PowerRings Rule!

John Li with his Power Ring and Backun Cocobolo Protege Clarinet

It’s a thrill when young students are so advanced that they can distinguish between accessories that give them an edge in tone, technique and musicality. John Li, a grade 7 student at the Urban Academy who plays with the grade 12 band there, along with the West Vancouver Youth Band senior band, picked out a Backun MoBa barrel and a Backun Lumiere Bell about six months ago, out of a couple of dozen other choices, and he could tell me why!

Today he picked out a JodyJazz PowerRing that not only added richness of color, tone and resonance, but improved his already fine articulation immeasurably. We just started working on extremely difficult Langenus staccato studies and I thought a better ligature might help….and there is no better ligature than the JodyJazz PowerRing. John felt and heard it from the first note and you can see his excitement above. He has just auditioned for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Institute’s Summer Chamber Music program and the BC Provincial Honour band and we are confident he will join both. He started working on his first orchestral excerpt today.

Tony Ziqinshang, a grade 8 student at Sentinel Secondary, also auditioned for the VSO Summer Institute programs and the BC Honour Band. He also chose the PowerRing, but will pick his up next week, as he is off competing in Toronto right now.

Kevin Lee and Jayden Zhang, grade 9 students at St Georges School, chose the PowerRing when they started working on the Langenus Studies. We start work on those when students can tongue 16th note staccatos with good quality at 126-132 beats per minute. All these students jumped to 144 beats per minute instantly with improved tone, clarity and resonance. Kevin and Jayden will be auditioning for the prestigious St Georges Wind Ensemble and the BC Honour Band next year.

I’m privileged to work with these fine young musicians. There are some professionals and gifted amateurs that scoff at the differences between ligatures, as well as Cocobolo and Grenadilla clarinets, bells and barrels, frequently without having tried them. We beg to differ!

One Ring to rule them all!

Kevin Lee with his Backun Protege and Jayden Zhang with his vintage Buffet R13 and Backun Barrel…delighted with their PowerRings!

Family Is Everything-David Branter and Julia Nolan

On Tenor and Soprano with Colin MacDonald and Kris Covlin in Saxophilia

I had heard David play with his VCC Jazz Ensemble at the Hot Jazz Club in 1983, but we did not meet until my first “real” rehearsal with the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble in 1986. (I had “sat in” a year previously, just once.) There I experienced Dave’s phenomenal conducting for the first time as we read John Williams’ “The Cowboys.” We didn’t play through the piece, Dave just took us to all the bits that each section would need to focus on to execute properly and every important cadence for intonation. To this day I do not believe that any music director works harder on score study and stick technique than David Branter, and does it show!

Every rehearsal with Dr David Branter is a master class in wind playing.

As Bass Clarinetist with the band, I got to sit right in front of David and Julia in the saxophone section for years, amongst the greatest educations in ensemble woodwind playing possible in this world, in my estimation. I took lessons with both of them and yearly master classes with their teacher, Dr Eugene Rousseau.

Yes. Blessed!

But I’m even more blessed to become family with them and their amazing son Jesse, a fine clarinetist, as well as a bon vivant and film buff like his Dad. It is not an overstatement that our weekly clarinet chamber trios during the two years of the 2020-2021+ pandemic saved our (still-questionable) sanity. Dave and I, already dear friends, became brothers during that time. He was already a role model and mentor and it is a total gas that he and Julia and others that were introduced to me by David, Julia, and Morrie and Mary Backun have whipped me into the musical shape where I can strive to be a colleague.

“On arrive jamais.” (From Marcel Mule, “le maître,” the father of the classical saxophone)

It feels to me as though Dave and I were “separated at birth” in our outlook, interests, loves, passions and proclivities. For others at dinner parties with us it is like being assaulted by a conversational combination of ping-pong and dodgeball.

I love you, Maestra, Maestro, and Nerd-Bro.


Nerd-Bro and Maestro

Family Is Everything-The Backuns

The family on vacation, sons Jeremy and Joshua, the divine Mary and “Uncle Mo.”

I met Mary and Morrie at my first Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble rehearsal in 1985. I was just sitting in on third clarinet. I would have sat down with the first clarinets, because I had been Principal Clarinet of every ensemble I had joined for about a decade then, but I heard Mary warming up and I would have sat with the 5th clarinets if there had been any. I told Morrie I had just gotten a bass clarinet and he invited me to bring it, but instead I just went to the woodshed for a year.

I was then introduced to David Branter, the band president (and a god to saxophonists.) I had to send in a CV, he said it looked good, and said I could sit in at a rehearsal and that Mary would let me know if I could join the band. She never did say “you’re in” officially, so we are still joking about me being a “sub” almost 40 years later!

Thus began the musical education of a lifetime. I was sitting in front of two of the great woodwind players of the world, David Branter and his wife Julia Nolan on 1st and 2nd alto saxophone. Mary inspired from principal clarinet. Morrie picked great repertoire and had the most amazing ears I had ever witnessed in a conductor…and let you know what he heard….good, bad or indifferent. He helped me to progress from the latter two.

The lessons I learned just listening to the players in that band is still going on. Morrie never left the band, he is still Music Director Emeritus and a huge supporter of the group.

Morrie went on to found Backun Musical Services, now a legend as a clarinet manufacturer and the single greatest research centre for woodwinds in the world, in my estimation. I worked there for a year in 2002 and learned about 1% of what went into making and maintaining clarinets and saxophones. The worlds greatest clarinetists came to that shop and I got to hear them and get lessons, with Morrie and Mary always being the continuous mentors throughout. Morrie’s abilities as an acoustician, designer and voicer, and master of materials, mechanics and technology continue to flabbergast every player he touches.

Morrie is simply the future of the clarinet, as is his son and VP of Operations, Jeremy. Jeremy is a genius chipped right off the block, a fine trumpeter, a dear friend and an amazing executive. Mary Backun, a phenomenal teacher and sublime clarinetist play-tests every Backun Clarinet and is Principal Clarinet, Concertmaster and PSWE Board Member. Jeremy is the President of PSWE and Principal Trumpet.

Mary Backun was an instrumental influence in my teaching along with her husband and all the incredible musicians I met through them. I would be nowhere without them.

I had the incredible luck to form a life-long friendship with another Backun family genius, Joel Jaffe, a great operatic tenor and businessman! I met him at the lathe in the very first Backun shop when the first Backun Bells and Barrels were being hand made and changing the world. “Backun Musical Services, reinventing the clarinet one piece at a time,” was just the first of his fantastic slogans as VP of Sales and Marketing. Here he is with his wonderful mother, Morrie’s sister Susan, in the very early days. I can’t believe we found the time to cook together. Susan got 10 full course dinner cooking lessons from me to which she could invite friends and family and in return, I received the only Backun Alto Clarinet Bell in the world!

Two great friends and great clarinet nerds at a Backun booth.

There has been no greater blessing in my life than the friendship and mentorship of the Backun family.

Family is Everything-Bob MacDonald

I’ve told so many students and colleagues about my friends and mentors for these 40 years as a musician in Vancouver that it is time to put it on record. It all began with Bob MacDonald who was somewhere between a father and brother to me once he started working on my instruments in 1983. I wasn’t his only brother or son…he touched every musician in the lower mainland and many from around the world with his playing, expertise, humour and dedication to music and instrumental excellence.

He said he was not a teacher, but he was a brilliant teacher by example and I can play the opening to Rhapsody of Blue because he demonstrated it to me. When I asked him how to do ANYTHING, he would say “I don’t know,” and then he would just do it…so I learned by imitation. There was never a better friend and supporter to musicians than Bob MacDonald.

Bob introduced me to so many colleagues and mentors, but the first two were Mary and Morrie Backun, as Bob informed me there was an opening for a bass clarinetist in the ensemble they founded. That introduction became the centre of everything I have ever learned about music and musicianship. University studies were kindergarten compared to the musical education that began at the Handsworth Senior Secondary School rehearsal space for the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble in September 1986.

Thank you, Bob. I miss you. We all do.

The Custom Dark Family

Every time I receive the latest Downbeat digital magazine I immediately go to the back cover to check out the latest JodyJazz ad. This time it seemed like it was aimed directly at me, since I received the Custom Dark Baritone mouthpiece handpicked by Jody for me less than a week ago…and it completes my Custom Dark Family Collection as well as my Jody Espina collection, including complete sets of Chedeville and Rousseau mouthpieces for all clarinets and saxophones.

Of course, that heartfelt ad is not just for me! It is for any player of any Jody Espina mouthpiece, as we are all part of a large and varied family that is treated like gold. Jody’s fundamental mission is pleasing musicians and audiences. His heart, energy, sincerity and expertise are second to none.

I’m blessed beyond my dreams with a two year association with the JodyJazz family, and it just keeps getting better. I finally get to meet the Chedeville/JodyJazz/Rousseau team in person at the ClarinetFest in Reno in eight weeks, and I’m counting the days. In appreciation of the team, this ad is now framed in my studio, facing my students, right beside another dear family, the Vancouver Saxophone Ensemble.

A treasured student gave me that sterling silver picture frame and I was saving it for something very special. Synchronicity…that student plays a Custom Dark Alto mouthpiece.

Two great families!
The Vancouver Saxophone Ensemble and the JodyJazz Custom Dark Mouthpieces.

JodyJazz Custom Dark Bari Mouthpiece

Rich. Reverberant. Robust. Sonorous. Sinewy. Sweet.


I’m blessed. I asked to try three of these the moment they were released, but the demand was already so high that Jody hand-picked one of them and simply gave it to me. It arrived late last night, so I got up at 4 am and have been playing it for four hours. I just don’t want to stop.

You won’t ever want to put it away, either.

It’s come full circle. My first mouthpiece from Jody was the classical Chedeville Baritone mouthpiece. Twelve mouthpieces later, with all my classical and jazz setups for Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone saxophones designed by Jody with his Chedeville rubber, I’ve completed my collection with this magnificent baritone jazz mouthpiece.

JodyJazz Power Rings on everything, of course.

I love these SO much, that I even display the cases in the studio. You will love them, too.

Rousseau Mouthpiece 50th Anniversary Releases

At last, I can blog about these amazing mouthpieces!  I’ve been playing them for two months. Jody Espina sent me one each of the ER50 Custom and ER50 Classic for Christmas and I’ve been using the ER50 Classic as my sole alto classical mouthpiece ever since, but I had to wait for the official release to write about them.

The 50th anniversary of Rousseau Mouthpieces has stimulated Jody’s great gift to classical Alto Saxophonists and their audiences.  

Jody Espina has created the ER50 Classic and ER50 Custom as tributes to Dr. Rousseau using his proprietary Chedeville CHR rubber. I found the Rousseau NC4 mouthpiece already produced by Jody to be neck and neck with the amazing Chedeville RC3* I’ve been playing for a few years…but for me the Chedeville rubber always wins! 

With these two new pieces, Jody now makes the top four classical mouthpieces, in my opinion, and the ER50 Classic is my number one.  It has all the great attributes of the Chedeville sound, but the design including the most gorgeous rails and perfect baffle, along with a heavy gold-plated brass band on the shank yields an even sweeter burnished ringing tone. The pure warm luminous classical tone exemplified by Dr Rousseau is at the heart of this amazing mouthpiece.

It’s simply the most beautiful and flexible classical saxophone mouthpiece of all time.   I studied with two of Dr Rousseau’s favourite students and participated in 10 yearly master classes with him, and every time I put this mouthpiece on, I feel we are honouring his legacy.

Chedeville SAV Succeeds Brilliantly

I tried these yesterday at Massullo Music while purchasing one of the great new Rousseau NC Classical Tenor mouthpieces that were recently released by Jody Espina. I brought along four of the most popular mouthpieces that I stock in the studio to test against the SAV’s. Lovely mouthpieces indeed, but not as lovely as the new SAV from Chedeville. The SAV is made without the proprietary Chedeville rubber to lower the price and they prove that it is not just the Chedeville CHR Rubber that makes Chedeville mouthpieces great!

The SAV’s are not just brilliant, they also have a lovely complex tone chock full of colour, and are very free blowing with great clear articulation. The more I played them, the prettier I found them, and they beat out all the very popular mouthpieces I brought with me solidly. So, I brought them back to the studio to put them up against stiff competition from other custom mouthpiece makers, and they were prettier than any other mouthpiece in the collection… except for my lovely Chedeville Umbra F3, of course.

So, I’m buying the Chedeville SAV3 and it will be pounced upon by lots of students and colleagues when they try it. At half the price of the Chedeville Umbra, it’s a deal you just cannot pass up. Another one-two punch for Jody Espina….the best two clarinet mouthpieces on the planet, in my opinion.

Superb Soprano

I was already in love with the warm, centred contained ringing tone, great intonation and projection of the JodyJazz HR* Soprano, and the JodyJazz Custom Dark version is even better. It adds a broader, warmer, slightly grainier glow to the tone.  I never thought anything could be more beautiful than my lovely HR*.  I’m going to keep both in my case, just so I can enjoy two gorgeous beauties.  This mouthpiece will be of immense benefit of those who need to “tame” their Soprano!

Elite Is An Understatement

I spent five hours with four of these Chedeville Elite Bass Clarinet mouthpieces yesterday, but the very first note I played down at Massullo Music turned heads and blew away ears. I was speechless for a moment and then could only say “wow.”

It’s not like I don’t have a great bass clarinet mouthpiece collection, but there is nothing anywhere like these. The combination of instant response, effortless register leaps, shimmering warmth and liquidity in the upper register, chocolate covered caramel in the chalumeau, crystal clear articulation, robust power and pure pianissimos has to be heard to be believed. So…try one of these out and become a believer. I was astonished…you will be too.