Backun Protégé Mouthpieces Rule!

I’ve been remiss! I own every professional instrument and accessory that Backun Musical Services has ever produced, and my students all play Backun instruments (largely the Cocobolo Protégé) but I was a little late to the party on these!

That is probably because even for beginners, I like to start with professional mouthpieces, frequently the Backun Vocalise G on both soprano and bass clarinets. Moderately open professional mouthpieces are better for beginners on softer reeds than the generally more closed student mouthpieces. They are not stuffy, you can move more air, tonguing is easier and the embouchure and tone develop much more quickly.

For those students who don’t want to make that jump, there is finally an inexpensive student mouthpiece that has all these attributes! These mouthpieces play like professional mouthpieces…a lovely ringing sound and a full rich tone!

For years, I have been recommending a widely distributed inexpensive student mouthpiece at clinics to which students have brought beginner instruments that normally come with “mouthpiece shaped objects.” They were “the best of worst,” and I stocked them in my studio and loaned them to students until they would spring for a professional mouthpiece, usually three to six months after their first lesson. Now this brand is also classified as “mouthpiece shaped objects.”

Since the previous mouthpieces I stocked for beginners are too small for doorstops, I have made room in the studio for Backun Protégé mouthpieces another way!. Thanks, Morrie, for helping all young players sound better, faster!

New Town, New Studio, New Cases!

The studio is all set up, most of the plumbing and electrical upgrades in my new home in Victoria, BC are complete, my first listening session with local musician friends is tonight….and since I’m playing so much more saxophone in three ensembles here, I treated myself to new
Bam Cabine cases with backpack straps for my Trevor James RAW Alto and Tenor Saxophones!

Then, as you can see above, I immediately branded the cases with my beloved JodyJazz, Chedeville and Rousseau mouthpieces. Here is a shot of the new shelving….a closeup of a very important shelf that fills me with pride and fills the studio with a glorious golden sound!

Thanks, Jody!

More to follow posted on “The Studio” page of the site in the weeks to follow! The new Sax Noir Studio is improved! Bigger, with even less reverb…it’s an eye and ear opener in which I can rehearse a dectet easily! Stand by!

The Ultimate Sax Neck Strap

I was hipped to this neckstrap by my friend and colleague Adam Kyle. I like nothing but the best in everything and thought I had found that with my previous choice imported from New York, “at great expense.” These are less expensive and vastly superiour. I settled on this version and bought four! The “wide enhancer bar” makes an incredible difference.

You can make all your own choices of length, hook, finishes and…well…everything. “Just Joe” Rohrbacher will customize them any way you like. Besides being a top repairman and player, and owner of the Mood Indigo Jazz Club in Bend Oregon, he’s one of the greatest guys on the face of the earth. There are videos detailing the merits of his amazing strap on his website. Check out the one regarding the quality of the gel padding inserts that are just one reason this strap is so comfortable. It’s illuminating and hilarious!

I could go on and on. Every facet of this strap has been given incredible consideration. Every element from the premium grade soft leather, viscoelastic polymer, aircraft grade aluminum black anodized slider,  to the industrial grade eyelets and crimps make this the finest quality handmade strap you’ve ever seen and it feels just great!

Do yourself a favour and just visit Just Joe now….Just Do It!

Rovner Star Series IS a Star!

Star Series Ligature on my Chedeville Umbra along with my other favourites

OK, folks, I own $20,000 worth of fantastic ligatures and have been published internationally* on their merits, and those of ligatures that have not earned a place in my collection. Any intermediate student can note these differences, let alone my colleagues. We don’t all choose the same ligature, but we all tend to choose from the same handful. That handful is represented in all my cases, as it is in the picture above of my beautiful Backun Lumiere A clarinet with the amazing Chedeville Umbra mouthpiece in my orchestral case.

Rovner has knocked it out of the park with the Star Series as the best value ligature in the world, and it is now one of my favourite ligatures. And…get this…it is between 7% to 17% of the price of these other great ligatures.

In my opinion, you MUST reverse the tightening pin so it can be used right handed when placing the ligature pins on the reed as you can see above. There are instructions for this in the literature provided by Rovner. I do this with all their fabric-only ligatures…I find much better response and resonance when the fabric is not placed on the reed. Why is this the best of all Rovner ligatures except for the excellent Platinum model? Lighter fabric and the pins are not covered by fabric when they make contact with the reed.

This ligature is neck and neck with all but two of the ligatures above and beats a few of them handily in my testing!

No, I am not changing from my beloved JodyJazz Power Rings, but I AM going to get rid of all the inexpensive ligatures I keep in the studio for my students and get them to use these Rovner Star Series ligatures until they are advanced enough to try other premium ligatures. I will be stocking a pile of them in the studio. Even students with just a year of playing can tell the difference between a stock “gimme” ligature and a Bonade style “vertical rails on the reed” ligature, and a virtually indestructible high quality inexpensive ligature like this is just what the single-reed world has needed!

I discovered this ligature because they are supplied with Jody Espina’s Rousseau mouthpieces, and I called George Reeder, the President and Proprietor of Rovner Products the same day I tried them. He sent me a full set of them to test, and I’m blown away by his generosity and these wonderful ligatures.

Thanks, George…and congratulations! My favourite family-owned dealer in Canada is already bringing a pile of these into stock.

*PS, you can read my article on “Latest Ligatures” in the Educational Resources section of this website…but it now needs a rewrite! This ligature will be in the “Highly Recommended” section of the listing at the end of the piece.

Rousseau Baritone Mouthpieces Magnificent

I just received 5 of these FANTASTIC mouthpieces late yesterday and spent four hours with them this morning. It was so hard to pick amongst them, with their consistent elegant, robust, rich sound and amazing response. I picked one for me and have colleagues and students coming over to try them later this week. They will be snatched up! This completes the full collection of Rousseau NC and ER50 mouthpieces for me, in addition to Jody Espina’s other wonderful work: five Custom Dark jazz saxophone mouthpieces and six Chedeville clarinet, bass clarinet and classical saxophone mouthpieces. Never has one designer so dominated my studio. Here are all the cases on display…yes, I’m that proud of them! That’s about a third of my mouthpiece collection on the shelf below them. Note the spare Custom Dark tenor mouthpiece (with the gold plated ring on the shank!) I just couldn’t stop at one!

The Rousseau mouthpieces come with the excellent Rovner Star Series ligature, but make sure you put it on like this…flip the screw around and then put the pins on the reed for far more resonance and projection. I do this with all Rovner ligatures that do not come with metal rails on the reed and it is very effective. The wonderful Rovner Platinum ligatures are designed to work only that way. These ligatures are fantastic, and I will be stocking them in the studio, replacing all the standard brand inexpensive metal mouthpieces that I have been handing to students for decades.

The Brancher ligature to the right is also a wonderful choice for this lovely mouthpiece, but the Rovner Star Series gets similar results, great value and is basically indestructible.

Backun McAllister Alto Sax Mouthpiece Wows!

Well, no-one saw this coming, even those of us tight with Backun Musical Services and the family. A closely held secret of two years of development with a saxophone icon, Timothy McAllister. The same legendary craftsmanship and acoustic research has gone into this as everything BMS has ever done, and there is a new star in the saxophone mouthpiece firmament. I received a TM1 and TM2 last night from Jeremy Backun and spent this morning with them.

I put them up against five favourites from my collection of over four dozen excellent mouthpieces and they held their own beautifully. The TM1 is great, but not in my sweet spot for tip openings. The TM2 made one of my previous top favourites sound absolutely dull, and it competed solidly with the remainder. At that point, it becomes a matter of personal choice for all of us, right?

It is right in the ballpark…luminous, rich, centred, warm, with a hint of grain. The intonation, response and articulation are just fantastic, as are the projection and clarity. It is priced competitively…a great value for a top contender. No saxophonist should be without one. Period. I await the Soprano, Tenor and Baritone siblings eagerly!

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.