Below is the text from the May/June 2012 Saxophone Journal article.
Charlie Jennison by Thomas Erdmann
Saxophonist, clarinetist, pianist and composer Charlie Jennison is one of those rare individuals who is equally skilled as both a performer and teacher. Born on September 26, 1947, Jennison began playing professionally while still in junior high school in Florida. Education wise he’s earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of New Hampshire and a Master of Arts in Saxophone Performance and Composition from Lesley College. In addition he has furthered his study in saxophone with jazz notables like Jerry Bergonzi and Charlie Mariano, and jazz improvisation with Jerry Coker. Forming a musical partnership with ex-Woody Herman pianist and teacher at the Berklee College of Music, Tom Gallant, the two worked steadily for 30 years. As a performer Jennison has also worked with many other artists including Natalie Cole, Alan Dawson, Buddy DeFranco, Dizzy Gillespie, Vincent Herring, Frank Mantooth, Bob Mintzer, Marshall Royal and Clark Terry. While past teaching experiences include time at the University of New Hampshire and St. Paul’s School, Jennison currently teaches at the Phillips Exeter Academy and plays lead alto with the Seacoast Big Band and lead tenor with the Capitol Center Jazz Orchestra.
As a teacher I know you have great respect for those who helped you become who you are today, but one really stands out.
Correct. I owe a lot to many of the great teachers and players I’ve met along the way, not the least of whom is Dave Seiler, the Director of Jazz Studies at the University of New Hampshire. He’s been there since the mid-1980s. There wasn’t a jazz program at that school until Dave arrived. His background is from Wisconsin, and he has experience not just in saxophone but also in classical clarinet. He’s encouraged me to keep up my doubling, being a fine flutist as well. He was responsible for getting me the teaching position I held there for 14 years. While I was teaching there it was incredible how many different opportunities he created for me, both with his ensembles and playing with him in small jazz groups both in concert and in clubs. We’re still good friends. He directs the Seacoast Jazz Big Band which plays quite a bit in this area.
You play lead alto in that big band and lead tenor in another. Each situation is different. As a lead alto player, what advice do you have for others, such as high school and college students who are playing lead alto in a big band, to help them be more effective?
One of the things I harken back to is that I got a chance to sit next to Marshall Royal when he came to play at UNH. To hear him play lead alto for some of the Basie charts we were doing was inspirational. It was astonishing to me what kind of a sound and projection he got out of his instrument. It was through working with the Seacoast Band, that I learned to listen to the lead trumpet. I always, as lead alto, try to cue in on and match style, intonation, and phrasing with the lead trumpet. Then the saxophone section works off the lead alto player. If you have the across-the-band thing going, by cueing into the lead trumpet and lead trombone, then as lead alto you will be in tune and stylistically correct with the rest of the band. You have to listen across the band and not just to the saxophone section.
The lead tenor chair is different and as a lead tenor player what advice do you have to help those who are playing that position to be more effective?
The first thing to be careful of is to make sure you’re not overblowing the altos, especially in the upper register. The tenor is a powerful instrument. You have to cover your sound a little, lie back, and try to match the volume and intonation of the lead alto. The lead tenor chair is often the solo chair, and at that point, when the music opens up for solos, you can pretty much do what you want, but as far as the ensemble is concerned you also have to be sure to blend with and complement the trombones as well.
When you play behind a vocalist, as you have done on a number of recordings with vocalists like Kathleen Kolman and Leila Percy, what are you thinking?
You know, my piano knowledge comes into play when I’m working behind a vocalist on the saxophone. I’m always trying to find a note in the harmony that blends well with the melodic material the vocalist is doing. It’s really important to not play too much; understatement is better. I try to look for openings where there is phrasing by the vocalist that allows them to breathe, and at those moments I try to reinforce the harmony. Often times I’ll try to create a little countermelody, so I’m also doing a bit of composing at the same time. The main thing is to not get in their way and leave plenty of space.
All vocalists are different, and some really fill the space. How do you approach your role if they take up all the space themselves?
In those cases, less is more. I will, in those situations, use sustained harmonic notes, half and whole notes, so that there is not too much motion. If I’m not left much room, I’ll still make sure I’m reinforcing the harmony as best I can, using thirds and sevenths.
Quite often young saxophonists will make the mistake of playing too much behind vocalists.
Correct. Young players generally feel like they need to fill up the entire space all the time. If there is nothing going on they feel something is lacking or missing, and the exact opposite is true. Silence is a very valuable thing to learn how to play with. I’ve always felt I played too many notes and lately I’ve been trying to edit myself, to play fewer notes, with the result being that they mean more.
You’re being very humble, you’re a great player. You mentioned your piano background being important in your saxophone playing. Can you discuss why learning the keyboard is so important to saxophonists and all musicians in general?
One of the things about the piano is its visual aspect. It is easier to see where a note should belong. When I play many times I will visualize where a structure lies and I can more easily understand the chordal structure of certain harmonies. Music is supposed to be a sonic event and something you hear, but there are shapes the keyboard can provide that really help in thinking things out. Jerry Bergonzi discusses this in his pedagogical materials. When you’re working with pentatonics, for example, you’re really creating a shape, in terms of spatial orientation, rather than a linear one, and that has been a very helpful concept for me in terms of improvisation. There is another thing about the piano that is really helpful in my saxophone playing, and that is my work as a rhythm section player. What I’ve learned is how to treat a rhythm section when I’m a horn player. No bass player ever appreciated having to play 14 choruses of I’ve Got Rhythm while a tenor player got up and blew a lot of meaningless stuff. That’s one of those areas where editing yourself can really help. I tend to take fewer choruses when I’m playing in a group than anyone else because, (a), I feel like I’ve said all I have to say with fewer chorus and, (b), I like to listen to the other players in the group because I’m so interested in what they do. Having the piano background has really helped me with my harmonic concepts and then applying those concepts to my saxophone. For example, one time I was studying some of George Shearing’s block piano voicings and I realized that if I arpeggiated those chords and notated them it would make a great saxophone exercise. So I wrote them all out in the various qualities, major, minor, dominant, and so forth. Then I arpeggiated them on the saxophone.
People tell stories of how John Coltrane loved to play out of Oscar Peterson’s piano tutorial materials.
Oscar Peterson was one of my piano teacher’s favorite piano players. He made me listen to Oscar quite a bit. The incredible speed and facility Oscar had, as well as his ability to create those great 16th and 32nd note flourishes, definitely influenced my playing. It also made me more appreciative of what Coltrane did on the saxophone.
In a review of your second recording as a leader one reviewer wrote concerning your incredible finger work. When you were young, how did you work to develop your finger technique?
I think classical training is behind it. When I was an undergrad at UNH my band director was a clarinet instructor and, although he doubled on saxophone, he appreciated his limitations as a saxophone player. He had the bassoonist from the Boston Pops, Dr. Donald Bravo, come up and give me instruction one day a week. Dr. Bravo instilled in me the importance of regular practice of scales and arpeggios. It was like studying in the old school, as if Joe Viola or Al Gallardoro were teaching me, really developing a classical technique and sound. Because Don was a bassoonist he was aware of all of the literature, so we read a lot of solos as well as all the Ferling Etudes and the music of Bozza. There’s no doubt that work contributed to my technical development.
You’ve brought up a few of your former teachers, but additionally I wanted to ask about three of the more well-known performers and pedagogues with whom you’ve studied. I was wondering if you could tell the readers what you learned in your work with them. The first is saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi.
Jerry helped me expand my playing not only rhythmically, but definitely harmonically as well. One of the first exercises he had me do, and this was when I was studying for my masters degree at Lesley College, was to learn Giant Steps in all 12 keys. My other teachers had been telling me the importance of playing in all 12 keys, and they made me learn the blues in all 12 keys, as well as Cherokee in all 12, but I had never really thought about learning Giant Steps in this manner as well. That was an eye opener and a mind bender in terms of learning about harmonic progression and where things actually lay on the horn. Since then I’ve been using a lot of his methodology in my teaching, particularly his materials on scale fragments and pentatonics because those are the ones that you can usually use with immediate application with students; they can grab onto those ideas and use them fairly quickly. It’s funny because when I used to go down for lessons with him in Boston, Jerry wouldn’t play saxophone. He’d play either piano or drums during our lessons. His chops on both are pretty impressive. I was also learning about the piano during these lessons from just watching and listening to him play, as well as our discussions about the piano where he showed me some really cool pentatonic voicings. He really turned me on to the various ways pentatonic scales can be applied in performance. With his drumming, he also helped me to think outside the box, illustrating what various rhythmic patterns could be superimposed over 4/4 or 3/4 meters. That’s characteristic of a lot of modern playing and so it’s important for students who are interested in that, to actually practice some of that stuff in advance.
The next is Charlie Mariano, who was called the Dean of Boston jazz musicians.
He was associated with that scene from the earliest time. I was fortunate to first meet him at one of the Stan Kenton band camps at the University of Connecticut. He had just returned from India and had gotten into the shehnai, the Indian oboe-like instrument. It was a riot to see him with the big band because he’d sit cross-legged on a pillow in one corner and played the shehnai while the big band was roaring away. It was like an early example of fusion. One of the things I gleaned from working with him was his sound. At the time I didn’t have much of a concept of how to create a sound on the horn, I was really just using a stock mouthpiece and whatever. I learned from him that by experimenting with the different facings and reeds you could really open up the sound and get a much bigger, fuller tone out of the instrument. I think breath support was another one of the things he helped me with, and the concept of being able to put more air and more support into my playing and sound.
The last is one of the first great jazz improvisation teachers, Jerry Coker.
Fortunately for me I also first met him at that same Stan Kenton band camp. Now, as an educator, I have read a lot of his materials, bought his books and studied them, and then have used them with my students. One of the things that I gathered from him at the time I was studying with him was the importance of listening. Not just to listen as much as you can, but to also make sure that when you’re listening you’re not doing anything else; put everything away and make that your sole occupation. What to listen for was another thing I learned from him; how to listen so carefully that you’re able to pull and extract things from specific recordings. We did some of that in his classes. He also introduced me to jazz theory. More than anything else I got a running start on chord structures, alterations and extensions from him. I got a lot of valuable material.
Your first CD as a leader is just you and Dan Delaney, a pianist. When you work in duo with piano and no bass and drums, do you think or play differently than when you’re working with a full rhythm section?
I think so. In a duo context it’s a one on one conversation. You’re not drawn out with the other players like you would be in a quartet. When I play in a quartet setting I tend to interact with all of the other musicians. As the group gets larger there are more and more interactions and as a necessity there is probably less focus on one idea or stream of thought. With Dan, he’s particularly facile and has a lot of chops. We would push each other. We would try to play a lick the other couldn’t, as well as toss ideas back and forth to see who would be the first to drop the ball.
You worked for a long time, 30 years, with the late pianist Tom Gallant. Can you tell the readers a little about that musical relationship?
It’s interesting, because our relationship was more than musical. He was like a mentor to me. I was in high school when I first met him; he was playing up in this area. He was teaching at Berklee, had studied at Berklee, and subbed for Nat Pierce with Woody Herman’s herd. He had a lot to share. One of the greatest things he did was to introduce me to Don Doane, another graduate of Woody’s band. I became lead alto in Don’s Little Big Band in Portland, ME, back in the middle 1970s. At that point in my career that was the best experience I could get, sitting next to other players who had been on the road and played with various bands. I learned and was able to absorb the whole lead alto tradition by working in that band. Tommy was good for me in that way. Another thing that was good was playing so many gigs with him. We would hang out before and after gigs, and I gave saxophone lessons to his stepson, who later grew up to be a professional bassoonist and played with a symphony!
You did something a bit unconventional on both of your CDs as a leader. They are full of nothing but original compositions. Many times early discs by leaders include a number of standards. Why did you choose to go the original composition route?
I know another reviewer made that same comment. In fact, many of the tunes on those discs are based on standard changes. My composition To You, From Me has the same chord changes as You Do Something To Me. It’s just a contrafax of that tune. I also wrote out some basic blues tunes. One of things I wanted to do on Iridescence was to make it a tribute to my family. There is Amanda’s Blues, she’s my youngest daughter, My Anne is for my wife, and Georgie which is one of the nicest ballads I think I’ve ever written and is for my oldest daughter. It didn’t bother me that many of the tunes were not standard tunes because it seems like most of the albums I pick up these days have artists playing the same standard tunes over and over and over. I thought it would be better to write some original tunes and challenge myself in that regard. Also, what is more challenging for a group to do than to do than all original material? If and when I do another album, and we’ve been talking about it for some time now, we will include some standards.
How does the compositional process work for you?
I can tell you there is a significant musical influence on my life, and her name is Barbara London. Barbara is a composer, pianist, vocalist and before I did Iridescence I did a number of concerts with her. She is an amazing jazz composer who does a lot of original jazz material. She played with Ariel, an all-women’s jazz group in New York for a while. Long story short, I think I absorbed some compositional influences from her. I also learned a lot in school and had a real love for the 12-tone system as well as other compositional concepts. Some of that may have found its way into the harmonic and melodic concepts in my pieces. Dr. Paul Verrette, a long time piano instructor at the UNH, along with Tommy Gallant, was one of the strongest influences on my compositional background. Paul taught me to be able to look at a classical score and extract jazz harmony from it. That process, I believe, was behind a number of my tunes. I believe a number of my little motivic ideas come from that work which were then expanded into full compositions. I still study transcriptions quite a bit and use selected motivs in my writing. I guess you could say that I’m still working on writing my first symphony.
Do you ever have to deal with writer’s block?
Not generally. It’s funny, but if I need a tune for the students we’ll just sit down and put something together. I have a whole filing cabinet full of stuff that hasn’t been published. There are combo arrangements and everything. It’s just a question of getting these materials up on the net. At this point there are so many ways of getting material out there, it’s like I’ve just opened up to the fact that all of this technology is available. I’m encouraged to get my material organized and have learned to use Sibelius and Finale in order to get things notated for publication. I’m inspired by one of the gentlemen in the Seacoast Big Band, Craig Skiffington, because he’s been writing for the band for about a decade now and his material is getting published for use by school bands. That encourages me to get my stuff out, work it up and get it out there.
You have a really nice full bodied tone. How have you worked to develop your sound?
I’ve been a Selmer person ever since high school. I was fortunate to buy a Selmer Mark VI when I was in high school, from my choral director, and there was just something about that horn and that sound that resonated with me. There is also the element of my classical training that is behind some of my sound. One of my biggest influences, when I was in high school, was Paul Desmond, as well as Bud Shank and Art Pepper. I really love that West Coast cool sound. I don’t, however, play with as dry a sound as they did. I prefer a bit more lyrical or melodious sound. That’s just what I hear. You know, there is also the element that you can give the same horn and set up to two different people and each one of them will have their own unique sound. This is because of the acoustical nature of the horn and each person’s makeup. In the end it must just be the way I’m built that I came up with the sound I have.
Well you’ve being very humble, I think you’ve worked very hard to get that great sound.
Well, it’s thanks again to Don Bravo who showed me the basic concepts of embouchure and vibrato, as well as breath support, and then I was able to add that to what Charlie Mariano brought to me. Studying with Charlie was like jumping into the deep end of the pool; he was a little over my head at the time I studied with him. I’m hoping that I’m finally starting to grow into his influence.
On a jazz gig, many times saxophonists have to move back and forth between the different saxophones. How do you make the adjustments you have to make in order to be successful on each instrument?
Again, Dr. Bravo told me that when you practice your saxophones you should start with the littlest one first, soprano, then the alto, then tenor. That way you’re working on decreasing the pressure on the embouchure as you go along. When you’re freshest you want to start with the tightest embouchure, and then work your way into the bigger horns. I’ve generally always progressed that way when I’m practicing. On the bandstand, often times I’ll just pick a horn that just happens to be a good key for the piece we’re playing. One of my philosophies, when I’m putting a set list together, is that I don’t like to do two tunes in a row in the same key. So I’m not only thinking about tempo and style, but also key, and I’ll just use the horn that happens to lie best in the key we end up playing in.
When I interviewed Jay Beckenstein about soloing in some bizarre keys, as he sometimes does on different Spyro Gyra tunes he said, “Well, you just have to know the horn.”
He has a point, if it’s necessary, sure, I’ll play in whatever key is called for. When I was in high school I worked with a guitar band, and they did tunes in E and A, and naturally I fell into learning how to play and solo in C-sharp and F-sharp without thinking too much about it.
Freddie Hubbard told me how he came up playing with Wes Montgomery, back when Wes had moved to Indianapolis to raise his family, and at the time Freddie wasn’t reading, he was just playing in whatever key Wes and the band were playing in. So when it came time to write tunes like Red Clay, Freddie had such dexterity he would write the tunes in the key that sounded best to him without regard to how the music lay.
That same situation happened to me. I wasn’t that hip, theoretically, in high school, so I would just play what felt and sounded right, finding the fingerings that worked without regard to key. You are reminding me that I need to get my students to work in more remote keys. I try to get them into the harder keys as quickly as I can. I tell them jazz is a language that uses all 12 keys and you want to be comfortable in every one of them.
Here I’m thinking back to how you were made to learn to play Giant Steps in all 12 keys. What a great experience and learning moment. Maybe it wasn’t fun to do back then, but now it’s part of your musical makeup.
Yes, and I’m very grateful to Jerry that he made me learn that. I have a notebook of stuff I got from him that I’ll be practicing for the rest of my life. It’s unbelievable how much material he gave me to work on.
When you’re putting together your own band, what do you look for in the other musicians?
One thing I like to look for is whether they have an affable personality; can we get along on the bandstand. I’ve worked with musicians who are virtuosic in nature but their personalities were that of a cold fish. To me that doesn’t compute on the bandstand; you need to have folks who can get along, smile, appreciate each other and be able to listen so they can create space for each other. That’s the only way to play. I’m really looking out for that, even more so than super chops or a lot of experience. A lot of time when I’m doing a gig in this area it will be a small group, maybe even just me on piano with a vocalist, or me on saxophone with a guitarist and maybe a bass player. In those circumstances I’m generally looking for people I’ve worked with in the past so that I know what their repertoire is, but it’s always fun to meet new players, to just jump in never having met and play some tunes together. That can be a lot of fun as well.
Many times when we work with other musicians we learn things, both good and bad. There is no way we could cover all of the musicians you’ve worked with, but I’d like to cover a few, and have you tell the readers about what you learned in working with them. The first is the great Clark Terry.
Oh man, he is one of the warmest guys I’ve ever met. He is super generous. We did some workshops together, and when he was awarded an honorary doctorate at UNH, we did a couple of tribute concerts for and with him. There was a significant concert with Clark for me because the band was James Williams on piano, Milt Hinton on bass, Les Harris on drums, Clark on trumpet, and me. I was in heaven working with those cats. It was truly out of sight. Clark was very open to letting things happen on the stand. I never heard him play a bad note. Every solo was great. We did a recording session, and the other guys were fluffing this and flubbing that, but Clark, even though he was 20 to 30 years older than most of us, was right there on every solo. His concentration and dedication was very inspirational.
The next someone with is terribly overlooked in jazz history, and that’s Buddy DeFranco.
A very friendly cat and very supportive. I was quite young when I worked with him and he encouraged me to expand my solos. What I liked about his playing was his harmonic exploration. For his time period he was pushing the envelope with regard to harmonic complexity. He had impeccable chops and sound on clarinet, and that was inspirational because it made me want to work harder on my clarinet chops. Most of the great players I’ve been able to play with during my life are also wonderful people and human beings.
The last is Natalie Cole.
I didn’t actually meet her, but I did play behind her. I did a three-hour sightreading rehearsal and then played a concert at the Portland City Hall. I got the gig through Don Doane. She brought several lead players with her, including Lanny Morgan and a couple of other folks on different instruments, but a local contractor filled out the rest of the band. I got the gig because I was a doubler and played alto flute, bass clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones on that job. I know I had at least five horns in front of me. The night of the concert she was only three or four feet in of me, but I was never actually introduced to her. She would turn around to the conductor and say she wanted to do specific numbers, because she would read the audience and pick the order of the concert as we went along based on how the audience reacted. The thing that cracked me up was that we had not rehearsed her big number. At the appropriate time they rolled down the screen and projected a video of her father Nat, and then we sight-read Unforgettable to a click track while she sang it.
That really reinforces the point that as a professional musician you really have to be ready for anything at any point.
Absolutely. Things like that will keep you on your toes.
You started playing professionally at a very young age; you were in junior high. Is there some advice you can give to young musicians who are just starting out playing professionally that comes in the form of, I wish someone had told me (blank)?
You really have to appreciate your audience and never underestimate them. A lot of young musicians make the mistake of thinking that the audience either doesn’t know or appreciate what they are playing. I’ve always found that if you keep your wits about you, look around, smile, and keep in contact with people, find out what they want to hear, you’re going to do a lot better than if you just barge in and do your thing, so to speak. Don’t just let the chips fall where they may. I’ve always tried to accommodate my audiences, try to figure out what they want to hear, and do everything I could to play it.
There are conflicting ideas when it comes to the validity of transcribing solos as a technique for learning jazz. Some saxophonists interviewed in Saxophone Journal say it’s indispensible, but others say it’s not so important. How do you feel regarding the use of transcribing solos as a learning technique?
I’m big on reading transcriptions and extracting material from them for your own vocabulary. If the student is at the point where they can actually benefit from doing the transcription themself, then all the better. Right off the bat, if a student says they want to do this then I suggest they start with a Miles Davis solo, a solo where there is some space and the notes won’t go by too fast. Not only that, but nowadays with the new software available you can even take a John Coltrane solo and slow it down so you can hear the notes go by. I have a funny story. Back in the day when I was doing a lot of transcriptions I wanted to do Black Pearls from the album of the same name with Donald Byrd and Coltrane. I had a tape deck and I thought all I had to do was record the track at 15 ips and then play it back at 7.5 ips and everything Coltrane was doing would be easy to hear. Well, the fact of the matter was that even at 7.5 ips, the notes were flying by so fast I almost didn’t have a chance!
You’re currently teaching at the Philip Exeter Academy. Could you describe for the readers what that school is?
It’s an interesting school because it draws people from all over the world. Right now I’m teaching summer school and we have students from 48 countries and 40 different states. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a larger group of students in the world right now that is more diverse than we have here. It is an incredible place to work and teach. They’ve always been very supportive. We have a faculty jazz quartet that plays concerts four times a year. I direct the stage band and have a great facility and wonderful equipment. It is definitely a privileged environment, there is no question about that. The thing is that the students are all appreciative of each other’s backgrounds and diversity. This is something that is important about working here. We rarely if ever have any problems with harassment or anything close to that. It’s remarkable. We’re a good model for the future. I think when people graduate from here they take with them the feeling of a strong national family. When you go to a place like we have here you really feel like you’re a world citizen. You learn that we are all brothers and sisters in this world.
One of the reasons I’m attracted to this place is because I’m a member of the Baha’i Faith. One of our philosophies is that it is better to have a world view than be a nationalistic person and think about just your own country. It is very important to think globally and act locally. It sounds like a cliché, but I think it can be a great value to people when you realize we are all family in a world citizenship. If that were something people grew up with on a visceral level, then it would make a big difference in what’s happening in the world today. I really love the fact that this summer, for example, we have students from Palestine and from Israel, going to school together, at PEA, and getting along great. It’s a remarkable thing what the founder of the school did when he made an effort to draw in people from all walks of life. The school has a great scholarship program, so a lot of kids who might not otherwise be able to attend here are able to go. I always encourage everyone to apply to go to school there; your marks have to be good, but if you get in it’s an incredible experience.
As someone who has taught in the collegiate setting, what was the number one thing you wished high school saxophonists had worked harder on before they came to college?
In general when I would get a student who had some degree of accomplishment, they all felt they had to play a ton of notes at 90 miles an hour, and very few of them had done any thinking about what kind of sound they had or whether they could play in tune or not. A large part of my work as a college professor was to work with them on sound and breathing, work with them on reeds and mouthpieces. The idea was to get them to a sound that was unique to them, and not just copying somebody else. It also was important for me to help them find a sound that was acceptable and one with which they could play in tune with others. I also had to help them find a sound that allowed them to get a good response throughout the entire range of the instrument. It’s ironic because when I was learning the saxophone I had a trumpet teacher, and there was nothing against this, but sonically he wasn’t sure how to advise me with regard to tone production. That is usually what happens to a lot of students who come to college from a band context where the band director isn’t always a saxophone player. The result is that they’ve developed a lot of bad habits in terms of embouchure and breathing. Tone quality is what I would say high school saxophonists who are going to go to college should work more on developing.
Who do you like to have your student jazz saxophonists listen to in order to help ground them in jazz fundamentals?
I have a little sampler that includes people like Phil Woods, Charlie Parker, Cannonball, Paul Desmond and Art Pepper. I like to give them a mix of different saxophonists and different styles to check out. I tell the students their style is going to be a unique style all its own and it’s OK to copy someone else’s approach in the beginning to get started. As their knowledge and experience increases, the individuality of their sound and style will emerge.
You are a great doubler. What advice do you have for your saxophonists who are thinking of moving into the area of learning other instruments like the clarinet and flute?
The clarinet, to me, is a must. If the student will spend more time practicing the clarinet it will make them a better saxophonist simply because their technical facility will be better. In terms of flute, I know that when I started to study the flute I had to put the saxophone down for a little while and just concentrate on getting a sound out of the flute. If I kept going back and forth between the two instruments I’d get confused. I wouldn’t know what embouchure to use on the flute when I’d come back to it. If they can afford, time wise, to put the saxophone down and just focus on the flute for a while they may make faster progress.
What advice do you have for young saxophonists?
Learn something about the tradition of the instrument, both from the classical standpoint and from a jazz standpoint. Find recordings of Marcel Mule and Sigurd Rascher. Listen to what the saxophone did and that will give you a good foundation of what it’s doing now. The whole thing about listening is important, because that’s how a tonal concept is developed. Find recordings of your favorite jazz artists and absorb the material. You don’t have to be technically facile to appreciate their sound and the dynamic contrast they bring to the music. You really want to get a good concept of the sound so you can duplicate it on your instrument.
I recently played piano behind one of my former UNH students, saxophonist Marc La Force, now band a director at a local high school. You know, some of my former students have made careers for themselves in the music world. It’s important to know I would never claim credit for their success, they’ve worked hard and I’m glad I was able to help them along the way. The short list includes saxophonist Jeff Coffin, New York based virtuoso David Pietro, composer Kevin Flanagan, Travis Sullivan of Bjorkestra, Matthew Willis of the Mingus Big Band and the Dorsey Band, Professor James Pisano of Bethel College, Charlie Kohlhase of the Either/Orchestra, and Matt Langley. Trumpeters Barry Danielien and Trent Austin, who studied improvisation with me while they were still in high school, and Mark Shilansky, a Boston based vocalist and pianist, are three other noteworthy former students. Many other music education majors at UNH who worked with me have also gone on to have careers as teachers in various capacities. I consider my career to have been successful primarily because my students have also become proficient players and educators. To me there is no greater compliment that one can be paid, and I get a great deal of satisfaction of knowing I have contributed to their accomplishment in some small way. I would wish the same kind of career for all young saxophonists as the one I’ve had.
Soprano - Selmer Super Action 80 Series III with a J&D Hite mouthpiece (facing: Medium short, .052" tip), Rovner ligature and Vandoren Java 3½ reeds.
Alto - Selmer Super Action 80 Series II with a Ralph Morgan Excalibur mouthpiece (facing: 6E - medium chamber produces a brighter tone with more edge), Winslow ligature and Vandoren Java 3 reeds.
Tenor - Selmer Super Action 80 Series III with a Ralph Morgan Excalibur mouthpiece (facing: 6EL - large chamber produces a darker, richer and smoother tone), Vandoren Optimum ligature and Vandoren Java 3 reeds.
Bari - Yamaha YBS - 52 with Vandoren V5 Jazz B75 mouthpiece and Rico 2½ reeds.
Clarinet - Buffet BC 20 Bb dating circa 1968, Vandoren B45 mouthpiece and standard ligature, Mitchell Lurie 3 1/2 reeds.
As A Leader
Iridescence (Invisible, 1999)
Shadow (Crystal Lake, 1998)
With Tom Chandler
Blue Time (Fishtraks, 1984)
Fire & Ice (CD Baby, 1987)
Nightsale (CD Baby, 1986)
Companions Of The Crimson Coloured Ark (Philo, 1987)
World Dance (Philo, 1984)
With Edward Gerhard
Luna (Virtue, 1993)
With Tim Janis
Along The Shore Of Acadia (Tim Janis, 1996)
With Kathleen Kolman
Dreamer (Walkin’ Foot, 1999)
With Barbara London
Flat Out Dreaming (1988)
Northern Portrait (1982)
With Tommy Makem
Lonesome Waters (Shanachie, 1990)
Songbag (Shanachie, 1990)
Rolling Home (Shanachie, 1989)
With Uno Mondo
Hand In Hand (Global Pacific, 1994)
With Bill Morrissey
North (Philo, 1986)
With Leila Percy
Those Sirens Of Swing (Invisibile, 1999)
With Lucie Therrien
Collage (Invisible, 1989)
With T.J. Wheeler
With Glenn Yarbrough
Day The Tall Ships Came (Folk Era, 2000)