The Expanding Range of the Saxophone

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 23,105
    Expert Sax player Seth Kibel demonstrates the expanding range on a 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.

    Hi, I want to just Wet your whistle a bit for some of what lies ahead in your adventures of the saxophone. I want to talk a bit about the expanding range of the saxophone, particularly about getting higher in the saxophone s range. You have not used it yet but next to your left thumb is this key right here which you can play with the tip of your thumb. That is the octave key. You know, you have learned thus far, if you add the octave key, it gives you the same note but higher. For instance, B with the octave key, A without octave key and so forth and so on. It got the only exception to that is low C; if you play low C with the octave key; it gives you a pretty ugly sounding note. There is actually an alternate fingering for that middle C. We are not going to get into that right now but I just wanted to wet your whistle with how some of these high notes work. Now, as you start experimenting with high notes, you are going to have to make some adjustments. Remember how we talked about the things you can do to help low notes come out better? Well, you are going to have some problems with high notes too. They are also difficult on the saxophone. As you get higher and higher on the saxophone, you are going to have to bite harder, tighten the embouchure; bite harder with the lower teeth to the lower lip, the opposite of what you did with the low notes. If you don t, those high notes will sound flat, out of tune or might not come out at all. Now, you got to tighten that embouchure; you got to bite harder with the lower teeth to your lower lip. As you get higher and higher on the saxophone, you are going to be biting so hard on that lower lip that you are going to think that any second now your teeth are just going to pop through your lower lip and blood is going to spread out everywhere and that is going to be a big mess. That would not happen. Your lip is stronger than that and the more you practice and the more you practice these high notes, the stronger your lip will become. The highest official note on the saxophone is high F or in some saxophones, it is high F sharp. That note right there. However, many saxophonists have found ways to play higher than that using what is known as the Altissimo range. Now, this is a very advanced saxophone technique. You would not be using it for a very long time. You have got to play the saxophone for years before you can even try to tackle this topic but I did not want to bring your attention to it. Altissimo range is made by using all these kind of funky fingering and then sort of squeaking on purpose; by messing around with your embouchure and the shape of your oral cavity. Using altissimo range, you can play infinitely high and so forth and so on. Again, the saxophone was not designed to play those kinds of notes but people have figured out ways to do them. On the low end of the saxophone, the lowest note is low B flat. Sounds a bit like a foghorn. I can cheat and play a little lower by sticking my foot in the bell but that is not legal either. One more thing I should talk about that I have not mentioned as far; as you start to use a lot of these fingering that involve your pinkies; you are going to find some trouble with them. Your pinkies are really your weakest finger. They are not very strong. If you are right handed, your left pinky is your weakest finger, if you are left handed; it is your right pinky but we do not use our pinkies very much in real life. Maybe a little bit in typing but if you are ever in a situation, where you have the options to have one of your fingers; you get to choose one of your fingers to be cut off, you would definitely choose your pinkies. We do not use them that much, but when you play saxophone you do. We use our pinkies a lot and that is difficult at first because we are not used to using our pinky muscles. So, when you first start using the pinky, it is going to be hard. I remember when I first started playing saxophone, sometimes my pinkies would lock up, out of joy and I would have to pull my hand up and kind of snap them back in to place. It was very uncomfortable, very painful, but as I practiced more and my pinky muscles got stronger and stronger, it happened less and less often and it has not happened in years. So again, pinkies are another muscle that most people do not normally use, that you will start using when you play the saxophone.