If you think about all the 365 days of a typical year, very few of them stand out because they were great days. In 2019 I have already had two great days. Why were they both great days? Because they involved the person who got me started on saxophone the RIGHT way, and who continues to inspire me, correct my mistakes, and kick my ass just when I think I got pretty good.
The first private sax teacher I had also happened to be my grade 8-10 band teacher. He was pretty new to the teaching game when I came along, but he had already put in 5 years with the US Air Force bands as a tenor/clarinet player. Kenton inspired me, and always pushed me to go further than I thought I could.
His saxophone at the time was a 1967 Mark VI tenor that he bought new. It came in one of those grey, semi-rigged, zippered cases that these days seem more of a curiosity than common.
Source: zohrabs-gear-emporium on reverb.com
Over all these decades Kenton and I stayed in touch and remained friends. To this day we still get together and play. He still plays circles around me, and on occasion gives me the hardest materials ever to work on, so we have some challenging stuff to work towards during our next get together. (That book from Berklee still confounds me, but I digress…)
I of course have had my own Mark VI tenor since the 80s, and Kenton likes it. It and my 1950 Zephyr are Kenton’s favourites of all the tenors I own.
Kenton has always used his very vintage, Conn New Wonder as a back-up when his Mark VI was in the shop. Because these days the left pinkie cluster is no longer something he is willing to put up with, he has been play-testing new Selmers in hopes of finding something like his Mark VI.
Alas, the new Selmers were all falling quite short. He even tried a new Yamaha on an extended play-test, but coming from a vintage Selmer, the new Yamahas were not able to produce the sound he heard in his head.
Great Day 1 of 2019 – In search of a back-up for a Mark VI
My birthday fell on a Monday this year—the day after a weekend of shows for two different bands I play with. Kenton and his wife came up from the States and caught one of the shows, and then on my birthday he and I spent the day playing my horns.
He tried all my gigging tenors to see if any of the different brands would be something that might be a good back-up horn for him. The takeaway for Kenton was that all my horns were amazingly set-up, tight, and felt like new horns.
He wished his Mark VI could feel like this. I told him it could. All it needed was David’s care and attention.
Kenton asked me to keep an eye out for a Mark VI tenor for him. I told him horns have a habit of finding me. Don’t worry, I’ll find something. I offered him my Zephyr or Mark VI in the interim, but he said it’s OK. He’ll make do with the Conn until he finds a backup.
It was just over 24 hours after Kenton left our house that I got a phone call from another big band in the Metro Vancouver region. They needed a sub for their regular bari player, and wondered if I could come. The rehearsal was on Wednesday, the following day.
I had never subbed for them before, so I said yes. Doing so required me to do a lot of re-jigging of things the following day, but I had heard lots about this band, so I really wanted the experience of playing with them to see and hear what kinds of arrangements they played.
Besides, making new friends in the musical community is always a good thing, and helping out another big band is just the right thing to do. They’ve sent players to The Moonliters when we’ve needed subs.
As soon as I walked into their practice space the next day, a man walks up to me and says: “I know you. I’ve been to your house and played your bass sax.”
Indeed he had. Dave is the 2nd tenor player for the Bruce James Orchestra, and happens to be friends with the man who I bought my Toneking tenor from. After my Toneking came back from its restoration, Dave drove his friend over for a visit, and they spent the afternoon in my studio playing horns and visiting.
I got to sit beside Dave through the entire rehearsal, and we got caught up. He was using one of his two Yamaha tenors, and he told me that the one he was playing was the replacement for a Mark VI he had.
My ears immediately perked up, and I asked him about it. Turns out his Mark VI is like my new Couf bari was: basically a closet horn. He is the second owner, and he bought it from a working pro who he took some lessons from. That pro bought two new horns in 1968: this Mark VI and a Couf. He liked the Couf better, so the Mark VI basically sat in the closet untouched for years.
Once Dave bought the horn, he used it until he got his first Yamaha. I asked Dave if he was planning on selling his Selmer. He told me he was. I told him I think I have a buyer for it.
Great Day 2 of 2019 – play-testing a minty Mark VI
Fast forward to 10 days after my chance reconnection with this minty Mark VI’s owner—and the word minty here is not being misused, even the typical tan/brown Chesterfield case hasn’t been out in the rain and looks like new, as of course does the horn. Dave, Kenton, and I met at my tech’s shop so Kenton could play-test this stunningly beautiful Mark VI.
Kenton brought his Mark VI with him, and David spent the first hour we were there fixing his Mark VI up so that some of the problems that had been plaguing him were gone. I brought along my Mark VI so Kenton had a larger sample size for comparison.
Dave’s Mark VI tenor from 1968 did not disappoint. Kenton play-tested the horn for nearly 2 hours, comparing it to the other horns. I had him try some other ligatures (yup, I know my way around David’s shop really well ) and showed him how to apply the Rovner ligature a particular way to get the sound he is looking for.
When all was said and done, Kenton loved the horn. It had the sound that he was looking for. It had the feel of a new horn, yet was a Mark VI from 1968. Dave and Kenton agreed on a price, and the Selmer got its third owner: A pro who has a lifetime of experience; and who now plays in some great bands in the Western Washington.
Yup, Friday the 22nd of March was a great day. Getting to spend the day with some of my favourite musical people doing sax stuff is my definition of a great day. And let’s face it, the next best thing to buying a sax for yourself, is being with one of your closest musical friends when they buy one.
Given that Kenton was the person who made sure I got started playing sax the right way; corrected my bad habits before they became ingrained; and challenged and encouraged me through private lessons after school, it seems somehow àpropos that I was able to help him find a new Mark VI as a back-up to the one I remember.
Since I don’t yet have a vintage Conn in my tenor stable, I asked him what he was doing with his. He told me he was getting rid of it. Needless to say that Conn, with its big fat sound—and that I too remember from back in the day—will be coming to live with me.
There are a lot of connecting threads in life, and it is truly an amazing thing when a day happens when they all seem to weave together to form a great picture. The events over the past couple of weeks got me thinking of something that I want to flesh out. Watch this space. More on that in the coming weeks.
© 2019, Helen. All rights reserved.