10 jazz albums that should be in every music lover’s collection

Note: This is something I wrote back in the olden days (2003?) and published on another website. I’ve relocated it here with a few minor edits. I still think it’s a pretty decent list, with, admittedly, a few weaknesses (the biggest ones, I think, are a failure to really address the jazz singers, and a certain saxophone-centric bias). In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Full disclosure: if you buy any of these albums by clicking on the links below, I earn an astonishingly tiny sum of money.

Hello, music fans!

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
You need this.

I’ve picked out, for your listening pleasure, ten essential jazz albums, as an easy introduction to the wide world of jazz. You’re welcome.

I’ll assume that you already love music. But maybe you’re a lifelong rocker. Or a connossieur of the great classical composers. Or maybe you like both kinds of music: country and western. No matter your taste, the jazz section of the record store can be a little bewildering.

Let’s face it, the jazz world is a members-only club. We jazz fans love to lord our superior musical tastes over the uninitiated masses. You listen to whom? Kenny G?! I think I need to lie down.

Plus, if you’re like me, your budget doesn’t quite allow for the latest comprehensive 40-disc boxed set from Verve or Columbia Records. Same thing goes for rare and valuable vinyl collector’s items.

So, these ten albums have been carefully chosen to do a few things:

  • Introduce you to key jazz artists, styles, albums, and songs.
  • Keep the cost reasonable. These albums are all readily available and reasonably priced single compact discs (no expensive multidisc sets) or iTunes albums.
  • Preserve the dignity of the jazz tradition, by giving you the music in complete album format whenever possible. No samplers or compilations, except in a couple of cases where compilations are the only logical choice.
  • And, most importantly, add the pleasure and richness of the jazz world to your life!

Let’s get going! We’ll do this in a sort of rough chronological order. Continue reading “10 jazz albums that should be in every music lover’s collection”

Not making your own double reeds

I’ve posted a few times over the past year about making double reeds (cf. here, here, and here), and I maintain that this is the truest way to abiding oboe/bassoon satisfaction. If you consider those instruments to be serious parts of what you do as a musician, you need to learn to make—or at least skillfully adjust—reeds.

But, frankly, not everyone is up to the challenge.

The basic reedmaking process can be learned within a few lessons, but developing the skills well enough to make good reeds consistently can take years, and most reedmakers will continue to develop and modify their approach over a lifetime.

Reedmaking is expensive, too. A set of the most basic tools for making reeds from preprocessed (gouged, shaped, and, for bassoon, profiled) cane costs as much as several boxes of clarinet or saxophone reeds, and the cane doesn’t come cheap, either. If you want the control of doing your own gouging, shaping, and so forth, the additional equipment may cost you nearly as much as a pro-line clarinet.

And, of course, reedmaking takes time. I’ve heard the “rule of thumb” that an oboist, for example, should spend an hour making reeds for every hour he or she spends practicing. I don’t know that I agree entirely, but you get the idea of what kind of commitment is involved.

So, if I’ve now talked you out of making your own reeds, what are your options?
Continue reading “Not making your own double reeds”

Reed adjustment checklist

Problems with your clarinet or saxophone reeds?

  1. If you buy into the myth that there are only two or three “good” reeds in a box of ten, you are buying the wrong reeds. There are many, many options available to you. When I’ve got the right brand, cut, and size of reed for my mouthpiece and embouchure, easily eight play respectably well right out of the box. Within 15-20 minutes, I can adjust nine or ten to play quite well, and maybe three or four of those at recital quality. I use the steps below and nothing else.
  2. Um, no.
    Um, no.
    Don’t waste time and cane messing with the topography of the reed’s cut. With all the variation in reeds, the cut is the one thing that is really quite consistent. If you don’t like the cut, shop around some more. If you own a diagram like the one shown here, with elaborate instructions on which tiny sectors of reed you should sand, I recommend that you throw it away.

  3. Make sure the reed is flat. Many aren’t, and one that was flat yesterday may not be flat today. A piece of 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper held against a piece of glass is the perfect tool for this. Concentrate on the part of the reed that contacts the mouthpiece’s table. For $2, I had a local glass shop cut me a 3″×4″ piece of ¼” glass, with the edges ground smooth. You can also use a mirror or window pane. A flattened reed will respond better and squeak less.
  4. Balance the corners. This is the one exception I make for changing the reed’s cut. Well-balanced reeds have a nice clear tone and respond reliably throughout the instrument’s range and at any dynamic level. I find that balancing the corners can correct for much of the asymmetry of a typical reed. Even a reed that already seems pretty good can often be improved. Tom Ridenour’s method is dead simple and strikingly effective—required reading.
  5. If absolutely necessary, clip the tip using a high-quality reed trimmer. I do this to maybe one in twenty reeds. I do it to make a reed feel a little stronger. Clip off the tiniest possible amount at first—a little clip goes a long way. It’s very rare that I clip off more than a tiny bit, and if I do, it rarely works out well.

That’s it!