Some Vintage Gato Barbieri & Carlos Santana

It is not a secret that my all time favourite tenor player is Gato Barbieri. His playing style has influenced me more than anyone else’s. And if you know what you’re listening for, some of his playing elements and licks can be heard in my solo work.

This morning I found an amazing video from 1977 that features Gato Barbieri and Carlos Santana performing Santa’s classic instrumental hit, Europa.

In this rare video you will hear what makes Barbieri such a powerful performer. It sent chills down my spine. This is a man who can do with a tenor, what David Sanborn does with an alto. Coincidentally, both performers use a Selmer Mark VI.

Barbieri’s use of split tones, multiphonics, altissimo, and other advanced techniques, were what drew me as a young saxophonist, into the area of saxophone study. Today I have those techniques under my belt, but I’m always striving to learn more.

Thank you Gato Barbieri. The music of your Caliente! album inspired me like no one else before or since.

If you’d like to find out more about this influential, Grammy winning, Latin jazz saxophonist, or to find out where he’s performing, check out his website.

How about you? Who was your inspiration?

…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!

© 2010, 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. I started with Boots Randolph and moved to Zoot. Helen, my instructor sez Gato uses 1.5 strength reeds. It’s what they had in school when he borrowed their sax! Crazy.

    • That makes sense Gandalfe. I sometimes still get together with my very first sax instructor. He reminded again a few years ago that many of the top studio musicians he worked with in LA in the 70s used 1.5s. He personally used 2s. That’s perhaps why I use 2.5s. My very first instructors all came out of the US rock & studio area of saxophone performance. They were always harping on me not to go up in reed strength, but to develop my embouchure and throat control instead. Throat control is critical. Most of my effects come out of my throat. Using soft reeds was certainly bucking the trend at the time—and really still is—and counter to what I was being taught in “legit” studies at university, where I was using 3 or 3.5 Vandoren purple box reeds. (I still have a drawer full of those that I will most likely never use.)

      Personally, to get the effects I need, I have to play with a flexible reed, rather than with a piece of plywood. A soft reed allows me to bend and shape the sound and tone in ways that I can’t with harder reeds. That’s why some synthetics like Bari don’t work for me. They don’t give me that original starting sound I want/need in order to shape the tone and notes the right way. For me, my reed, combined with my mouthpiece, are paramount to producing my sound. My horn, that is secondary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *