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Discussion Starter #1
I keep finding myself in a place where I feel like the least important member of the jazz band. In my eyes, I feel like the second alto part is almost useless. The lead parts are filled with solos, high notes and get take an active role in the overall band. I see the lower trombones and trumpets playing interesting parts, I even see the second tenor getting some love. When I listen to professional big bands and sax sections during solis I always hear the lead alto as a given. Just under that, I can hear tenor 1 and the bari. And when I actively listen I can hear the second tenor. But quite rarely do I ever hear the second alto, the occasions I do it is very faint and unassuming.

Now for my school jazz band sax section, the first tenor and I are told to back off. From my ears, it sounds like my tone is edgier than the other saxes and I always feel like I'm playing over the others. I'm almost certain that I'm the only one who has an actual "jazz setup" so that may be a factor in our section balance. I asked my band teacher about it after our last sectional and he said that he's gonna encourage the others to play a hint louder and may start sharing the lead part between us.

So my main question and struggle for the time being is:
As the second alto player, what is my purpose in the ensemble, and in the saxophone section which members(other than lead alto) should the most prominent voices?

My Jazz Setup:
YAS-26
JodyJazz HR* (6*)
Vandoren V16 (3)
BG Duo Ligature(Silver Plate)

I can get a good range(dynamic and altissimo) on this setup and actually just recently started trying the V16 reeds which are working better than the reeds I used to use. I'm also working on producing a warmer tone and reigning in the edginess slightly. I won't be able to get a new MP or sax soon so I can't change those.
 

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It's difficult to play a five part soli without a 2nd alto player. Just be thankful you're not on 4th tenor.

Listen to your director.
 

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It's difficult to play a five part soli without a 2nd alto player. Just be thankful you're not on 4th tenor.

Listen to your director.
+1

Every voice is important, else it wouldn’t be there.

If it makes you feel any better, there are professional musicians out there playing those “lowly” second and fourth sax books. It’s not just because they aren’t good enough to play lead.

Play YOUR part well, and learn to accept comments from your director regarding balance - they are in the best place in the house to know what’s happening - or not - in your section.
 

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Do you take private lessons? If so what advice has you instructor given you? If not - I suggest taking private lessons. Be the best that you can be and know that you are indeed contributing to the section.
 

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All of the above and maybe try the Eastman 2.5 reeds or even a Legere, that'll dampen your edge quite a bit. And if that doesn't help, get a Yamaha 4C or 5C for $25 just for the band play.
 

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MusicSpark, first of all, great name!
Second, you should definitely consider private lessons. Regarding the setup, it should be fine. For alto, I am not familiar with a 6* with Jody’s mouthpieces. They are called HR* and the tip opening would be a 6m. Anyway, that should be fine for you. I would personally have suggested a 5m, but since you have it, you can just make it work. Now, the V16 reeds thoigh usually feel very hard. On a jazz mouthpiece, harder reed doesn’t usually mean better sound. That is a thing that while still not being complete true, does work a little more with classical mouthpieces due to how firm the embouchure needs to be. On jazz mouthpieces and reeds, there is more of a need for control of air, and having a somewhat softer, more cushioned embouchure. So based on your description, I would imagine you are trying to play a harder and darker reed on a jazz mouthpiece in a much larger tip opening than you are used to, and trying to make it work by squeezing harder than you ever should.
So what I believe you need is a reed change, and as others have said, a private teacher. I imagine a good private teacher would have diagnosed the issue of wept embouchure or too hard reed quickly. I would suggest the java green or java red. With that setup and using proper embouchure pressure and amount of lower lip, you would get more control.

As to your position. In middle school and high school we feel like first alto is the only real soloist and only important voice. This sometimes occurs on intermediate and beginning level charts simply because the lead alto at that age is usually by far the best player. Usually also the only strong player, so they are made to do everything. As players mature and get better, the lead alto ends up being the best stylistic player, best sight reader, best doubler, and cleanest player. This often included being one of the better solos, but their job is more so to do those other things I just mentioned. The first tenor ends up being the next most important voice, filling in the cooler chord tones and then usually being the actual best soloist. I have always been featured much more heavily soloing as a lead tenor player, whereas on lead alto I have been forced to practice solis a ton to make sure they are very clean and stylistic. That is where those roles lie. So next, the second alto and second tenor have similar roles. They will both equally need to be prominent soloists, but there job is moreso to fill in the other chords tones, often creating VERY challenging music that simply doesn’t lay well on the horn, or even sound good on its own. Not sounding good when practicing on your own does take a little fun out of it, the the part is extremely important still. All noted of the chord being present make the ensemble sound more complex and cooler. So second alto and second tenor often have a harder book with less love. Their role is to sound good and strong in certain registers, and sometimes even double on flute or clarinet well. Just because you don’t get as much recognition or spotlight doesn’t mean you are not important.
Find a good private teacher and do LOTS AND LOTS of listening.
:)
 

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I keep finding myself in a place where I feel like the least important member of the jazz band. In my eyes, I feel like the second alto part is almost useless. The lead parts are filled with solos, high notes and get take an active role in the overall band. I see the lower trombones and trumpets playing interesting parts, I even see the second tenor getting some love. When I listen to professional big bands and sax sections during solis I always hear the lead alto as a given. Just under that, I can hear tenor 1 and the bari. And when I actively listen I can hear the second tenor. But quite rarely do I ever hear the second alto, the occasions I do it is very faint and unassuming.

Now for my school jazz band sax section, the first tenor and I are told to back off. From my ears, it sounds like my tone is edgier than the other saxes and I always feel like I'm playing over the others. I'm almost certain that I'm the only one who has an actual "jazz setup" so that may be a factor in our section balance. I asked my band teacher about it after our last sectional and he said that he's gonna encourage the others to play a hint louder and may start sharing the lead part between us.

So my main question and struggle for the time being is:
As the second alto player, what is my purpose in the ensemble, and in the saxophone section which members(other than lead alto) should the most prominent voices?

My Jazz Setup:
YAS-26
JodyJazz HR* (6*)
Vandoren V16 (3)
BG Duo Ligature(Silver Plate)

I can get a good range(dynamic and altissimo) on this setup and actually just recently started trying the V16 reeds which are working better than the reeds I used to use. I'm also working on producing a warmer tone and reigning in the edginess slightly. I won't be able to get a new MP or sax soon so I can't change those.
First thing you have to do is check your ego. You're playing in a section. You need to be all in to working as a unit. If you want to play lead because you want to be heard over others you have the wrong attitude for playing in a group situation. If you think you're a better alto player then you should ask to challenge for first chair. But beware, if you don't cut it you will be more dejected than you are now. If you want to play lead and solo more try getting some other band members together to jam.

Anyway, you and all the members of your section need to have one mindset and be all in it for the sound. That goes for every section in the band, everyone is tight! That makes a great band. :mrgreen:
 

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As to your position. In middle school and high school we feel like first alto is the only real soloist and only important voice. This sometimes occurs on intermediate and beginning level charts simply because the lead alto at that age is usually by far the best player. Usually also the only strong player, so they are made to do everything. As players mature and get better, the lead alto ends up being the best stylistic player, best sight reader, best doubler, and cleanest player. This often included being one of the better solos, but their job is more so to do those other things I just mentioned. The first tenor ends up being the next most important voice, filling in the cooler chord tones and then usually being the actual best soloist. I have always been featured much more heavily soloing as a lead tenor player, whereas on lead alto I have been forced to practice solis a ton to make sure they are very clean and stylistic. That is where those roles lie. So next, the second alto and second tenor have similar roles. They will both equally need to be prominent soloists, but there job is moreso to fill in the other chords tones, often creating VERY challenging music that simply doesn’t lay well on the horn, or even sound good on its own. Not sounding good when practicing on your own does take a little fun out of it, the the part is extremely important still. All noted of the chord being present make the ensemble sound more complex and cooler. So second alto and second tenor often have a harder book with less love. Their role is to sound good and strong in certain registers, and sometimes even double on flute or clarinet well. Just because you don’t get as much recognition or spotlight doesn’t mean you are not important.
Find a good private teacher and do LOTS AND LOTS of listening.
:)
That is a great explanation, Andre. Nicely stated.

Thank you.
 

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The job of the 2nd alto player is to make the lead alto sound better. Give enough power to be heard, yet not enough to overpower the lead. It's like living vicariously through the lead without over stepping. It's a fine line. Also it helps if you have no ego and are ok not having many soloing opportunities.
 

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MusicSpark, I also played 2nd alto in HS jazz band and you are right. None of the other great comments in this thread can cover up the fact that every other member of the section gets more improvised solo time (even 2nd tenor), and 2nd alto doesn't even get any written out solos. Your main job is to stay in tune with the lead alto. So you have my sympathy and keep practicing. It was a good idea to ask the director about it. Being too bright in a big band sax section may not be the best thing, however.


And if you play "In the Mood", the 2nd alto part is the hardest of all the parts. :(
 

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MusicSpark, I also played 2nd alto in HS jazz band and you are right. None of the other great comments in this thread can cover up the fact that every other member of the section gets more improvised solo time (even 2nd tenor), and 2nd alto doesn't even get any written out solos. Your main job is to stay in tune with the lead alto. So you have my sympathy and keep practicing. It was a good idea to ask the director about it. Being too bright in a big band sax section may not be the best thing, however.


And if you play "In the Mood", the 2nd alto part is the hardest of all the parts. :(
Hah! If you play long enough, you may consider (as I have come to appreciate) that the fourth sax (second tenor) is often written last by an arranger, covering the notes in the harmony that are not already taken by every other horn in the section. Overall, the fourth book is the toughest, most angular, in the sax section.
 

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Hah! If you play long enough, you may consider (as I have come to appreciate) that the fourth sax (second tenor) is often written last by an arranger, covering the notes in the harmony that are not already taken by every other horn in the section. Overall, the fourth book is the toughest, most angular, in the sax section.
I completely agree...life got much easier when I got promoted to first tenor!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
MusicSpark, first of all, great name!
Second, you should definitely consider private lessons. Regarding the setup, it should be fine. For alto, I am not familiar with a 6* with Jody’s mouthpieces. They are called HR* and the tip opening would be a 6m. Anyway, that should be fine for you. I would personally have suggested a 5m, but since you have it, you can just make it work. Now, the V16 reeds thoigh usually feel very hard. On a jazz mouthpiece, harder reed doesn’t usually mean better sound. That is a thing that while still not being complete true, does work a little more with classical mouthpieces due to how firm the embouchure needs to be. On jazz mouthpieces and reeds, there is more of a need for control of air, and having a somewhat softer, more cushioned embouchure. So based on your description, I would imagine you are trying to play a harder and darker reed on a jazz mouthpiece in a much larger tip opening than you are used to, and trying to make it work by squeezing harder than you ever should.
So what I believe you need is a reed change, and as others have said, a private teacher. I imagine a good private teacher would have diagnosed the issue of wept embouchure or too hard reed quickly. I would suggest the java green or java red. With that setup and using proper embouchure pressure and amount of lower lip, you would get more control.

As to your position. In middle school and high school we feel like first alto is the only real soloist and only important voice. This sometimes occurs on intermediate and beginning level charts simply because the lead alto at that age is usually by far the best player. Usually also the only strong player, so they are made to do everything. As players mature and get better, the lead alto ends up being the best stylistic player, best sight reader, best doubler, and cleanest player. This often included being one of the better solos, but their job is more so to do those other things I just mentioned. The first tenor ends up being the next most important voice, filling in the cooler chord tones and then usually being the actual best soloist. I have always been featured much more heavily soloing as a lead tenor player, whereas on lead alto I have been forced to practice solis a ton to make sure they are very clean and stylistic. That is where those roles lie. So next, the second alto and second tenor have similar roles. They will both equally need to be prominent soloists, but there job is moreso to fill in the other chords tones, often creating VERY challenging music that simply doesn’t lay well on the horn, or even sound good on its own. Not sounding good when practicing on your own does take a little fun out of it, the the part is extremely important still. All noted of the chord being present make the ensemble sound more complex and cooler. So second alto and second tenor often have a harder book with less love. Their role is to sound good and strong in certain registers, and sometimes even double on flute or clarinet well. Just because you don’t get as much recognition or spotlight doesn’t mean you are not important.
Find a good private teacher and do LOTS AND LOTS of listening.
:)

Thanks for the compliment and the advice! I just checked the side of my mouthpiece and saw it says 6M, not 6*. I think you're right about the reeds being a bit too hard and the embouchure problem. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find a private teacher in my area but I'm gonna work harder on supporting and listening to the section as well as producing a better sound.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
+1

Every voice is important, else it wouldn’t be there.

If it makes you feel any better, there are professional musicians out there playing those “lowly” second and fourth sax books. It’s not just because they aren’t good enough to play lead.

Play YOUR part well, and learn to accept comments from your director regarding balance - they are in the best place in the house to know what’s happening - or not - in your section.
Okay, that makes sense. My feeling of uselessness probably comes from the common idea that seconds, thirds and fourths are weak players and get boring parts. And about section balance that 's an area I need to improve in.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
First thing you have to do is check your ego. You're playing in a section. You need to be all in to working as a unit. If you want to play lead because you want to be heard over others you have the wrong attitude for playing in a group situation. If you think you're a better alto player then you should ask to challenge for first chair. But beware, if you don't cut it you will be more dejected than you are now. If you want to play lead and solo more try getting some other band members together to jam.

Anyway, you and all the members of your section need to have one mindset and be all in it for the sound. That goes for every section in the band, everyone is tight! That makes a great band. :mrgreen:
For me, I like feeling like my efforts are not in vain and in most cases I enjoy playing higher and louder. And about my ego, I was a bit upset when I didn't get lead and started purposely playing louder in protest but after the first rehearsal I've since calmed down. And the thing is about my case when we started jazz two years ago I was the lead and our current lead was the second so maybe that might be part of my ego. The guy is a nice guy and a good player so I don't want to cause unnecessary quarrels.

Our sax section really needs to work on blending with each other, so I'll try my best to blend better to get that clean "jazz" sound.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
The job of the 2nd alto player is to make the lead alto sound better. Give enough power to be heard, yet not enough to overpower the lead. It's like living vicariously through the lead without over stepping. It's a fine line. Also it helps if you have no ego and are ok not having many soloing opportunities.
That job seems a kind of tough but I'm up for the challenge.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
MusicSpark, I also played 2nd alto in HS jazz band and you are right. None of the other great comments in this thread can cover up the fact that every other member of the section gets more improvised solo time (even 2nd tenor), and 2nd alto doesn't even get any written out solos. Your main job is to stay in tune with the lead alto. So you have my sympathy and keep practicing. It was a good idea to ask the director about it. Being too bright in a big band sax section may not be the best thing, however.


And if you play "In the Mood", the 2nd alto part is the hardest of all the parts. :(
Thanks for the sympathies, I really appreciate it! It's kinda sad that lower parts don't really get the recognition they deserve. And like I said in my original post, I'm working hard on controlling some of that edge and brightness that I seem to get. I actually got to play an arrangement of "In the Mood" for concert band as the Tenor Sax player but I don't think that arrangement did it much justice.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Hah! If you play long enough, you may consider (as I have come to appreciate) that the fourth sax (second tenor) is often written last by an arranger, covering the notes in the harmony that are not already taken by every other horn in the section. Overall, the fourth book is the toughest, most angular, in the sax section.
Oh, that's interesting I didn't know that. In one of our pieces, the chord progression is a Bb blues and in our sax soli there's a really crunchy Ab minor chord where the Second Tenor plays the concert Cb which is necessary for the tonality of that chord.
 

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My friend Charlie tells a story of touring Australia with the Beach Boys, who at the time had a 6 piece horn section, and at the end of one tune someone yelled "Second Alto note!" and they all played the 6th of the chord.

Advice given about blending above is good. The job of EVERY player in the section is to support and blend with the lead alto. Listen to the lead player, learn to phrase like him or her, be "on his coat tails" so to speak. I have over the years played every position in big band sax sections, although my Bari work was only in college (it led to a recording session though!). I relish that work.

One of my favorite memories is playing in a Monday-night band in S.F. in the 70's, we were doing a Sammy Nestico original, in which there is a long unison sax soli. For some reason, that night the gods smiled, we found a unison that was magic, and it sounded and felt like one guy playing. I was playing 2nd alto that night; at the end of the soli the lead player said quietly "Huh..." - in awe and appreciation of the moment. I remember this now 40+ years later as a musical high point, because that magic feeling is rare. It will only happen if you listen...

Embrace the 6th :)
 
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