About the Saxophone Reed

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 30,801
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel explains the details about your saxophone’s reed.

    Seth Kibel

    Seth Kibel is one of the Mid-Atlantic region's premier saxophonists. His latest release, on Azalea City Recordings, is "The Great Pretender." On his first solo album, The Great Pretender, tenor saxophonist Seth Kibel brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Adding their talents to two of Seth’s original tunes and eight of his creative arrangements are European blues star Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues diva Melanie Mason, D.C. guitar legend Dave Chappell, jazz pianist Sean Lane, rocker Billy Coulter, dobro-ist Dave Giegerich, bassist Sam Goodall, and drummers Mark Lucas and Joe Wells. The covers include dramatic re-interpretations of songs by Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Duke Ellington and The Kinks. '

    The album’s blues and roots rock sounds represent a new approach for the versatile performer and composer, known for his jazz and klezmer music and his leadership of the award-winning “alternative klezmer” band The Alexandria Kleztet. Seth has won 11 Washington Area Music Association Awards (Wammies) including Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Best World Music Instrumentalist.

    Seth began his career as a full-time professional musician in 1996, when he moved to the Washington/Baltimore area following his graduation from Cornell University with a double major in Music and American Studies. Since that time, he has been in demand as a sideman and as a bandleader performing in such diverse genres as jazz, rock, blues, swing, klezmer, dixieland, and classical music.

    Seth began his professional klezmer career in 1993 with Cayuga Klezmer Revival, upstate New York’s premier klezmer band. Their CD, Klezmology, is still sold nationally. Seth is currently the leader, clarinetist, and composer for The Alexandria Kleztet, an “alternative” klezmer band he founded in the Baltimore/Washington area. The band’s three albums, Y2Klezmer (1999), Delusions of Klezmer (2002), and Close Enough for Klezmer (2005) are all available internationally. All three albums received the Washington Area Music Association’s (WAMA) award for Best World Music Recording following their release. The Alexandria Kleztet was named "Best World Music Duo or Group" by WAMA for 2003, 2004, and 2006. Seth also received individual awards for "Best World Music Instrumentalist" in 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006, and was named "Best Jazz Instrumentalist" for 2005.

    In addition to his activities with the Kleztet, Seth has fronted a variety of swing and jazz groups, including Corner Pocket, Air Mail Special, The Bay Jazz Project, and Seth Kibel’s Dixieland All-Stars. In 2002, he was commissioned to write, perform, and record an original score for Dreams in the Golden Country, an original theatrical production at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. In January 2004, he released his first jazz CD, a joint album with violinist Susan Jones entitled Nuts and Bolts. And in late 2004, he produced A Chanukah Feast, an album for the DC-based charity Hungry for Music featuring both regional and national artists. In 2005, he was the recipient of an "ASCAPlus" grant, as well as a Silver Prize (2nd place) winner in the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, in the "jazz/blues/instrumental" division. In summer 2007, he released The Great Pretender, his first solo record for Azalea City Recordings. On the album, Seth brings his raucous, blues-drenched sound to 10 songs with support from some of the most skilled artists in the Mid-Atlantic and beyond. Seth has performed with such notables as Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), Percy Sledge, The Coasters, and Johnnie Johnson. Additionally, he has appeared with many notable groups in the Baltimore/Washington area, including The Daryl Davis Band, Project Natale, Christian Josi, The Tom Cunningham Orchestra, The VanDangos, and The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, just to name a few. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre, the Lowell Folk Festival in Lowell, Massachusetts, as well as on several European tours.

    Seth can be heard on recent CD releases by the Skyla Burrell Blues Band, the Swing States Road Show, folksinger John Simon, The Civil Air Patrol Band, American Song, The Hot Kugel Klezmer Band, guitarist David Kitchen, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis, blues guitarist Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges, jazz vocalist Esther Haynes, and flamenco guitarist Gerard Moreno. Since 2002, he has been on the faculty of the ElderHostel program at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. He has also lectured extensively on klezmer, jazz, swing, the big band era, and other related musical topics at Peabody, Goucher College, and elsewhere.

    Seth's primary instruments are the clarinet, saxophone (alto, tenor, and baritone), and flute. He has, however, been known to make some noise on harmonica, recorder, guitar, piano, and accordion. In his eight years as a professional musician, Seth has performed for numerous private affairs, such as receptions, weddings, and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, all across the country. Whatever your affair, Seth will work with you to put together the right ensemble. References available upon request.

    Alright, a quick digression to talk a little bit more about reeds. They are awfully small, but they really are the most important part of the saxophone. They are the part that makes the sound. First of all, as I eluded too earlier, reeds are very delicate. They can break very easily and even the slightest chip or crack can cause some unpleasant sounds and unpleasant squawking that no one wants to hear. So, a couple of important rules when dealing with the reeds. First of all, never ever, ever, never touch the tip of the reed. That is the part that makes the sound and that is also the part that is the most fragile. You can touch every other part of the reed as much as you want, but do not touch that tip. The only thing that should touch that tip, is your tongue. Secondly, when the reed is on your mouthpiece and you are not using a saxophone, I highly recommend you cap the mouthpiece when not in use so, that you do not accidentally brush into that reed or someone does not walked past it or if the saxophone falls it does not get gash because even the slightest damage can render the reed useless and these are not cheap, folks. Now, reeds do wear out. Different reeds have different shelf lives but depending on how often you play. You may go through a reed a week or a reed every two weeks. I play hours and hours a day; I often go through a reed every day or two. They do wear out. You will know when they wear out because the saxophone would not sound as good, notes would not come out as easy, you will start to squeak, if that happens, try a new reed, see if that makes a difference. Couple of other things about reeds. When you first put on a brand new reed you are going to get that yucky, waxy taste in your mouth and it is going to be a little hard to play right at first. Every new reed needs a little bit of playing time to break it in so of speak. So, just because a new reed does not sound good to you right away, it does not mean it is not a good reed. Give it a chance, play it for a little while, see if that works. Another thing I want to talk about with reeds, there are a gazillion types of reeds out there with a gazillion types of varieties, mostly dealing with strength. Every brand is different. Unfortunately, it is not standardized, but generally speaking, the higher the number of the reed, the stronger it is, the thicker the tip of the reed. Now, you may think well, a stronger reed; that sounds good. I should use a stronger as possible. Well, not necessarily. Keep in mind one of the reasons there are so many different types of reeds is because every saxophone is different, every mouthpiece is different, most importantly, everyone s mouth is slightly different. So, what works for one person on one saxophone with one mouthpiece is not going to work for another person with another saxophone with another mouthpiece. For instance, I use very different reeds on my different saxophones because I have found that what works on one does not necessarily work on another. So, the bottom line is, you have to find the reed that is right for you. If it sounds good to you, if it is easy to play and gives you a tone you are happy with, it is the right reed. I can however, give you some general principles that people talk about with reed strength. As a beginner, you generally want to start with a softer reed, one and a half, two, two and a half at the most. Again, it varies from brand to brand. One brand s two reeds is same is another brand s one and a half, very frustrating but you do want to start with a softer reed because they are generally easier to play. Now, as you start to get more advanced, you may want to experiment with harder reeds because the conventional wisdom is, a harder reed will give you a fuller sound, a bigger tone. The flip side is they are a little harder to play. It takes more air; it takes more breathe control which is why they are not a good choice for beginners. But again, the reed that gives you the best sound is the reed to you. Do not let any one else tell you otherwise. Alright, in a moment we are going to get started with our basic hand position and our basic embouchure, which is the position of your mouth on the saxophone.