Do You Really Want To Be This Man?

Here’s an interesting vintage Buescher ad from October 1923. Ah yes, good, old Canadian Tom Brown, who fronted the famous saxophone band, the Six Brown Brothers. Here he is in his blackface stage makeup…


If you’re curious what the Six Brown Brothers sounded like, your curiosity can be satisfied with this 1916 recording of Walkin’ The Dog.

Yes, there was a certain innocence & naivety to the music back then… But then that was at the same time the ad execs were telling you that the Buescher saxophone was…

…so perfected and simplified that it is the easiest of all musical instruments to learn. It is the one instrument that everyone can play…You can learn the scale in an hour’s practice, play popular music in a few weeks and take your place in an Orchestra or Band within 90 days. If you so desire.

 From the October 1923 Buescher advertisement featuring Tom Brown.

Sure, whatever….

To find out more about the Six Brown Brothers band, check out their page on the Red Hot Jazz website.


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

© 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. The Brown Brothers only had to balance each other, but they did have to be loud enough that the recording equipment of the day could pick them up to etch the master record. I have a feeling their HORNS were perfectly capable of playing at modern volume levels, and they may have even been doing so themselves. Since there is no other reference for comparison, we will never know.

    The True-Tone was almost certainly not engineered to be a loud, aggressive horn — but there is no doubt that it CAN be, given the right setup. Not all vintage horns are so forgiving of modern mouthpieces. My Aristocrat alto from the 70’s is totally incompatible with my usual paint-peeler alto setups, but it works just fine with a Yamaha 4C or Selmer S80 C* or D. That is why it is out on loan and the Jupiter remains the gigging alto.

  2. Closed facing mouthpieces… Isn’t that why reed companies make 4 & 5 strength reeds? 😈

    Seriously, I like your analogy of trying to breathe through a straw. That’s a really good description of how I feel whenever I try to play one of those really vintage pieces. After only a few minutes, I just give up in total frustration.

    It is interesting to hear the transformation in sound that our horns have undergone over the past 100 years. I suspect a lot of the underlying cause has to do with the issue of amplification and the use of saxophones in electric environments.

    The horns, and their setups, as illustrated in this recording, would never be able to compete in the electric environs that we have now. Perhaps what we have witnessed over the past 100 years is nothing but the natural evolution of the saxophone, given its current use.

    I’m not familiar enough with the evolution of other woodwinds, but I don’t believe that clarinets, oboes, bassoons, et al, have evolved to such a degree, that their sounds have undergone such a radical transformation.

    It seems the sax, as it has tried to carve a niche for itself in the popular music of the day, has been transformed, and thus become a hybrid as it were (in its most extreme example, the Varitone by Selmer). Yes, certainly still a woodwind, however a woodwind which lends itself to easy amplification, and with the ability to compete with electric guitars and the likes. Something that other woodwinds are just not capable of… And certainly not something the saxes of the good old Brown Brothers would have been able to do either.

  3. I have to say that whoever pulled the recording off that 78 did a fine job of cleaning it up (or they found a copy in exceptionally good condition). It still sounds like an old 78, but not so much that you can’t hear the music through it. The original recording isn’t too shabby either, as the bass saxophone comes through quite well.

    It clearly shows just how different the sound of the instrument has become, which I would have to attribute largely to mouthpiece setup (including reed, ligature, etc.) since I have two True-Tones (both C-mel) from that era and they sound NOTHING like that with a modern mouthpiece. I tried to play on the mouthpieces that came with them (a Conn Eagle and an unidentified Buescher piece) but it was like trying to breathe through a straw. The facings on both were so incredibly close that I found them completely unplayable.

    After being told the Conn Eagle is nothing special, I took a shot at opening up the facing. This makes it a little easier to blow, but it’s still stuffy and unresponsive — characteristics usually associated with the C-mel itself, when they should more correctly be associated with the mouthpiece. I know this is not characteristic of all Conn mouthpieces, as I have an alto Steelay with a magnificent, warm sound.

    I did not alter the Buescher mouthpiece, beyond rubbing off the yellow coating it had developed over the years and rubbing it down with oil (for which I recommend a food-grade oil, since some will remain). This did a whole lot to turn it from yellow and stinking of sulfur, to brown and just mildly “old” smelling.

    I do have to add that my gigging horn (the 1919) has a full set of modern resonator pads, and this probably has some effect on the stuffiness or lack thereof. However, I have another body (1923) with what appear to be the original style of pad (white, no resonator, with a stitch in the middle of the larger ones) and though it is barely playable, it doesn’t sound stuffy either. It just sounds like it needs work. If I had a neck for it I’d do that work, but I appropriated the neck for the 1919 body and found that it fixed almost everything I had not been able to work out. The octaves fell right into place (aside from C#3 which still requires some mechanical assistance), high E and F stopped cracking, and altissimo snapped right into line. It seems that the neck that came with the 1919 horn has been stretched too large during dent removal and/or pulldown repair.

    There are still players that have that kind of core sound, but the high-speed vibrato has (fortunately) fallen out of favor. I notice that saxophone players in merengue bands favor close facings and “classical” setups over high baffled, free-blowing pieces. No doubt this helps with the rapid-fire staccato attacks that style of music calls for. That style causes me no end of trouble, as I set up for a much brighter and aggressive sound. Fortunately nobody seems to care if I just make up the part as I go along.

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