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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
An Open Letter to Saxophonists, Aspiring Saxophonists and all Musicians from Phil Barone

This text is not meant to be controversial nor condescending in any way nor was it written to denigrate, or discourage anyone or disregard their personal experiences but rather to help enlighten players, especially younger players to myths, false beliefs, and cognitive distortions* that are prevalent in the world of musicians based on my experience having worked for many saxophone players. I have nothing to gain by writing it and in fact it will probably do more harm to me than good but it may help chip away at what I believe to be an illusion perpetrated by many of the younger generation of saxophone players and musicians and the music accessory industry. It may not apply to you.

After thirty-seven years customizing and making mouthpieces and selling saxophones for great and not so great musicians and playing the sax for longer, I have decided to speak out against the folklore that’s prevalent these days since I’ve come to believe these myths are destructive to artists creativity and aspiring musicians which are frequently spurred on by a very few great players and novices on the internet. As a result, I’ve seen many saxophonists pursue and obsess with a vengeance what is actually a minuscule difference in sound between two pieces of gear that’s cancelled out, eclipsed or transcended by a different reed, a different room or mic that they miss the significance of the music itself.

My experience playing the sax and making mouthpieces for almost forty years has led me to come to the conclusion that switching and searching for your sound is largely not a function of the mouthpiece or gear and that it’s been blown out of proportion by young and inexperienced players touting their “great” new mouthpiece on forums and businesses that just want to promote sales and stories of a very few great artists obsessing on their equipment. I’ve come to believe that pursuing equipment beyond a certain point is largely counter-productive to one’s creativity and is fueled by an obsession for a perfect tone or ideology that doesn’t exist and is fruitless. John Coltrane who is known to have aggressively pursued the holy grail of mouthpieces had already arrived and attained a very high level of artistry so the vast majority of players should not let his pursuit of the ultimate mouthpiece influence them and Trane didn’t do this until he reached a very high level. That is what I believe artists should be striving for, not reaching outside of themselves for instant gratification.

I feel that in recent years with the advent and proliferation of so many brands of mouthpieces and equipment in general, the obsession with them and equipment in general has grown out of proportion to the number of great music happening and musicians, not just saxophone players.

I’ve worked for many great and not so great players. For instance, Sonny Rollins, Jackie Mclean, Steve Grossman, Bob Sheppard, Ernie Watts, Stanley Turrentine, Mike Brecker, “Blue” Lou Marini, Eric Alexander, Dave Tofani, Lawrence Feldman, Ronnie Cuber, Nick Brignola, Roger Rosenberg, Ravi Coltrane, Lee Konitz and Frank Vicari to mention just a few and have noticed that the essential artists don’t switch gear often but was rather an afterthought to practicing, studying and studying. Sonny Rollins only had seven mouthpieces his whole career and has been playing the same mouthpiece and sax since the 60’s. Jackie Mclean only had about five or six, Steve Grossman only had several, Ernie Watts only had a few but has played the same one for many years. Stanley Turrentine only had several mouthpieces his whole career and when his vintage Link gave out, he bought a new Otto Link considered inferior by many players and he sounded fantastic on it. Joe Henderson played a Selmer D, considered by many to be a poor choice for a jazz mouthpiece but he was one of the greatest players that ever lived and to the best of my knowledge never switched in many years. Wayne Shorter played one mouthpiece for decades. Dexter Gordon was known to have only two mouthpieces during his entire professional career. In photos of Bird he is only seen with a three, maybe four mouthpieces, Cannonball was only known to play one mouthpiece his whole career and his sound became the standard by which to emulate on the alto sax. Ronnie Cuber, probably the greatest bari player that’s ever lived has only owned a few mouthpieces his whole professional career, two Bergs, two Links and a Francois Louie. Pepper Adams is known to have only two and he didn’t switch until his Berg Larson became unplayable. But these facts are overshadowed by the industry and propaganda spread by businesses and the ignorant.
There are exceptions such as John Coltrane but when you reach that level then maybe you can explore other options but until you reach that level it’s best, in my opinion to stick to one and develop a sound on it and learn to play it and learn to be happy with what you have. But for many, the mindset has changed and the emphasis on equipment and the need for instant gratification has grown out of proportion to the dedication it takes to be a truly great artist.

Mike Brecker sounded fantastic and modern and dynamic on a closed tip-opening mouthpiece, an old four star model Link. He sounded fantastic on any mouthpiece because he transcended his gear. That’s what great players do and certainly nobody is going to know which neck you’re using one night on the gig but people will take notice if you play original and dynamic lines. I know a player from NYC now residing in CA who doesn’t have a pleasing tone to my personal ear but his ideas are so exciting I don’t want to stop listening to him! His playing is dynamic and his ideas are always fresh. I’ve heard players of debatable quality complain about Jackie Mclean’s intonation but few players ever reach the soulfulness, originality and excitement as he did not to mention his humanistic qualities.

However, a contributing factor to this equipment frenzy may be due to the fact that there is so much sub-standard gear on the market causing players to be missing something in their sound which perpetuates a craving causing a player to be in a constant search and it could also be that the internet has popularized players who are quick to delve out advice who lack a discerning ear and taste which has eroded the quality of music. As with most people, many musicians lack taste and finesse. Furthermore, the newer brands of musical equipment, while may be more in tune, louder and responsive has been manufactured to be easier to play therefore causing an instantaneous attraction to it which doesn’t enable the player to phrase like something that requires more effort and requires less use of one’s body causing a lack of individual tone among many musicians. Our individuality is being lost due to laziness and a lust for volume and quick response.
Tone, while important, is not as important as playing creative and exciting ideas but it’s a lot more work to do that than to switch gear. For most it requires introspection and nurturing one’s talent away from their instrument.

There are other things you can do such as psychoanalysis, meditation, chanting, yoga, reading inspiring things, pray, FOCUS. I know a group of pianists that do Qi-Gong and Tai Chi. Learn to get in the zone and not reach outside of yourself. Herbie Hancock chants, Sonny Rollins has meditated since the sixties. I studied for many years with jazz piano great Sal Mosca, a Lennie Tristano student, and he recommended to his students that they all pursue psychoanalysis. My advice after seeing so many saxophone players search for that “special” mouthpiece is to find one good mouthpiece then stick to it. It takes a long time to learn how to play a mouthpiece since every time you switch reeds it’s like switching mouthpieces. A piece of equipment should be a vehicle to the sound you hear in your head, it’s not there to alter your personal sound per se and volume should be a secondary consideration but I’ve seen thousands of saxophone players get so hung up on very small differences between two or more mouthpieces, differences that are eclipsed by different reeds that they miss the point of the music itself. Musicians frequently get so obsessed on miniscule difference between two pieces of gear they miss the point of creating beautiful music. Piano players rarely switch pianos and know that playing an instrument like a Steinway as opposed to a Yamaha takes time to cultivate the tone, to draw the sound out of the instrument thereby creating a unique and beautiful sound.

While I believe that there’s a lot of sub-par mouthpieces available, that special mouthpiece is a myth and while you may experience a dramatic result in two mouthpieces of very different designs, nobody will know if you’re playing gear of similar design and nobody is going to know it if you’re playing your 82XXX Mark VI or your 125XXX VI, nobody. Sonny has been playing his re-lacquered 132XXX VI for fifty years and equipment doesn’t interest him because he’s dedicated to the music in a profound way. Vladimir Horowitz played the same piano from the early 40’s up until his death in 89. Mike Brecker, played his 86XXX VI for decades and when that got out everyone searched and paid a premium for them but when Mike flew out to Tenor Madness to find a second horn since his was failing from the beating he gave it, he found that Randy Jones had covered the serial numbers with black tape. After several days of trying horns Mike settled on one and when he pulled the tape off found that it was a 125XXX. Myths such as certain serial number horns being superior permeate musician’s worlds and distracts them from their primary purpose and to give you an idea of the dedication it takes to be great, Mike told me that he listened to Coltrane records so much that they turned red. Sonny practiced endlessly on a bridge and went to India to find himself. I could go on.

*A cognitive distortion is a term used in psychology for a belief that one has that isn’t true. Hope all are well. Phil
 

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Discussion Starter · #114 ·
As I clearly stated, my text might not apply to you, it requires a suspense of disbelief and is not cut and dry but I believe people with insight got my point. You have to be able to see beyond yourself to understand it. On the other hand, It looks like the people contradicting me all seem to have personal motives or agendas whether greed or otherwise such as not willing to admit they are stuck where they are musically or in other areas of their life. I find, especially these days that people just want to be right at any cost and get a high off of anger. Anger is a very powerful addiction.

As for hobbyists, I never did hobby or mediocre. I believe if you’re going to do something than go for it but that’s just me. I’ve always felt that the hobby mentality is a kind of apathy or depression or brain fog. Maybe I’m wrong in thinking like this, I don’t know but to be honest, it’s not easy being me but I wouldn’t want to be any other way either.

I believe some of us have a war going on in our heads that struggle with making the right choices in our daily lives and have a problem making good choices such as whether or not to practice or get a new teacher? Fast food or healthful food? An energy efficient car or a gas guzzler? I could go on. I personally have a war going on. I fight against anger, injustice, struggle with finances and numerous other things everyday but I’ve found that I can control my mind with practice and patience. With some effort you can REFOCUS these distractions to your music or whatever you want. I meditate and use an application called Muse to gain control over my mind and I attend protests against causes I believe in and write emails. Ask yourself, what am I doing to further my music really? What am I doing to further my happiness and the happiness of the people around me? That’s what will flow out of your instrument, not switching a piece of equipment. When was the last time you took your car out of drive and put it in neural? Probably decades.

I further assert my position on equipment and believe many people are victims of insecurity, industry hype, desire for that special sound and chasing something that will never materialize by switching gear. And it’s not just in music, its in all sports activities and hobbies, careers, the white picket fence syndrome, ad infinitum. It permeates every aspect of our minds and this obsession with things outside of ourselves is what dominates your music and actions.

I recently bought a Steinway grand to replace my upright Yamaha at a tremendous expense but I justified it with my turning sixty years old this year and I miss the Yamaha. It was bold and dynamic and complex but I’m not sweating it because I know I still have to learn to play the grand and I’m more interested in excelling my playing and I knew it wouldn’t improve my music.

Don’t be satisfied with where you are in this life or you will repeat it. Just simple advice from an old mouth maker. Peace everyone.

Phil
 

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Discussion Starter · #126 ·
"As for hobbyists, I never did hobby or mediocre. I believe if you're going to do something than go for it but that's just me. I've always felt that the hobby mentality is a kind of apathy or depression or brain fog. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking like this, I don't know but to be honest, it's not easy being me but I wouldn't want to be any other way either."

Ok Phil, saw your point of view in the first post and now you've gone off the rails! Not necessarily depression but brain fog is a possibility! Come on man, shake yourself! You're doing damage to your reputation at this point that could have fallout for your horn business since I'm guessing a lot of your customers are those lame hobbyists. Sheesh...
Okay Jerry, you're right. I did go off a bit. I looked up the word hobby and it turns out I have one. My hobby is harassing my kid. It's so much fun! Phil
 

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Discussion Starter · #127 ·
And for the record, I'm not in the least bit bitter or jealous, my life is amazing and I wish everyone tremendous success, just not at other peoples expense. And my horns are made in Taiwan, not China but that's an established fact and the engraving is flawless. Anyone that doesn't like one can return it for a complete refund and I pay the shipping both ways. My point of view comes from seeing first hand hundred of players put gear above what's important.
 

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Discussion Starter · #131 ·
.....and to bring it into the current age, Dave Liebman, Jerry Bergonzi, Joel Frahm, Bob Mintzer, Chad LB (although he plays SYOS, every time I see a video he has a different colored mouthpiece.......), MIchael Brecker and all his mouthpieces......, Joshua Redman, Melissa Aldana, Mark Turner, Seamus Blake........

All these players, have switched mouthpieces. Some more than others. If it doesn't matter........ then why do they search? Why did they switch? These are some of the best of the best. If they are searching and switching at times, might there be something involved here of importance.......... Just a thought.........

As I have said before, when you have a passion that motivates you, you are obsessed with the pursuit of becoming better........Yes, I would say it is overkill for a player who is in his first 1-3 years of playing to be buying countless Florida Links, Guardalas, Freddie Gregory's etc........ Just play a Yamaha student mouthpiece and learn the tar out of the fundamentals. After 3 years, try a bunch of pieces and pick one that does it for you. After that many years you can play a bit and you know what you like. BUT! then stay on that piece for another 2 years at least continuing to practice and mature. After two years, you have been playing 5 years, do whatever you want.......
Steve, I don't think the average player is on the same level as the guys you mention and you'd have to see the vast majority of my clients. I've known Mintzer for thirty-five years and he's had three mouthpieces in all that time and he personally told me "I'm not into mouthpieces". I worked for Brecker and he wasn't obsessed with mouthpieces at all. He experimented but wasn't obsessed with them like I see going on these days among young and inspiring players and with all due respect your website helps fuel it.

But my point is, what are you doing for your music today, practicing, listening, master classes, theory or looking on the web at forums where ignorance is so prevalent? Hows your theory? Hows your piano playing, harmony? You want to be a professional? Hows your clarinet and flute playing? This propaganda that the industry and people who just have selfish needs is the epitome of ignorance and contributes to the downfall of jazz saxophone.

Even when I was in the business I didn't push mouthpieces on anybody that didn't need one because I wasn't driven by money, I was never a money oriented person. I made two mouthpieces a week and money wasn't my goal, helping people was. What's your motivation for your mouthpiece site? Nobody is going to sound like you or anybody else does on a particular mouthpiece or horn so what's the point? Obsession or not, a mouthpiece isn't going to make you better and those guys know it and as for people like Bergonzi or anyone on his level that so obsessed with gear, they're chasing something that's a fantasy or he would have found one by now. It doesn't exist and Jerry's obsession is driven by some neurosis, not becoming a better musician. It's a sickness for some people, not all but many.

I've been playing since 68 and I've had one mouthpiece on tenor for thirty years and two on baritone and although I made better ones I didn't switch because I was used to it and I knew all the time what it was going to do with any number of reeds I put on it. No, at some point the mouthpiece and gear obsession craze should be put to bed. That's my opinion, take what you like and leave the rest. Phil
 

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Discussion Starter · #132 ·
Just because you say it doesn't make it an established fact. The engravings on your horns are crude compared to the numerous other brands of Taiwan horns that I have owned. Chinese like on the Barone

View attachment 241932
Looks great to me. I've had twenty Mark VI's and my horns look just as good. But you've been critical for me for a while now, why I'm not exactly sure. You said in one post that you're in the business and you have fifty horns but you never give your name, never try to sell on here and nobody knows who you are. What's the deal?
 

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Discussion Starter · #134 ·
Oh, and I made a dynamite lunch for my girlfriend today, portobello mushrooms stuffed with broccoli rabe sauteed in olive oil and lots of garlic then sprinkled with red pepper flakes. Delicious! And Bill freakin Evans had a crappy Chickering piano. Bon appetite!
 

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Discussion Starter · #153 ·
I'm just a hobby seller Phil. More or a hoarder of saxophones, but I've sold many horns here. So must be my kind of apathy or depression or brain fog that I don't get my name out there like you. I never said that your engraving was flawed. I just think its rather plain and consistent with chinese saxophones. When every other Taiwan horn I've seen has much more detailed engraving, it make me wonder why a particular company would be doing inferior engraving, in such a competitive market as the Taiwan market. It doesn't add up.
You're full of baloney.
 
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