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Sounding "Young"

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Here's my answer to a young saxophonist who asked me to evaluate his playing at a competition where I was a guest on the judicial panel.

(He didn't win, by the way.)

“Concerning your playing, I have very few recommendations. You pretty much got every judge's approval at the semi-finals and we all had you hands down as the overall winner. Basically, you lost points during the finals because some of my co-judges felt that you weren't assertive enough during the straight-ahead/swinging part of your presentation. I guess they were looking for more fireworks and visually-projected dedication. But to be honest, I would have played it exactly as you did. I don't believe in excessive body movements, squealing, circular breathing, growling, multiphonics, unnecessarily long-held high notes or any other types of showboating. These are affectations and tricks that less skilled players resort to in order to get “house". Uninitiated listeners usually eat this stuff up, but it is trickery at it's best and is shameful behavior for true artists, such as yourself, to resign themselves to. Research any video of the icons of this music and you will observe that most of them played with Zen-like focus and stood quite still. All that moving around creates subtle changes in the position of your mouthpiece and will alter your intonation as well as your grip and hand position - thus affecting your accuracy and articulation.

Personally, I listen for how a player develops his story and how coherently they get their ideas across with detailed phrases and concise statements. I'm from the super clean technique school. Many players get by solely on slurring everything, playing with really loud volume or with a series of crowd pleasing licks. I don't support this approach to improvisation. Fortunately, you are not plagued by these types of issues. Basically, I think the main thing is for young players not to give away their age when they play. This is a common subject of discussion with older players. It seems that younger players tend to crowd each bar with an enormous amount of content when simpler statements would be more effective. You musicians also always tend to play far too many choruses during a solo. This is the giveaway that they are either in a rush to “say it all" or that they don't gig enough and it makes them sound “young" and unrefined. I know about this because I used to be one of those players. It takes a while to develop the ability to know when to lay back and when to dig a little deeper.

So, stand a bit more still and don't overplay (AKA sound “young") or you'll be out of tune and will bore everyone to tears...

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This story appears courtesy of Indaba Music Artist in Residence with Greg Osby.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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