Thursday, December 23, 2010


I just spent three weeks in Belgium, in a lovely town called Ghent to be exact. I was invited by RadioKUKAorkest to guest with them on a tour and recording session. Over the years I've often wished for the luxury of staying in one place for a week or so as opposed to the extended one-nighters in which one bounces from one end of the continent to the other in a matter of hours. This was pretty close. Belgium is a rather compact country and it's possible to traverse any two points within a couple of hours at most. Each afternoon I would meet the band and we would drive to whatever city we were playing in. Additionally I was given an apartment and a bicycle, of which I made daily use in spite of the snow and low temperatures. (See photo, taken at 2:30 am during a snow storm, horn on my back).

Given the players and the instrumentation (Kristof Roseeuw on bass, Lode Vercampt on cello, Philippe Thuriot on accordion and Tom Wouters on clarinet and drums) we were able to explore a "chamber" oriented sound as well as hit some high impact improv stuff as well. The tour was booked by the JazzLab Series and most of the gigs took place in cultural centers that typically present theater as well as various types of music. This was an opportunity to play for folks who might not otherwise go to a jazz/improv club. A group like this really shines when able to play as acoustically as possible. It can still be rather difficult to convince sound engineers to allow this but we persevered and the results vindicated our approach. It's a pleasure to hear everyone's true sound on stage and interact dynamically, especially in a group with such a wide pallet of sonic colors.

Additionally I did a couple of wonderful improv based club gigs, one with Teun Verbrughen (drums), Peter Vandenberghe (keyboards) and Kristof Roseeuw (bass) in Antwerp and another with Joze Dumoulin (Fender Rhodes piano), Kristof Roseeuw (bass) and Lander Ghyselinck (drums) in Ghent. Incidentally, Lander was a student at the JIMS workshop in Salzburg (where I taught) a few years back. It's a great feeling to see a young musician quickly progress and enter the gigging scene with something to say.

On one of the days off I went to Brussels to visit MIM, the Musical Instrument Museum. I particularly wanted to see the original saxophones made by Adolphe Sax but the entire museum was fascinating. Afterwards I visited legendary saxophone mouthpiece specialist François Louis. My travel horn on this trip was the Conn 10 M which plays very differently than my main horn, the earlier vintage Conn "Chu Berry". I had been thinking about getting a mouthpiece tailored to the 10 M for some time and this was my opportunity. François lives in a small town not far from Dinant, the birthplace of Adolphe Sax. I met him at the train station and we drove to his workshop. This was the first time in my entire life that I've had anyone do custom work on a mouthpiece for me. I don't know why I waited so long! We used one of François' existing blanks. I played on it for some time and spoke to him about what I wanted. He would then take the piece and file away at the baffle and I'd play some more and then try and find the words to express what I was hearing. Fortunately, with his experience he knew exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. We repeated this process a few times, then he did some work on the tip and within a couple of hours I had a new mouthpiece. The result was a somewhat denser core sound and the elimination of certain harsher frequencies in the upper range. The palm keys in particular sound rounder and more singing. Now that I see what is possible I plan to have some work done on my Lebayle LR II which I use on my main horn.

All in all it was a great trip and I want to thank everyone involved. It was a special opportunity to work on music and make some new friends. It's no exaggeration to say that every single person I met was totally friendly which made the trip a real pleasure. Oh, and before I forget, my favorite coffee bar in Ghent is the OR Espresso Bar.