Breathing while Playing the Saxophone

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 31,197
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel demonstrates how to properly breathe while playing the saxophone.

    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.

    Let us talk about breathing, since this is one of the most important and one of the most challenging aspects of saxophone playing. Breathing is very important. You want to maximize your breath potential as much as possible. First of all, as much as you can, try to breathe from the gut. Let me explain; some people have the notion that when you take a breath, you suck in your gut, like this. No, maybe you see that on cartoons but that is not how you maximize your potential. You breathe by expanding your gut; by expanding your lungs. Your tummy should go out when you take a big breath and you fill it with air. In fact, a music teacher of mine used to show me this exercise which I find somewhat useful. Again, if you are in the office, you might not want to do this right now but basically, take a big heavy book or a couple of books, for instance, I could use the Harvard New Dictionary of Music. Lie down on the floor and as you take a big breath, that book should go up, not down. That is how you should be breathing when you play the saxophone. I often tell my students that when they play the saxophone or any wind instrument, for that matter, you should breathe like a whale. Now, let me explain what I mean by that. I am not a marine biologist but I do know that whales are not fish. They are mammals; they do not breath water, they breath air just like we do. What they do is, they swim around their ocean, doing their whale business for a couple of hours without breathing and then they come up to the surface of the water and take a massive breath and again go back under the ocean and swim around for another couple of hours doing their whale business. You should breathe like a whale. Now, I am not saying, you should go a few hours without breathing. That would be a bad idea but when playing the saxophone, you want to take as bigger breath as you can as infrequently as possible. What I do not want to hear is lots of little breaths between notes. That is not a very musical way to play. You want to play as many notes as possible before taking as bigger breath as possible. You can do this by breathing through your guts; you can take in as much air as possible and breathe through your mouth, not your nose. The nose is not a very useful breathing apparatus. You cannot take in a lot of air through your nose. Take a bigger breath as you can through your nose. It is hard; your nostrils close right up. You want to breathe through your mouth. Now, you do not have to take the saxophone out of your mouth, you can just kind of open up the sides of your mouth and breath through those holes in your embouchure. Make sense? Good. Again, breathing is a very difficult topic and it is a life long struggle. All saxophonists work on their breath control and their breath capacity throughout their entire carriers.