I’m reprinting the contents of an email here, sent to me by Lewis Pelham, and it really does sum up our (often) futile search for a better mouthpiece – when all along we don’t know what potential is lurking in some of the mouthpieces we already have…
Alan – as you know, we have an old friend aged 79 who has been a pro sax player all his life. Johnny Marshall has never had any other job, and is a world class player. A pupil of the Army’s Duke of York Public school from the age of 8 he played clarinet and sax from day one – pictured right. "Dukies" led straight into the Army where he played tenor in the Army’s No. 1 band. Subsequently he went on to play with the Basil Kirchin Band through almost any band you care to mention, including six years with Georgie Fame. He backed Sarah Vaughan on her UK tour and the young Stevie Wonder when he toured the UK at thirteen years old.
I mentioned all that only to substantiate his pedigree – his playing is simply astounding in any style you care to mention. He has always been frightened to try different mouthpieces, not wishing to enter the "search for the Holy Grail". Yesterday we invited him to visit us for the day and he was interested in my arsenal of mouthpieces. I favour my Lawton 8*B over a vintage 8* Colletto. Probably because of it’s high baffle and tiny chamber, the Colletto is loud, bright and piercing. Difficult to control it is reluctant to subtone below D – whereas, for me, the Lawton is far creamier and will do just about anything.
To illustrate this to the sceptical Johnny Marshall, I played my Buescher Big B tenor with both the Lawton and Colletto in turn. JM agreed that I did indeed sound much better on the Lawton. Johnny then picked up the tenor (don’t forget he’s now an alto player and has literally not touched a tenor for decades) and repeated the exercise.
The result was utterly astonishing – with the Colletto he could do anything – ultra mellow with glorious subtone, to a screaming filthy sound. He had utter and instantaneous control of not only a strange horn, but an even stranger mouthpiece. He simply adored the Colletto, and said that if he ever played tenor again he would break my arm to own it. He liked the Lawton but claimed that it had nothing like the versatility of the Colletto. I learned a salient lesson – it is a mistake to make sweeping statements about the perceived and advertised qualities of various mouthpieces – it’s all down to the player.
This morning, I again tried the Colletto – it is still piercing and harsh… Kind Regards, Lewis.
With regard to his playing of the Colletto, he could easily understand why it was too bright in my hands (mouth!) – but he said that a good mouthpiece will allow you to play the sound in your head. Sound advice I think, and in the case of the Colletto it would allow a vast canvas of your head sounds.
He said that it (the Colletto) was the best mouthpiece that he had ever played. He also said that one’s personal preference was too often dictated by the piece that played most easily the sound in your head, but this invariably means that it will not allow you to stray too far from this preconception. I am now persevering with the Colletto ! If he can exploit it’s inherent versatility then, given time, so can I – in any case I would be foolish to disregard what I heard him doing with it…..
There has always been a link here, in the Blogroll, to a favourite track recorded by Johnny Marshall as part of the North Devon Jazz Quartet – playing My Funny Valentine