Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A New Horn

Scott and I stand by a new Moog Little Phatty at the Sam Ash music store in Las Vegas. The Phatty is a throwback to the original analog synthesizers of the late sixties and seventies.

Back in those days you programmed the sound you wanted to play by twisting knobs and plugging patch cables. There were no presets, no sample memories, no save buttons, just the raw machine with a bunch of dials and sockets. To change your sound from a meaty bass to an erie lead you had to program it in the moment. If you wanted to change sounds during a gig, you had to be quick about it.

Tweaking the knobs and listening to the result takes me back to exams at Berklee. The professor would say something like "Create a mach trumpet" and you'd have a minute to do it.

I walk Scott through the process of selecting the wave forms generated by the oscillators, setting up the amplitude and filter envelopes, injecting some modulation and seeing what comes out when you play a key. I've completely forgotten why I wanted to go to the music store and it doesn't bother me bit.

I leave Scott with the Little Phatty and wander into the band instrument section. There's a used bari-sax hanging on the wall and the price-tag shouts to me, "Play me! I'm really cheap!"

Over the past couple of months, I've been listening to music that features bari sax and I've been thinking about picking up a used one. I should at least give this one a try.

Why'd I come here? Oh, well...

There's no one behind the counter, so I walk back to take a closer look at the horn. A security guard runs over and asks if he can assist me. I tell him, "Yeah, I'd like to try this sax."

He says, "Let me go find someone to help you", and then disappears through a little door at the back of the store. While I wait my eyes wander along the back wall jumping from instrument to instrument, flutes, trumpets, alto saxes, soprano saxes.

I happen upon a tenor sax and without pausing move on to the next instrument. You see, I've been playing the same tenor sax since I was fourteen. It's a Selmer Mark VI and there's nothing like it. I've never even considered purchasing another tenor. Yet in my mind's eye, as I look at a bright, new Yamaha soprano, I still see the tenor I just skipped. It's different from the other horns. Rather than gold, it's lacquered in black. Even the keypads that seal the holes are black. The key-tops are inlayed with polished stone. The octave key is on the bottom rather than the top of the neck.

I suddenly remember seeing this horn before. It's one that Tom Scott played in the documentary film, Standing in the Shadow of Motown. Tom Scott is an amazing tenor player with a distinctive sound that I've often tried to emulate. In the film, he played a horn I'd never seen before, a black lacquered horn with black pads. His sound was different; it was richer and more robust.

As I turn back to the Cannonball, a sales clerk pops out the door into which the guard had disappeared. She says, "Looking at the Cannonball, huh?"

I say, "No, I was... um... yeah, actually. Can I give it a try?"

As she hands me a sanitized demo mouthpiece, a reed and a strap, the store's sax teacher walks up to help me set up the horn.

"So, you just getting started?"

"I've played a bit."

"Man, this horn is really special. I hope you have the chops to appreciate it."

"I'll do my best."

He adjusts the reed placement, helps me tighten the strap and shows me to the demo room. I thank him and head inside. Will joins me to provide perspective and to observe my process. I put the horn to my mouth and play a few notes.


I look at Will. His eyes say the same thing, "Whoa!"

I play a bit more.


The notes roll out of the bell, deep and rich. The texture is dense, yet well-defined with a brightly-honed edge that might cut glass. I glide from the bottom of the range up through the top and then race back down. The horn becomes an extension of me. New ideas flow unimpeded from my mind into the room.


Why'd I come here?

Will looks at me, smiling. I ask him, "Is it just me or does this horn really sound amazing?"

He confirms my experience.

"Shit", I think, "This is just what our bank account needed."

From a fiscal perspective, it probably isn't the best move I could make, but... OK, from a fiscal perspective it's a dumb-ass thing to do. But if you heard this horn... Well, I guess I just never let challenges such "How you gonna pay for that?" or "Wouldn't it be better to use that money on..." get in the way of making decisions.

We walk back into the store. Everyone is looking at us. They know that the Cannonball is coming home with me.

I try a couple of other horns, you know for due diligence, but there's no comparison, even with the horns that cost twice as much. I look at Iris who despite a lapse in blood-sugar level is smiling, affirming my decision.

Sometimes, despite better judgment, you just know. I pull out my Amex card...

Happy Tuesday,

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed being part of this process. When something is Right, it can be downright thrilling, even vicariously.


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