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Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
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Discussion Starter #1
I read a lot of comments from young players on this forum about the production of altissimo notes. At times it seems to me that they have the idea that to be able to play high notes is the sign of a good saxophone player.
Then I wondered where they get this idea from. Their teachers? A rather common teenage preference for "better, stronger, faster, higher"? Or is it something to do with the kind of audition pieces they may have to play at some point in the future?
Please understand that I have absolutely no axe to grind with regard to the use of altissimo per se. I may from time to time make some flippant remarks about "squeaks" but here I am absolutely serious. My doubts are about the priorites which students seem to express.
 

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it's a technical skill, which lots of young players think means that sort of theyve mastered the rest of the instrument so they can move onto harmonics.

the real skill in harmonics is being able to use them well and make them sound good,

i often wonder what the audience think of harmonics,

but lots of people see it as a crowd pleasing thing,
 

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Yes Rooty, the accent seems to lay on " faster and higher" more than anything else. Mind you, this might be a bad case of " sour grapes" from my part because I can't and won't ever be able to play that high or that fast.
Nevertheless I think that the ability to use good musical phrasing and the actual playing of " ideas", saying something, instead of just running up and down playing bits of scales and various licks, is by far more important.
 

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I know of no finer improvisational exponent of harmonics in his playing than the late, great Stephane Grappelli. His use of harmonics on the violin was a natural extension of his improvisational style and was perfectly, musically integrated. I am somewhat tired of hearing certain players at concerts, exploring the outer fringes of saxophone technique, apparently on a "look what I can do" basis that expresses little, if anything, of improvisational musical value, but simply "showcases" the player's technique. Give me musicality with slightly less altissimo "technique" anyday!
 

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So that Robert A Luckey can write books about it.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Nopunonsax said:
I know of no finer improvisational exponent of harmonics in his playing than the late, great Stephane Grappelli. His use of harmonics on the violin was a natural extension of his improvisational style and was perfectly, musically integrated. I am somewhat tired of hearing certain players at concerts, exploring the outer fringes of saxophone technique, apparently on a "look what I can do" basis that expresses little, if anything, of improvisational musical value, but simply "showcases" the player's technique. Give me musicality with slightly less altissimo "technique" anyday!
I think I agree with you in very general terms and I have an idea of the kind of thing you mean and the kind of players you have in mind. Nevertheless, I find that I have to admit that there are many advanced players in different styles who are able to use the upper reaches with great taste and musicality. My question is not so much about them. It is focused more on the (generally) younger players (who are themselves already quite "advanced", in a sense) who may be going to embark on further study at some seat of higher learning.
 

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The kind of woodshedding one must do in order to learn to produce and control the altissimo range is extremely valuable, seems to me -- working on overtones teaches one about the instrument's harmonic possibilities. Altissimo study -- really study of harmonics -- has improved my tone over the whole range of the instrument, made it richer and more flexible. Such things don't have to be ends in themselves: the instrument has remarkable possibilities, all interconnected.
 

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Discussion Starter #8 (Edited)
Reedsplinter said:
.. working on overtones teaches one about the instrument's harmonic possibilities. Altissimo study -- really study of harmonics -- has improved my tone over the whole range of the instrument, made it richer and more flexible.
I can understand this and I totally agree. According to this view the study of harmonics and altissimo is an exercize in listening (at least!) And yet this makes it even more surprising when one sees footage of a youngster playing in the altissimo range and tuning is quite clearly not under control. What is going on there? I am assuming that the player will have been told that he should be doing this by a teacher (?) If altissimo practise = super tone and super tuning what's going on in these cases? Could it be that somewhere or other altissimo is the next thing on some kind of technique shopping list? I note that in his book Rascher recommends the study of altissimo as an advanced study only for those who have already brought the normal range of the saxophone under control. Seems like a lot of people are skipping the first few papes of "Top Tones". Maybe.
 

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When I was a classical saxophone student in high school, it was explained to me that in order to play the literature I would be seeing in college (as written), I'd need to learn altissimo, and since it can take some time, and because the learning process has multiple side-benefits, I might as well start "now" (meaning then, in high school). So my teacher started me on a no-pressure, no-schedule course of working on harmonics and altissimo for no more than 5 minutes a day, a few times a week as a sort of side project.

I think that was very reasonable. I don't know if that is different from what jazz students experience, but my teacher explained altissimo as nothing more or less than extending the range of the instrument. Also, I didn't really "get it" until about the summer before college started, and it wasn't reliable for a while into college. I'd say I was about average with altissimo - some of my co-students could do it better, some worse.

Sorry if that rambled off-topic...
 

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RootyTootoot said:
And yet this makes it even more surprising when one sees footage of a youngster playing in the altissimo range and tuning is quite clearly not under control. What is going on there?
A thing done badly is bad (to coin a tautology). That doesn't make the thing itself invalid. I ate a bad clam once! It was in New Jersey, and. . . .

But I digress.:shock:
 

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TheOtter said:
my teacher explained altissimo as nothing more or less than extending the range of the instrument.
Exactly. The players who use it the most tastefully think of it not as a separate entity but just as an extra octave or so.... Then you have the crowd pleasers.

Rooty , whats with the 'z' in exercise ?:shock: :)
 

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Thank you, Rooty, for starting this thread. I too have had similar questions about the use of altissimo, but less well articulated than what has been expressed here. I agree wholeheartedly with Nopun's comment below--perhaps I've been overly exposed to this sort playing and underexposed to artists who use altissimo in the service of music, rather than to show that they can do it, albeit often poorly.

Nopunonsax said:
I am somewhat tired of hearing certain players at concerts, exploring the outer fringes of saxophone technique, apparently on a "look what I can do" basis that expresses little, if anything, of improvisational musical value, but simply "showcases" the player's technique. Give me musicality with slightly less altissimo "technique" anyday!
I've not had the opportunity nor the inclination as yet to make a serious study of altissimo and much of the altissimo playing that I have heard hasn't given me any incentive to do so. However, this discussion has gone some way in providing that incentive by pointing out that, when studied in it's proper place and with musical goals, altissimo becomes another step toward mastering the instrument,

Thanks, y'all. I always learn something here.
Ruth
 

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Kids have to learn by doing so if you hear youngster going for it and it doesn't work - I don't have any problems with that. Eventually with practice the notes will work and hopefully be in tune.

From my own experience, I listened to Saturday Night Live as a kid and THAT'S how the tenor should sound (in my 13 year old mind) so I asked by teacher (a trumpet guy) for a fingering chart and he gave me one to REALLY high C - (C4 ?) So I started working on G - the next logical note. In two months I could play the G - So I went to the next note (A - Diatonic in C - I was only in 9th Grade) and that one simply popped out. Turns out by working on G for 2 months I had learned how (throat tongue etc) how to voice the altissimo - DONE.

Of course, I studied Saxophone in college but my professors never directly addressed Altissimo - I worked it out myself. Very Strange - to some of the professors even in the late 80's is was still a gimmick. :(
 

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Discussion Starter #15
davesaxa1 said:
Exactly. The players who use it the most tastefully think of it not as a separate entity but just as an extra octave or so.... Then you have the crowd pleasers.

Rooty , whats with the 'z' in exercise ?:shock: :)
Dave: I could say that i'm trying to curry favour with the natives (;)) but the truth is that despite previous employment as an English teacher I can't spell properly. :D :D :D
 

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I first heard about altissimo back in the late 60s -- from a legit altoist who was working it out on his own. Meanwhile, I was convinced that Jr. Walker played alto, because it wasn't possible to play that high on a tenor. Then suddenly: epiphany! (I used to be pretty dumb, and still am.)

But speaking of Jr. Walker: why not please the crowd from time to time, depending on the crowd, the occasion, and how much they're paying you?
 

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Especially in the context of jazz or improvised music, I feel like the crowd (such as it may or may not be) is almost another member of the band. I feed off of their energy and vice versa, if all is well. If they're really diggin it, and it's built up to properly, I'll blow the high notes, and that usually sets them off. My altissimo technique is pretty bad... the sound and intonation is good, but I fake a lot of fingerings, and I can't play runs up there, so my use of the altissimo is almost exlusively relegated to "crowd pleasing..." that's alright with me for now.

On the other hand, I was in the studio one day, and the producer told me he wanted "a fast riff, then do it again in a few bars, and just play a high note at the end." I think it sounds a little bit contrived, but people I play it for like it. You can hear that solo on the track "Works For Me," at http://www.katielocke.com/music.html and the sax solo is at 2:30-ish. If you listen to the whole track, you can hear where I blatantly ripped off the Brecker Brothers' "Sponge" when I wrote the horn arrangement.
 

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DanPerezSax said:
Especially in the context of jazz or improvised music, I feel like the crowd (such as it may or may not be) is almost another member of the band. I feed off of their energy and vice versa, if all is well. If they're really diggin it, and it's built up to properly, I'll blow the high notes, and that usually sets them off. My altissimo technique is pretty bad... the sound and intonation is good, but I fake a lot of fingerings, and I can't play runs up there, so my use of the altissimo is almost exlusively relegated to "crowd pleasing..." that's alright with me for now.

Would this be the same crowd that goes to auto races to see the wrecks and watches hockey to see the fights?
 

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Personally, I learned some altissimo just to extend the range of my playing. Second reson, I guess, was that it helped me in learning other players' solos (Jr. Walker, Gato Barbieri, etc.). Sure, there's a "cool" factor in playing them, and truthfully, I never became real proficient with the entire altissimo range, but it was worth learning and I still use it.

I found it incredibly difficult to learn at first, but once I'd "gotten the hang of it" everything kind of opened up...
 

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AltoRuth said:
Would this be the same crowd that goes to auto races to see the wrecks and watches hockey to see the fights?
I don't know. I'll ask around at tonight's hit... though I fully expect to hear, "Brotha, do I LOOK like I watch NASCAR?"

To answer your implication, I've never heard anyone say, "I'm going to a jazz club to hear someone play altissimo." I have heard, "Wow, that was a great show. I loved the energy."
 
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