When I wrote about my trip to see Phil Barone, I neglected to add context about what I play now and what I had played before I bought my first Barone mouthpiece. I will attempt to correct that here.
For 30 plus years, I had been an R&B/Rock player, who played in large bands with no mikes for the horns in rehearsals. In addition, I was the only sax player, trying to balance against a trumpet player (or two) who had been bugle corps trained. These guys scream. I forget how much until I meet someone else. Last summer I played with a guy who is now touring with Doc Severensen, and I thought he was weak at the time. He isn’t. It’s just that I had to hold back a lot to keep from overpowering him.
In an R&B setting, you have two keyboards and maybe two guitars, plus vocals, all playing in roughly the same harmonic range as a sax. In order to be heard above the din, you need something that cuts. I knew right away when I began playing in these bands that my Link mouthpiece wasn’t made for this duty. So over a weekend in 1976, I spent two whole days holed up in practice rooms with dozens of mouthpieces, and ended up with a 130/0 Berg Larsen metal mouthpiece for tenor. That is what Lenny Pickett plays, and I got roughly an equivalent sound from it. For 30 years.
However, during the course of retirement, I lost a lot of my diaphragm muscle tone, and wasn’t able to play that piece when I made my comeback. Plus it was too much work. But I always liked the sound I had been getting.
Fast forward, when I bought my first Barone horn, it was an option to get a metal mouthpiece with it, and I took an 8* version of a Barone Standard model. I loved it – it has that Berg like sound, but it was easier to play. I called Phil and told him, and he said, “If you think it’s a good piece, you’ve never played a good piece.”
So I asked him for some advice, and after a few months of talking on the phone, he sent me a Hollywood, the modern version. Right away, I hated it. Sounded muffled to me. Understand, I thought I wanted a purely bright piece because I ignorantly thought it was the only way to project enough in a section to be heard.
It wasn’t that I liked a purely bright sound, quite the contrary. So we started talking about what I wanted out of my ideal, future sound. These conversations are still ongoing, but long story slightly less long, my Hollywood got some custom work from Phil, and leading up to my article on Phil, it was still my number one piece, despite his newest model, the Super New York, being amazing.
The Hollywood, the modern version, was initially misunderstood by me. And I continually put it down and try other pieces seeking that brighter sound. I still don’t trust myself. That’s a whole ‘nother story.
Most of the learning has been counterintuitive, and that’s caused me to seek out other pieces. But no matter how many I try, the Hollywood is my go-to. So when I try a new piece, I record it, then record the Hollywood. No matter how the horn sounds from my position (from the back), it always sounds better when I record the Hollywood than whatever new flavor of the month is. This is what happened last weekend, in my tune-up for the gig. I realized the custom Link was too bright. It sounded terrible in the recordings.
So I’m playing the Hollywood again, and sent back the custom one for more tweaking. That’s how good these pieces are. They are very versatile. I used the same piece to play this week for a jazz duo as I did when I played with some of the loudest funk players in the world last year. Huge overtones, fat, mellow tone, but bright when pushed.
So when I said I tried a first generation Hollywood in that original post and loved it, I was saying that as an owner of a pretty good Hollywood already. You can’t buy an old Hollywood model except on eBay, but you can get Phil to make you a new one if there is demand. And there should be demand. These are amazing pieces. Oh, and listen to Phil if he offers advice. It’ll save you a lot of time.