Back to Sax

avatars-000026309488-jactvz-cropThose who visit my webpage (as opposed to reading it via RSS) will notice that over the last few months I changed my gravatar (to a friend’s caricature from 1995 of me with a saxophone, which you can see to the right), and then I changed the template and the layout of the pages in the top menu, and added a lot of headers, including a few with me playing saxophone, like these below:

The template change had been necessary for a while, but the selection of images of me playing music in the headers has not been incidental.

Ever since picking up my EWI 4000s, I’ve had a desire to return to the sax. Not that the EWI isn’t a wonderful instrument–it is, and it has allowed me to do all kinds of things musically that I could never do with a regular acoustic instrument. My EWI is freaking amazing, and I’m still learning about how to use it properly. (I still plan on posting a review of it, and of the other gear I use in conjunction with it, sometime soon… probably after I finish working on my next soundtrack.

But there’s something about the response and feedback from a traditional reed instrument that I’ve longed for ever since picking up the EWI.

Now that we’re in Saigon, I have time (and, it seems, an okay space for now) to do it. For ___ days in a row now, I’ve gone out on the terrace upstairs and played a little. the routine so far as been a ballad, long tones, arpeggios, and then another tune… basically because that’s about all I can handle. My chops are gone, and working them up is something I plan on doing at a comfortable pace, since it’s not like I’m dying to get onto a stage anytime soon.

I should add that this on-again, off-again relationship with the instrument is nothing new. After I finished my undergraduate studies, I moved to Montréal and basically set the saxophone aside for about three-and-a-half years–from fall 1998 until the first week of January 2002. During that time, I “focused on my writing” (along with dealing with personal stuff, working a day job, and so on). When I got to Korea, I played intensively–first with a little jazz trio, and then with a rock band–from 2002 until sometime late in 2004 or maybe early 2005, if you count the band’s goodbye concert. Then I set the saxophone aside again, and didn’t pick it up again until… well, a couple of days ago.

My soprano sax, sadly, isn’t with me: I left it with a friend of mine, who is also a saxophonist and may practice on it a bit, or may not. I’m planning on picking it up next time Mrs. Jiwaku and I pass through Seoul, probably in about five and a half months. I miss it, but anyway, tenor is the horn to start with–my embouchure problems would only be twice as pronounced on a soprano after all.

By the by, I’m thinking about doing some research (online, maybe picking up a book if necessary) about embouchure. Mine was always problematic, even when I was playing at my peak, but I found it really hard to adjust from what I’d grown to find comfortable. Now, though, nothing is comfortable, so it’s a great time to make adjustments and perhaps develop some better habits.

(There’s a lot of stuff online these days that wasn’t available to me as a student, about different embouchure types–the single and double lip ones, and a third one I’d never heard of where the lip doesn’t cover the bottom teeth at all, but is supported by muscle alone. When I was learning saxophone in Saskatchewan, the single-lip approach was the only one being taught, even by saxophonists… though, mind, most of the saxophonists I met had studied with Marvin Eckroth at the University of Saskatchewan, or at the very least had gone through “classical saxophone” training, so the homogeneity isn’t surprising.) The alternatives seem interesting, and it looks like I have some experimenting ahead of me, but I’m certainly open to alternative approaches and to finding what works for me. I expect I’ll have to get out my Zoom H4N recorder to get a real sense of how I actually sound with each of those approaches, and decide what I like best… While I adore Coltrane’s sound, I’m not sure double-lipped is something I actually would like to do regularly, but I guess we’ll see…)

I also expect the saxophone will help me with the regimen of asthma treatment I’m about to begin: the pulmonologist I last saw in Korea gave me some medicine to help address the over-arching asthma problems I was dealing with there (the construction in my area was constant and I was no a happy camper). Playing saxophone always helped me with my breathing in the past, exercising my lungs and trachea without the stress of something more rigorous.

I was lucky enough to get my horn repaired by a real pro, too, back in Korea just before we left. It’s in great working order now, and looks beautiful, even if years of mistreatment have cost the poor thing a fair bit of its original lacquer coating. That’s because, when the repairman took the horn apart, during the overhaul, he took the time to clean it; it hasn’t been shiny or easy-to-play since I first got it, back on Christmas Eve in 1988. (Yes, I’ve had the same instrument all those years: twenty five years, this Christmas Eve! I’ll have to celebrate that  somehow…)

Anyway, just a short note to say I’m back to the sax, and couldn’t be happier about it.

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