A Richard Keilwerth-made Bass Clarinet

Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, bass clarinet bell, Jubilee bass clarinet, vintage bass clarinetLast summer I brought home my new to me Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, but for a variety of reasons I haven’t had the opportunity to get out and play it with a band until last week. After doing some juggling of my schedule, I was able to free up my Thursday nights enough to start rehearsing with a community band one city over. I figured this was a good place for me to get my bass clarinet chops back up to where they were 30 years ago, and to get used to playing this quirky mid-century German bass.

Now that I’ve got two rehearsals under my belt with this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet, I figured I have enough to go on to write a mini review of how this horn performing in the wild.

This bass has a beautiful tone. Even though I don’t have my embouchure anywhere near where it once was, this bass clarinet’s tone is very evident. The tone is sonorous in the lower end of chalumeau register—where a bass should be. The Bb4 of the chalumeau is the only note that gives me any grief. In its standard fingering it is very airy, and not all the pleasing to my ear. However, when using the alternate trill fingering the tone is clean and pure.

The clarion register speaks easy enough, but I do have some intonation issues on the B4, C5, and C#5. The notes tend to play sharp, and I have to still get used to lipping them down a tad.

I have to be really conscious of how open my throat is, and that I’m blowing lots of warm, supported air through the horn as I go over the break from the chalumeau to the clarion registers. If I close up even the slightest bit, or bite too much, the horn will squeak when I try for the B4 or C5. While true on all bass clarinets (and clarinets in general), what makes this Richard Keilwerth-made bass so tricky is the incredible amount of resistance this horn provides the against player.

In general, I describe playing this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet like driving a Panzer tank vs a Mercedes limousine. It is nowhere near as easy to play as the university’s Selmer. The Keilwerth is not nearly as ergo-friendly either. (The left pinkie keys especially are not for those with small hands.)

This Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet takes a ton of air, and the resistance on this baby is absolutely crazy. As a matter of fact, my Martin Committee III bari takes less air than this bass clarinet. That said, I am a bass sax player after all, so moving and supporting air is not a problem. ;) Therefore I found my bass clarinet has the potential for tons of volume, and I had no problem keeping up tone and volume-wise with the band’s bari sax player when we played together. I was able to cut through the sound to be heard. Yes, this bass has that potential!

(I struck part of that statement because at last night’s rehearsal the bari player suddenly started playing at double the volume when the two of us were playing the same lines. This was not something that happened the week before. Ah sax players, I know they are always worried to be drowned out by a bass clarinet.) ;)

Based on the four hours of solid playing I’ve done with others, I am definitely happy with my choice of this Richard Keilwerth-made bass clarinet. I am very happy that my tech had it in his back room. I’m extremely happy that he figured out that it would be a good player, and that he did such an excellent job fixing it up for me. As it turns out, it really is one kick-ass bass clarinet.

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

The Winter Blues

The Winter Blues 2017: A viral bug no one wants, but everybody around here seems to have

cartoon virus, blue virus, winter bluesWell this has been a hell of a month. I generally don’t get sick, but when I do it knocks me flat on my ass for weeks. Every 3 to 5 years I seem to come down with a virus that makes it impossible for me to do anything other than lay around and sleep half of the day away.

Just over 3 years ago I ended up with pneumonia after a really bad cold. February 2017 will be the remembered (by me anyway) as the month that I spent lying around on the couch with the sinus cold that was running as rampant as rats aboard container ships.

It’s been over 2½ weeks since I first came down with this bug. During this time I have been out of the house exactly 3cartoon virus, times. Where did I go? Nah, it wasn’t the doctor’s office, since I really only had a bad cold. If you guessed rehearsals you would be correct.

About 10 days after I first got sick I had my first rehearsal. I couldn’t really miss it, since I was subbing for the bari player in the Big Band I normally play tenor in. It was a tough go. I did fine, but the next two days I really paid for it.

A couple of later I played bass clarinet with others for the first time since university in the 80s. Wow! This was not how I expected to get my own bass clarinet out and playing in a band for the first time. That being said, perhaps it was the best way to do it. Being in the process of getting over a really bad cold gave me an excuse if things were a bit off—which surprisingly they weren’t. (I will write a full review on the bass clarinet in the next couple days.)

Finally on Saturday, I played tenor sax for nearly 3 hours with a jazz combo that a friend has put together. By the time we were done at just after 8pm, I was done. I could barely get myself home to have a late dinner.

cartoon virus, blue eys, scary teeth, winter bluesYesterday I spent the day back on the couch: I suspect it now is permanently contoured to fit my body.

I am not a couch person. I don’t spend hours upon hours watching TV. However, that’s literally all I was capable of doing. I was not able to concentrate on a computer, tablet, or phone. This cold virus kicked my neurological fatigue into overdrive, and I was not able to function at all. ADL’s? Forget about them…

So for the last 2½ weeks I spent much of that time watching or napping through all 8 seasons of Dexter. I have about 6 episodes left. I suspect by the time I finally kick the this cold entirely, I will have finished watching the entire series.

I don’t normally suffer the winter blues, but this year being as sick as I have been has disturbed the natural order of things for me. My day to day activities have been disrupted, and I haven’t been myself. Now I am hoping that things right themselves within the week, so what has become my new normal will become normal again. Hey, I just want to be able to do something as simple as shower on a daily basis. Is that too much to ask?

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

Saxophones Can Be Family Heirlooms

From working instruments to meaningful heirlooms: How saxophones can be a meaningful part of a family’s history

family heirloom, saxophone bell engraving, Jubilee, JK tenor saxophoneOn Tuesday night I was at rehearsal with the Moonliters—the Big Band I play with—and we had a substitute tenor player sitting in. Jeff (not his real name) mentioned to me that the first tenor he ever owned was the sax that had belonged to his father. It was a JK-stencilled Jubilee that his father had bought new in 1964 at Empire Music in Vancouver.

Jeff had played the tenor in school, but then after school it went back to his dad. Somehow the saxophone was seemingly misplaced, and Jeff never knew what happened to it. Then a while ago he was talking with another family member, when that person said: Oh, I’ve got your father’s tenor sax in my attic.

Funny thing that. Now Jeff has his father’s sax back in his possession. It’s a nice thing too, because just a couple of weeks ago Jeff’s father passed away, so it’s fitting that the saxophone player now again has his father’s saxophone back.

Two very different family heirloom saxophones

family heirloom, Buescher True Tone, alto saxophone, alto sax, vintage saxophone accessories

Buescher True Tone alto #193XXX

This reminds me of another friend and musical colleague who I played with, whose grandmother had a Buescher True Tone alto since new. She played it throughout her life. Now that saxophone resides with her non-sax playing son (my friend’s dad). I had the opportunity to see, play, and photograph this family heirloom a couple of years ago.

It is really something to hold a saxophone like this in my hands, and to look at the accessories that are still in the accessory tray. This instrument and its accoutrements are alive with familial history. It fills me with a quiet awe, as I hold these nearly antique items in my hands, and think of the 90+ years of history that they’ve been a part of. This to me is the epitome of a family heirloom.

The story of the Buescher alto above, is similar to another saxophone I had the opportunity to play and photograph back in 2012. That horn too belonged to a friend, and it was also a family heirloom—only not as old as the True Tone alto.

The horn in question was bought new by my friend’s cousin in the early 1960s for approximately $100.00 Cdn. When I saw the horn it was still downright minty, and it too had many of its original accessories. It is a Pierret-stencilled Ambassador, which had been ordered by F.E. Olds & Son.

family heirloom, F.E. Olds & Son, Ambassador, Pierret, alto saxophone, alto sax, vintage saxophone accessories

F. E. Olds & Son Ambassador, Made by Pierret. Serial #312XX

After years of sitting in its case, the Pierret-made Ambassador was going to see life again as it was going to be used by young student in the family who was going to start playing saxophone in school. My friend had just re-padded the horn and was readying it to send off to his young 2nd, 3rd, or whatever cousin. This was in 2012. I wonder if this kid is still playing the horn? I wonder if the horn still has its original accessories, and looks as good now as it did back then?

What do vintage ceramic flamingos and saxophones have in common?

I realize not all people are wired like I am. I am rather sentimental, and do place value on things that are older. (Which might explain my love for not only vintage saxophones, but also Volvos. ;)  )  This is why our house is filled with quite a few vintage things like art glass, flamingos, and yes, of course our own family heirlooms such as fine china and silverware, cameras, and jewellery.

When it comes to vintage saxophones though, I don’t have a familial history with the horns in my stable. They did not come from either side of my family, so they are not family heirlooms to me. However, when I open up their cases and look at them, I wonder when play them at shows, or take them to rehearsals, what kind of history I am adding to.

My vintage saxophones range from 40 to 131 years old, and some of them will have seen A LOT of musical activity. And although my musical commitments are quite tame these days, in the past my horns have been part of some very interesting experiences, and played been for a great many people in a wide variety of musical and other venues.

I am also a big believer in keeping all the original accessories with any instrument intact. Not because I believe it adds value, but because it belongs to the horn, and is a part of the saxophone’s history. Thus original MPs, mutes, neck straps, screwdriver sets, and yes, even cork grease, stay with the horn. I do however draw the line at used reeds.  ;)   Those I toss in the garbage.

A few months ago I came across this apropos article in The Republic. I filed it away at the time because I knew I wanted to write an article about this one day. Talking with Jeff the other night at rehearsal about how he got his family heirloom back, reminded me that not everyone is so lucky.

Doug Showalter’s article, Saxophone gone, memories remain, made me look at my vintage saxophones in a new light. I wonder if any of them are a family’s vanished heirloom?

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!