“New” Saxophone

Here’s a shot of the sax in its case. Both are in pretty good shape despite the age.

For those of you who don’t know yet, last week I was officially laid off at Eltron after nearly 12 years. It’s a sad turn of events, but I’m hoping that it leads to some wonderful new possibilities. I’ve enjoyed my time at Eltron immensely—especially due to the many fantastic people I’ve met and worked alongside over the years and the fantastic things I’ve learned in the process. I’ll be sure to let you all know when I find the right next thing.

About a week before the executioner’s axe came down, I also bought a “new” saxophone; great timing, eh? I say “new” because it’s actually a vintage horn from 1921, according to the serial number. It’s a bit of an unusual horn by modern standards in that it’s pitched in the key of C. Most modern saxes are in either Eb (think alto and bari) or Bb (like the soprano and tenor). The C-melody (pitched 1 major 2nd above the tenor or a minor 3rd below the alto) had a period of fantastic popularity in the ’20s–’30s, but the bottom in that market pretty much collapsed, and they basically haven’t been produced since. Part of the reason is that nothing is written for the C-melody from an ensemble perspective, so it’s sorta useless. Unless, like me, you play a bunch of stuff that is in very odd keys and requires extreme transposition. Think vocal stuff at church and rock bands with lots of guitarists. So that’s where I plan to make the most use of the horn.

Here you can see some of the weird yellow gunk on the keys.
Here you can see some of the weird yellow gunk on the keys.

For those who are interested, the horn was manufactured by the Buescher Co. (pronounced like Bisher) in Elkhart, Indiana,  which used to be the center of musical instrument manufacturing for the country. It was a nice horn in its day with a beautiful silver-plate finish and a thin gold coating inside the bell. The finish is in pretty darn good shape, but a previous owner tried some very ill-advised restoration work—resulting in some weird yellowish gunk on a bunch of the pad cups. Oddly, the material melts/burns when you try to float pads (sax pads are typically adhered to the cups using shellack that needs to be softened for adjustments).

In this shot you can see the badly bent octave key mechanism. It was so bad you couldn't fully install the neck!
In this shot you can see the badly bent octave key mechanism. It was so bad you couldn’t fully install the neck!

So, after getting a few of the pads replaced, the octave mechanism straightened (it was badly bent when I bought the horn), and the neck cork replaced (totally gone when I bought it) the horn looked a bit worse. However, I have removed a few of the keys and discovered that the gunk does come off without damaging the underlying finish.

I’ve been having a bit of fun playing it. The pads seem to seal pretty well (despite most being the originals and now over 90 years old), but they are a bit soft and have a poor feel. The sound isn’t bad either. It’s a pretty dark sound with the vintage mouthpiece that came with the horn (an eburnated—that means hard rubber—Conn eagle. I had to find a different ligature as the one that came on the mouthpiece is clearly not the original and didn’t really fit. I also need to make a decision on whether to use tenor (or bass clarinet) reeds on the mouthpiece as is, reface the piece to better fit modern reeds, or get a modern C-melody mouthpiece, but as all of the above require money, that’s a decision I can push off to tomorrow.

This images shows the funky, er unrefined, left-pinky cluster. Later versions had a more modern mechanism for faster and more efficient play.
This images shows the funky, er unrefined, left-pinky cluster. Later versions had a more modern mechanism for faster and more efficient play.

I’ve also decided that as soon as I get a new job, I’m going to buy a complete set of new pads, strip all of the keywork, and try my hand at an overhaul. I think a set with resonators might help to brighten up the sound a bit, and I might get a bit more benefit from adding a baffle to the large-chamber mouthpiece that came with the horn. Basically it should be a great horn to experiment on in order to customize my sound. Since it isn’t a terribly valuable horn, it makes a decent practice horn for restoration work too. I’ll add some pics as the project progresses. For now, here’s an audio file of what it sounds like. This was recorded playing the sax with an alto mouthpiece and a Hahn synthetic reed. Not a perfect match for the horn. There’s a bit of Phoebe chattering away in the background as well as a couple screams from Benjamin. Maybe not everyone is a fan of the new sax!

By the way, I recorded this pretty quickly using the little Zoom H1 Handy Recorder Jess got me for Christmas and edited it down with Audacity. Thanks for the cool gift, Honner!

Desafinado – Antonio Carlos Jobim
Dave Gribble, C-melody Sax

New, Old Music

Howdy Folks. Here are a few old music recordings for your listening pleasure. They are from the coffee house event we held as a fundraiser at Mount Calvary back in may of 2010, so they’re about 3 years old, but just now seeing the light of day. While not exactly long lost Doors tapes, it was fun to find the inspiration to work on editing them down and making individual tracks. Hopefully someone else will find it fun as well. Enjoy.

Note: It’s somewhat obvious, but some of the bibliographic details need to be updated.

Pop Goes the Weasel Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Swingin’ Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Maple Leaf Rag Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Minor Jazz Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Major Jazz Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Slower Jazz Thingy
Katie Johnson and Maggie ?, clarinet

Saxema by Rudy Wiedoeft (1893–1940)
Dave Gribble, saxophone and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

Petite Sonata No. 1, Op. 13 Allemande by Joseph Bodin de Boimortier (1689–1755)
Dave Gribble and Katie Johnson, saxophone

Allegro Assai by Johann Joachim Quantz (1697–1773)
Dave Gribble and Katie Johnson, saxophone

After Charlie by Gregory Yasinitsky (1953–)
Dave Gribble and Katie Johnson, saxophone

Musical Offerings

We’ve enjoyed some musical variety at church this summer, and since I played for some of the services, I thought I’d put a bit of the music up for those of you not local to Boulder to enjoy. (Not all of the pieces feature me.) Sadly, I don’t have recordings from all of the great music, but here’s what I do have. As a bit of a warning, most of the music was performed with very little rehearsal (disclaimer to cover any and all wrong notes, etc.), and all of the recordings were made with the built-in microphone on my iPod (covers balance issues and occasional sags in fidelity). The recordings from the “Touch of Jazz” service on July 22nd were made with the iPod sitting on my music stand (not the best placement it turns out), and the French piece from this morning was recorded with the iPod on the floor. The latter location worked better, but still needed a bit of equalization to get rid of a bit of excessive bottom end. I added a bit of compression to all of the recordings to help even things out as well. All things considered, most of the songs came out pretty good, but the vocals could all use a little more oomph. Maybe I can save up for one of those iPod accessory mics or a portable field reorder.

Danse pour saxophone alto en mi et piano by Darius Milhaud (1892–1974)
Dave Gribble, saxophone and Krystyna Eller, piano

Here’s One (Spiritual) Arr. Mark Hayes (1953– )
Dave Gribble, saxophone and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

Wade in the Water (Spiritual) Arr. Chuck Marohnic
Ken Eastman, Trumpet and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

Marchin’ on Up (Spiritual) Arr. Mark Hayes (1953– )
Julie Scott, Vocals; Ken Eastman, trumpet; and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

Day by Day (Spiritual) Arr. Hayes/Icenogle (1953– )
Ken Eastman, trumpet; Jan Osburn, drums; Dave Gribble, saxophone; and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

Come Sunday (Spiritual) by Duke Ellington (1899–1974)
Jan Osburn, vocals; Dave Gribble, saxophone; and Gladi Lefferdink, piano

More Northpaw

My new band Northpaw had a concert back on the 20th of January. At the time I uploaded a video of one of our songs and posted a brief synopsis of the show. Since then, I’ve gotten the recording from Jay and ripped it to make some smaller files. Here they are for your listening pleasure. Comments are welcome, and if you desperately want the wave files (or a CD) just let me know. I’m sure we can arrange something.

1. Like Rabbits

2. Lesno

3. Traveling Theme & Set the Course for the Heart of the Sun


5. The Autarch

6.  Flocke Fugue

7.  Remember

8.  This is Halloween

9.  Über Menche

10. Planned Obsolesence

Jess and me dancing to Widow’s Bane

Northpaw Lives

This is a pretty good shot Jess got of us last night. You can see everyone (Dusty, me, Sara, Kurt, and Tim from left to right) pretty clearly.

By now I suspect most of you are aware that I’ve joined a band. The name of the group is Northpaw, but I didn’t find that out until I’d been to several practice sessions. I guess I’m not that selective. The band consists of Tim Maloney on guitar, keys, and vocals; Sara Rolfe on violin and vocals; Kurt Fleckenstein on drums; Dusty Ray on bass; and yours truly on sax. We had our first gig Friday night at Road 34 in Fort Collins, CO. I’m not sure how often she’ll want to go, but Jess was very excited that she could attend this time. A huge thanks to Greg and Emily for watching Phoebe and to John and Thomas for sharing toys. We hear that Skipper had to sacrifice and spend some time outside as well (Phoebe told us “woof, woof, Skipper…No, Skipper! Outside!).

To keep this blog post short, so I can get back to writing about the cute little lady of the house, the first show went pretty well. We had a few hiccups but no train wrecks, and we all started and stopped together, so I’m pretty happy with the night. I was reminded that the world of small bands playing at bars is about the least punctual you’ll find. We were the 2nd of 3 acts on the night (Faded Freakshow opened things up and a group called Widow’s Bane headlined the show). The show was supposed to start at about 9:00 with Northpaw playing at around 9:30, but we didn’t start our set until almost 10:30. Needless to say, we didn’t get back to Boulder to rescue the Brinkmans from Phoebe until well after our original plan of midnight. We owe them way more than the 6-pack we dropped Phoebe off with.

I’d also like to say thanks to all of the friends that came out to watch us play. Most of you traveled all the way from Boulder (or Longmont) on a Friday night after working all day. Kudos! And a really big thanks to Jay for recording the whole show. I can’t wait to hear how everything came out. For those of you who also can’t wait, one of Sara’s friends shot some video of “Plannned Obsolesence.” It was the last song from our set. The audio isn’t awesome, but it gives you some idea of what we sounded like. I’ll put up some mp3 files from the concert once I get a copy of the good recording from Jay.