Backun Lumiere Clarinets

These babies were historic…the very first time I have not obtained the very first iteration of anything Morrie Backun has designed! I thought nothing could be finer than my set of MoBa’s, so when I heard from Jeremy Backun that there was a new narrower bore model, I did not rush to try it. Morrie was installing sterling silver vent and thumb tubes in my MoBa’s and I tried the Lumiere prototype on his desk…I was dazzled. It’s not just a new model, it’s a better clarinet… with 10 years of making MoBa’s going into the knowledge needed to reinvent the clarinet yet again! I’m primarily a bass clarinetist and the narrower bore Lumiere’s help me with my focus and keep my sound more compact. I just play more fluidly, and the intonation is even better than the MoBa’s! My MoBa’s went to a lucky performance master’s student in Utah. The Bb MoBa was purpose-built for me and was the only one made with the 66+ barrel and the MoBa bell all made from the same piece of wood as the upper and lower joint….hard to give up….except that I have two new loves in my life.

Vandoren Hygro Reed Case is the ultimate!

I’ve owned every kind of reed case available, including some custom made for me, and finally have found the ultimate.  Holds your reeds at 40% humidity…which enhances their playability if you have not played them for a while, without keeping them so moist that they deteriorate more quickly.  In addition, the small air holes allow a little movement of air that inhibits the growth of mold.  These are the ONLY reed cases I’ve ever owned in which not a hint of mold shows up on the reeds.  Better response, longer life and no mold! Simple high quality construction that comes apart incredibly easily for cleaning…which is very seldom necessary.  What more can you ask?  Vandoren delivers the goods…as usual!


Black Diamond Alto Clarinet Mouthpiece Arrives

Welcome to Clarinerd Central, folks.  I just received the first Vandoren BD5 Alto Clarinet mouthpiece to reach North America, and it is as excellent as it’s “brothers.”  Rich, powerful, resonant, free-blowing, and just really pretty.  Very flexible….you can sound as sinuously sweet as a soprano clarinet or big and woody like a bass clarinet or anywhere in between.  Just in time for the launch of the British Columbia Clarinet Choir next month!  First meeting of the primary players is scheduled for early September and the first rehearsal is set for the Chan Centre on October 28th.  I expect a lot of eyebrows will be raised at how amazing an alto clarinet can sound and what it can add to any ensemble.  The Backun Cocobolo bell on my alto doesn’t hurt a bit….

Joey Liu wins BC Honour Band position

Joey auditioned for the BC Honour Band on Bass Clarinet, his second instrument.  He is primarily a soprano clarinetist, Principal Clarinet with the Vancouver Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Not only that, he was away out of country with a family emergency for a couple of weeks and just came into the studio with very little preparation to record the audition material.  His solid grounding in fundamentals and big chocolatey bass clarinet sound stood him in good stead.

He has two years left in high school and is just hitting his stride.  Way to go, Joey!

Vandoren Does It Again!

I just received the new Vandoren BL5 Baritone Saxophone mouthpiece from Vandoren Canada, and like the AL5 and TL5 it is an instant winner.  All three of these new models are darker and a little more contained than their “4 series” brothers, but not as “polite” as the “3’s” in the Optimum Series.  For me, that is ideal.  I have been playing the the BL4 ever since it was released and it’s gorgeous tone has had plenty of approval from world-renowned saxophonists who have been mentors to me…but…I’ve always had to “throttle back” just a little because of the amazing presence of the BL4.  There have been similar issues with the AL4 and TL4.  That has made these mouthpieces ideal first professional mouthpieces for students because they will “stretch” to jazz applications until the students are ready for true jazz mouthpieces (frequently the V16 A6, the V5 T45 and always the V16 B5!!)    Now my recommendation for all students will be the AL5, TL5 and BL5, followed within a couple of months by the excellent Vandoren Jazz mouthpieces.  

For me, this morning was a revelation as I put the BL 5 through it’s paces on Bach Cello Sonatas and Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei…repertoire I consider custom made for the classical Baritone.  The slightly smaller tip opening, extremely long  facing curve and wider side and tip rails combine to give the BL5 more resistance, a slightly darker colour and a little smoother sound than the BL4.  It’s just what I had hoped for…just 10% off the top end!  I had to scrape reeds a bit more at the base to get full ease and response on the bottom end…very normal with a longer facing curve.  I’m ordering a spare today for students to try!  Thanks, Vandoren for your great products and great support!  

The Classical Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece of my Dreams!

I’m just crazy about the new Vandoren Optimum TL5 Tenor Saxophone mouthpiece…just sent to me for trial by Vandoren Canada.

I’ve been waiting for the TL5 my whole life….all my previous favourite classical tenor mouthpieces have been a little too bright without enough depth and warmth or have been really dark and warm but lack upper partials and great projection.

I’ve been going around in circles for years between the Vandoren TL4 and the Selmer SD20…usually favouring the TL4 for projection….but now that tail-chasing is over.  It is the Optimum TL5, hands down.

Most of my students play the TL4 and the AL4…in fact I’m out of them right now and getting more….I think they may be the best all round mouthpiece there is for students.  They can stretch to jazz but are polite enough for classical, especially for wind ensembles.  

However, both the AL5 and TL5 add more dark warmth to the sound for dedicated classical playing and will work better for chamber groups and orchestras.

I’m dancing on air!

New Vandoren Black Diamond Eb Clarinet Mouthpiece

I’ve been blessed with the support of Alex Kundakcioglu of Vandoren Canada….we played together years ago before he moved back to Toronto and we are the poorer here in Vancouver for the loss of his magnificent trumpet!  He has been sending me new Vandoren equipment releases for a few years and the latest is the Black Diamond BD5 Eb Clarinet mouthpiece.  Wow!  

The Vandoren Black Diamond BD5 Eb mouthpiece is free-blowing, round, warm, ringing and centred like it’s Bb big brother.   Perfect for students and professionals, especially those like me who only pick up the Eefer occasionally.   The BD5 takes all the potential squawkiness away from the little clarinets so I’m getting a second one for my D clarinet.  For me, the few times I play C, D, or Eb clarinets are in Mahler symphonies where I am frequently playing A, Bb and Bass as well.   So it is great to be able to pick it up with no fear, get great response and a pure sound without having to do a month of long tones first.  I well remember a friend in high school who bought an Eb clarinet but was not allowed to play it because of his tone…if only he could have had a Black Diamond mouthpiece!

D’Addario Select Jazz Mouthpieces Arrive at Sax Noir

I’ve heard nothing but great things about these, and Steve Kaldestad is playing them, which is one heck of a testimonial!   D’Addario sent me two complete Demo kits of these quite new Alto and Tenor mouthpieces and I will be stocking them in the studio for students and colleagues to try.  Just believe everything D’Addario says on their site and in their ads.  “Vintage inspired.  Legendary Tone.  100% precision crafted, milled from solid rubber.”   I’ve already written an article about them for Clarinet & Saxophone magazine and Canadian Winds, and am just awaiting the even newer D’Addario Reserve classical Alto saxophone mouthpieces for review before sending it in for publication.  You owe it to yourself to try these!  They are up there with the Vandoren V16 mouthpieces…almost…just not as consistent in tip openings and rail symmetry.  That’s not unusual….in my experience, no one except Backun is as consistent as Vandoren in hitting their specs.  So try a few of these to pick the very best one if you are interested.  Like Vandoren V16’s the Altos are modelled after 50’s Meyers and the Tenors are modelled after 50’s Links.  Far better than the current “Link” and “Meyer” mouthpieces which are hand made with poor quality control and are incredibly inconsistent.  “Hand-made” or “hand-finished” is a pejorative in my opinion…unless a great artisan is doing it right in front of you to your taste….

Orpheum’s 90th Birthday Party

What a hoot!  Despite a one hour late start to the party due to a particularly long-winded MC, everyone had a blast.  In fact, a few people started early and some of the “flappers” (there was a 20’s costume party, since we were celebrating a 1927 birthday) got into the bathtub gin a little heavily.  We had to fend off their pleas to start playing early, since we could have been heard in the auditorium, so they settled for pictures with us.

A few videos were shot as well.  Here’s an early one before we were swarmed by the crowd, and another one later from the balcony.


Sax Noir re-formed and hired to play Orpheum

Sax Noir was down to a duo briefly, with the departure of Debbie Webb to the “other” coast and Valerie Crocker getting too busy with family and her work as a music teacher.  Bryan took over brilliantly as principal saxophone of the Pacific Symphonic Wind Ensemble for Debbie but wanted to stay on tenor for the quartet.  Ace teacher and player Tina Wang joined both PSWE and Sax Noir on 2nd Alto.  We cast about for a Soprano player and Michael Morimoto, saxophone instructor at the Vancouver Academy of Music was interested.  He’s joined just in time for our rehearsal this weekend to prepare for our upcoming gig at the 90th birthday celebrations of Vancouver’s premier music hall, the Orpheum Theatre!