthpieces on alto are NOT appropriate for school age players and rarely sound good playing lead in a sax section. They sound great as a soloist (David Sanborn, Everette Harp, Eric Marienthal), but that’s really the best place for them.

On the other hand, due to its lower range and darker sound, tenor sax is well suited to metal mouthpieces, even at the high school level. I don’t recommend them at the middle school level because the student is still learning the fundamentals of playing the instrument. Something like an Otto Link can work quite well in a section. Again, you want to keep the facing reasonable.

For baritone sax, either rubber or metal mouthpieces work well. Brands to consider include, but are not limited to, Link, Berg Larsen, Brilhart, Lawton, and Dukoff. Once you move your bari player from a C* to a jazz mouthpiece you’ll be amazed at how much more sound there is on the bottom of your band. Once again, keep the tip openings and reed strengths in the moderate range.

Comparing a section of C*‘s to a section of jazz mouthpieces is a night and day difference. One is focused, the other tubby and indistinct. One will project and be heard while the other will sound like the bells are filled with cotton balls.

Again, I realize that cost is a primary factor in this area, but if you can at least start with the lead alto, and then the bari, you’ll improve the quality of sound coming from the front row of the ensemble.

For further assistance in selecting a mouthpiece for your student, enlist the help of a local professional or a private teacher. Since most music stores rarely stock a selection of jazz mouthpieces, I recommend contacting the Woodwind & Brasswind. They will send you three of any kind of mouthpiece for you to try out, and if you buy one of the three there’s no restocking fee for the other two you return. Such a deal.


Finally, we get to play some. Now that we’re seated in the right place with the right equipment, let’s make some noise. Since everything starts with the lead alto, let’s start there.

Playing lead is more than just playing the first part. It’s playing the first part while simultaneously showing the rest of the section the way they should be playing their parts as well. Playing lead requires developing an attitude, a level of confidence and pride that says, “Here it is folks – get in line”. This doesn’t mean to just play louder, it means to play more forcefully. It means to play with more dynamic contrast. It means to overemphasize the accents and phrasing markings. It means to play with a big full, well supported sound at all times. When a lead player does this, the rest of the section should (I hesitate to say “will”) fall in line, and that’s when the real sound begins.

As I mentioned, articulations are important to the lead player, but they must receive just as much attention from the rest of the section. When five players are playing the same articulation differently, you end up with sonic mush. For clarity, note lengths and accents must be rehearsed and played the same way by everybody. Swing feel must be consistent throughout the section or else attacks and endings will be muddied and indistinct. Think about the great sax sections in the Basie band under Marshall Royal (1950’s-60’s). It’s not a sax section, but think about the Tower of Power horn section. What gives them their impact and power? They’re incredibly tight. What does that mean in practical terms? They phrase every last note together. They’re consistent with the style and with the articulations. When they punch a note, everybody punches it together. When they swell, they swell together.

A friend gave me a great visual analogy for articulations and sound. He said, think of it like a shotgun. When a shotgun is fired, the pellets are all close together near the barrel of the gun, but as they travel further away, they spread tremendously. Sound is the same way. If tight articulation gets somewhat spread by the time it reaches your audience, imagine what sloppy articulation sounds like by the time it reaches the back of the auditorium.

Moving on into the section, let’s address the second alto chair, one of the most difficult in the section. Why difficult? Because the second player must be an exact shadow of the lead player in terms of pitch and phrasing and volume. The way to do this is a technique called “ghosting”. It means to play one dynamic level below the lead player. It means to constantly adjust your pitch to match the lead player’s. It means to listen as carefully as possible to match the lead player’s phrasing on every note. As a second alto player, you have to be able to fully represent your part in the section, but you also have to sublimate yourself to the lead player’s style and pitch. Good second alto players are hard to find. It’s much more than just playing the second part.

Now, on to the bottom of the section – the baritone sax. Believe it or not, the bari part is the second most important part in the section. How can this be? It’s often written in octaves with the lead alto so it really reinforces that lead line. Also, being the lowest in pitch range, the bari has a lot to do with section tuning. While the lead alto is getting pitch from the lead trumpet, the bari’s ears are locked onto the bass trombone and bass – as well as the lead alto. A strong bari player is the best friend a lead alto player can have in the section….so long as they’re on the same page. In fact, while your best player should be on lead, your second best should be on bari, believe it or not. With the top and bottom covered, the middle parts can settle in. If the lead alto and bari are at odds, nothing can settle.

Finally, the tenors. No, I haven’t forgotten about them. They just tend to get lost in the shuffle because they usually are playing inner parts, sometimes extremely awkward inner parts. Woe be unto the 2nd tenor player who has to sightread a Thad Jones chart. However, one of the really cool things about the tenor sax, particularly in jazz bands, is that they sound really great playing in unison. It’s a really neat sound. In fact, the Woody Herman Band’s sound was based on a sax section with three tenors and a bari. The point I’m trying to get to is that when the sax section is playing a unison line, and the tenors are included, the tenor sax sound should dominate. The altos need to back off and the bari needs to meld into that wonderfully warm tenor blend.


These techniques work and they work well. Put the players in the right place with the right equipment and get them to play together in the right way – how hard can that be, right? Some of these techniques, particularly the playing techniques can take awhile to implement since they have to do with the player’s personal interest and musical growth. However, it can be done. I’ve heard it. Section rehearsals are a great thing. I know it’s one more thing on the schedule, but if you can work them in and make them a habit for your students, the results will be impressive as will the musical and personal growth of your students as they begin to take responsibility and ownership of their parts. Also, don’t forget to reach out to your private teachers or local professionals for help.



Have any topics for discussion? Have any questions you’d like to ask? Have any comments you’d like to make? This is the place. Send your topics, questions, and comments to paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and we’ll put them in the next issue of the BJAM Session. The goal is to share knowledge and experience for the benefit of all, teachers and students alike.



There are some great jazz concerts coming to the state of Texas in the coming weeks and months. Get out and hear these nationally renowned artists.

Baylor University:
Turtle Island String Quartet – Tuesday 9/23 7:30pm in Roxy Grove Hall $10/students $15/general admission
Kenny Barron Trio – Friday 10/24 7:30pm in Jones Hall $10/students $15/general admission

Texas State University San Marcos:
Bob Mintzer Clinic – Friday 10/3 11am-1pm
Airmen of Note – Friday 11/14 7pm San Marcos High School

Texas Christian University:
Airmen of Note – Sunday 11/16 7:30pm

University of North Texas:
In addition to the always full schedule of student performances, the main event for the fall will be a two day Alumni Reunion event honoring the retirements of Neil Slater, Paris Rutherford, and Jim Riggs. This all takes place on November 21 and 22. See the UNT Jazz website www.jazz.unt.edu for more details.



Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter. It is our desire to make this newsletter a valuable tool for you by hosting letters, posing questions to the community, offering rehearsal, performance, or arranging tips or whatever you’d like to see discussed. If you have a jazz education topic you want to explore, please contact us at paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and we’ll include it in our next newsletter.

If you find this information valuable, we encourage you to forward it on to anyone else who you feel might benefit from it. One of our main goals is to “spread the word”. The more information educators and students have about jazz, the better the music will be and everyone benefits.

We’re looking forward to hearing from you, and we hope that you’ll be looking forward to hearing from us as well.

Until next month,

Paul Baker
Owner and Composer
Baker’s Jazz And More

If you would prefer to not receive future issues of the BJAM Session newsletter, then please email us at paul@bakersjazzandmore.com and you will be unsubscribed post haste.