After 63 years of playing saxophone, I can say that 40 of those years have been devoted to the soprano.
I grew up playing R&B music, went to college by accident (changed my life), discovered the jazz of the 1960s and became inspired by the music of the “new thing” (Coltrane, Shepp, Ayler and beyond). I bought my first soprano in Woodstock in 1973 ( a curved Conn) and started on a path that is still in front of me today. I’ve got a fair number of recordings, including two solo soprano saxophone discs, and a lifetime of associations with some of creative music’s giants: Steve Lacy, Joe McPhee, Milford Graves, Carlos Zingaro, Bill Dixon, Bobby Bradford, Anthony Braxton, Andrea Centazzo, and more. I’ve performed with everyone from Jake “Raging Bull” LaMotta to legendary dancer Peg Leg Bates to Steve Lacy and even the Lester Lanin Orchestra.The soprano sax has taken me around the world a few times and I will be forever grateful to my late father, who lent me the money for my first soprano.
For 28 of the first 31 years of having a soprano, I played one horn ( 1927 King silver ) and one mouthpiece ( a Selmer S80). Life was fine and I didn’t need anything more.
But in 2003, something started to change. I was hearing the music differently. I began a search for the right horn and then the right mouthpiece. About 30 horns later and at least 50 mouthpieces later, I found what I was after. It was not fun, not even close to fun.
And I learned a lot along the way: about the very real differences between a lot of soprano saxes; about the very real problems and differences between almost every soprano mouthpiece known to man; and about the intensely personal connection of player to mouthpiece to horn.
THE START OF SOPRANOPLANET
When family circumstances took me off the road in 2007, I decided to fool around and make my own mouthpiece. I expected to have many disasters before any possible success, but I was wrong. The first mouthpiece I made was exactly what I was after for all those years. And the next one, too. And the next.
I had many great mouthpiece makers make me custom pieces for many years. They were almost all good but each had something that was just not correct. After I made my own, I immediately understood why: for all their substantial knowledge and skills, none of them were real soprano players. They just “didn’t know” about sopranos — and, let me tell you, there is A LOT to know!
I found that the knowledge I accumulated over all that time was real and important. And it led to the mouthpiece designs you will find here. And, I found out how much I enjoyed the hands-on work of making mouthpieces for soprano players. I really love doing it.
WHAT IT MEANS
There is not ONE design that is perfect. That is the first thing to know. There is a balance that must be achieved so that you can have the sound, the response, the tone and the joy of realizing your music- not my idea of what it should be but YOUR idea. That is what makes this such a joyous journey for me, and it should be a joyous journey for you, too.
The soprano is not any more difficult than an alto or tenor. Don’t believe what too many players with poorly matched or made mouthpieces say. They believe it, I know, but it just “ain’t so”.
Whether you are a classical musician, a worship musician, a student, a pro, a jazz player or a studio musician, spend a little time on this sphere.
Here is a live solo soprano performance: