Reeds Charlie Parker's Reeds

Veggie Dave

Sax Worker
Citizen of Nowhere
I've just started reading Bird Lives! The High Life and Hard Times of Charlie 'Yardbird' Parker <1> and I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that he played a Rico 5.

I get funny looks from people because I use a 3.5 - I can't even imagine what a 5 feels like. It must have more in common with a floorboard than a reed! :D

<1> I've only just started but it's looking like it's going to be really good.
mouthpieces didn't have wide tip openings back then, so hard reeds were more commonly used - plus they last longer. Bird must've lungs like bellows.
Enjoy 'Bird Lives' - there may have been better books written about Parker since, but it's still a good read
Somewhere on the web there is a list of tip openings for Otto Link. Back then a tip opening of 4 might not be identical with a 4 these days. Don't know about other makes, but be careful if you should find a tip opening given in that biography.

I play a rico royal 5 on Baritone with a Selmer S80 C*. It's a little softer than a Vandoren Blue 4, which I normally use. The numbers are only for reference, not for hero worship. The important thing is matching player to mouthpiece to reed. A 5 may well be too hard for your current mouthpiece. Selmer S80 goes down to B* and up to H. The wider tips have a longer facing curve than the narrow ones. Also to consider is the different shape of the curve that different manufacturers used. French or American.

Check out this tenor comparison chart.

Bahnöffnungen - Tenorsaxophon - Mundstücke

I'm thinking the style of music and the era has a lot to do with set up. Amplification wasn't what it is today so there was more emphasis on volume and clarity than subtlety at live gigs. Early band recordings used a single mic and the balance was in the playing.

It seems it was the fashion to play close mouthpieces with a hard reed to give that focused sound. While I like Charlies playing, I'm not a fan of his core tone.
While I like Charlies playing, I'm not a fan of his core tone.

Even when he played "sweet" such as on his Bird with Strings albums ?

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I have that album and enjoy his playing. I borrow from it. His phrasing, embellishments and decorations are inspired. However that core tone. It's all a matter of personal preference.
Oh lord.... I just love to learn what the masters used ... but the truth is that since we don't have the same lungs, mouths and lips it doesn't make sense to use the same equipment to approach that sound.

Sure having a closed mouthpiece and a harder reed is getting a more traditional sound, but anyone with a not so extreme mouthpiece-reed combo could "simulate" a player's sound just by adjusting his/her technique.

There's just so much more than the reed or the mouthpiece to jazz playing.... and it's for free because it's in you and just waits for some practice time. :)
I thought when I saw the thread title, that someone was trying to flog one of 'Charlie Parker's reeds' on eBay or something ...
Bear in mind that he changed mouthpiece quite a few times and I've heard many stories about him working on his reeds. The newish book by Stanley crouch about bird also mentions that Parker worked on his mouthpieces as well. Some info on Parker's mouthpieces can be found (in French but you can translate it online) on Nicholas Trefeil's site:
By the time he was half way through his career he'd dropped from the ridiculous Rico 5 to a 2 and 2.5.
FWIW I have heard from more than one source that he played an .080" tip (not sure if it was the Brilhart or metal Selmer, nor how reliable this is but it's not at all surprising). Alto facings from those days -- don't know about Bird's but the Meyers I've seen were not any longer than current medium length facings, and the Brilharts were generally on the short side.
True story about hard reeds, though. I had an uncle that was a working tenor player in New York those days -- told me Bird played such a hard setup he could barely get a sound out of it. Also said you wouldn't believe how LOUD Bird could play.

So given that, and his sound, a Rico 5 on a 80 tip sounds reasonable to me.
In the book, you discover the reed size during a story where Bird tries to get someone else to play his horn and barely gets anything resembling a note out of it.
I've read the Russell book. ( bird lives)

I enjoyed it.

but it isnt written as a book of facts. Much of it is fiction, about what "may" have happened, or conversations that "may' have taken place.

It should not be read as absolute truth.

Probably still a must read though, for fans of the music.
When it comes to Charlie Parker, I guess he was so completely out of the ordinary that his setup can't be anyone's natural match. Also, as the story goes that he used to practice ridiculous hours, he probably developed not just bellows but a particularly robust embouchure.

I can play Vandoren blue 3 on tenor depending on the mouthpiece but struggle with blue 3 on alto, so I can't imagine anything stronger. I found some boxes of Glotin 3 in the case of an alto I purchased recently but I can't play them.

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