How to be "original"

randulo

Playing saxophone 21 months - 2.4% of my life
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In the discussion about online courses, I got into a discussion with @Pete Effamy that's I'd like to open up to all right here in "Playing". Pete broke down to three ways to sound "original", that is, to get a voice. What is a voice? Yes, a sound, a rhythmic approach, an articulation, intonation, all of the above and maybe more. If you think about Miles Davis, he doesn't really sound like much that went before him on that instrument.

I think that there are only three ways to gain an individual style or sound:

- listen to loads of other players and your sound will be a concoction (pretty much everyone);

- listen to no-one and hope that technically you come out ok (I can’t think of anyone);

- come to the sax via a different instrument and adapt that knowledge (this is you, and no doubt a fair few others)
Yes, I am the third, but I did the first step, listening to a lot of saxophone over decades. In fact, that's inhibiting in a way, not because I can't play some of what they played, but because I can!

I think aside from playing in a big band or doing weddings (nothing wrong with either), the pursuit of an original take on the saxophone is not easy. I would add listening to other instruments a lot, because that's what I did on guitar. I almost never listened to guitar. Piano was a huge help on the guitar. Now I listen to blues harmonica a lot, in addition to the more obscure saxophone approaches I can find.

Go ahead, dump you innermost thoughts about this right here, it's free, it's fun and it won't make you gain weight.
 

Pete Effamy

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In the discussion about online courses, I got into a discussion with @Pete Effamy that's I'd like to open up to all right here in "Playing". Pete broke down to three ways to sound "original", that is, to get a voice. What is a voice? Yes, a sound, a rhythmic approach, an articulation, intonation, all of the above and maybe more. If you think about Miles Davis, he doesn't really sound like much that went before him on that instrument.



Yes, I am the third, but I did the first step, listening to a lot of saxophone over decades. In fact, that's inhibiting in a way, not because I can't play some of what they played, but because I can!

I think aside from playing in a big band or doing weddings (nothing wrong with either), the pursuit of an original take on the saxophone is not easy. I would add listening to other instruments a lot, because that's what I did on guitar. I almost never listened to guitar. Piano was a huge help on the guitar. Now I listen to blues harmonica a lot, in addition to the more obscure saxophone approaches I can find.

Go ahead, dump you innermost thoughts about this right here, it's free, it's fun and it won't make you gain weight.
Brandon Fields said that his huge range came as a result of listening to a lot of guitarists.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Each instrument has very specific characteristics (obviously) but besides the sound, what is very interesting to analyse is the rhythmic vs vocal qualities. For example, the saxophone is on the vocal end, the piano on the rhythmic side, as is the guitar. The guitar, before electrics, was very much a percussive instrument. From electric blues, growing to a climax with Jimi Hendrix, the guitar moved into the voice column. These are generalisations, of course, but the point is, if you want to be immersed in really funky, swinging soulful rhythms from non-wind instruments, listen to Oscar Peterson and Wynton Kelly. If you want voice, Jimi and all the many guitarists that follow in his footsteps have that quality. There are some mind-blowing salsa flute players, too, but that's wind, eh?
Then there's the saxophone, but that's too obvious.
 

Phil

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I think the first step is to not try to be original.

Its a process, not a goal.

I was a large format art photographer in another life. I remember one of my mentors said that before you can do anything personal or original, "You first have to make all the pictures that are already in the camera". After that you can start to develop something of a personal style.
 
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randulo

randulo

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A colonel told me, "On ne fait pas la guerre, on la prépare." I've never forgotten that seemingly simple comment.
Yes, you can't obsess with "I wanna be original", even though I say it all the time. You need to feed whatever it is you think can go that way. While playing, there's the consciousness always listening to what you play, your most difficult critic. You have to allow the music to flow without being too inhibited. I am working on that.
 

Pete Effamy

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When you try and play stuff derived from other instruments it also has an effect on originality as the note combinations might well be different due to technical peculiarities. It might well be that certain intervals/phrases are quite easily played on a guitar or a piano but not on a sax. That would make your playing stand out straight away.

Miles did try and play like Gillespie first. When he realised that he couldn't he came up with the 'less notes is more' style. Having said that, Getz was active possibly before Miles - so that airy sound isn't so original. Zoot sims also.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Yes, a great saxophonist used to say "that doesn't lay right" on the saxophone. All the more reason to try it! But I think you can just try to find what is you. It's like dressing a certain way, or decorating a room. I played guitar synthesizer for a long time. You try to get the vibe of the instrument you are imitating, it's not just licks. Music is so magical in the sense that it has the power to surprise. That may be what separates the best music from most popular music, which often does the expected to satisfy.
 

Nick Wyver

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I don't think I've ever tried to be original but I've certainly never tried to sound like somebody else. I suspect it's unavoidable to some extent that you are going to sound like you whatever you do, even if you spend your whole life trying to imitate Charlie Parker.

I've never really played anything other than sax so suppose my sound will be a concoction of other players but not just sax players. I'd guess that guitarists would feature quite heavily.
It might well be that certain intervals/phrases are quite easily played on a guitar or a piano but not on a sax.
I frequently find that's the case - especially if the singer says, "Can we just drop this a semitone?". It can work both ways though.
 

Wade Cornell

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Good topic, and one Randy and I have discussed previously. I'm another one of those who doesn't listen much to sax players, well certainly not to copy them anyway. My inspiration was guitar and voice. I was a singer a long time ago, so always thought the sax as a surrogate for singing.

There's an old saying: "you are what you eat". In music we are what we play/practice. Those who continually copy licks and try to sound like some sax hero may have their own quirks, but (in essence) are not developing an individual voice. The practiced licks and arpeggios that become finger memory will continually creep into improvisations. It's just easier than being in touch with an inner voice that sings those lines and to have them come out of your horn without hesitation. To have your own voice means first being one with your instrument so that it's an extension of you. Then you've also got to have something to say. Singers (who are not trying to copy exactly some other singer) will naturally have their own voice. Tone, phrasing, harmonic ideas, can all come to play as the singer is (or should be) 100% in touch with their instrument.

When we learn an instrument there is the awkward stage of taking something mechanical and becoming familiar enough with it for it to become our voice. This can take years or decades, or in many cases never happen. Along the way many/most are taught to only read, only copy, that there is only one vocabulary (1950s jazz), or other well meaning teaching ideas that can hamper rather than help. That's not to say that those people can't play, they just don't have their own voice. Some grow beyond those teachings and achieve a recognizable voice. However it's more common to hear players simply trying to become technically proficient finger wigglers with little to say.

Players with their own voice can tell stories and give emotions. Technical players mostly wish to impress. Pretty easy to understand which player is more successful at attracting audiences.
 

MikeMorrell

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Great topic and question, @randulo!

My response is:
- I read a lot that as a sax player, you can only (through you physical development) sound like yourself
- I once listened to a couple of well-known sax players and decided I preferred a clear, bright sound (Dexter Gordon) to a softer darker sound. My mpc choices correspond with my preference
- I never try to sound like anyone else because a) I don't know much about other sax players and b) I really do want to express myself with MY music (however stunted and limited it might be). Trying to copy someone else (in style or tone) has no appeal at all for me


Mike

In the discussion about online courses, I got into a discussion with @Pete Effamy that's I'd like to open up to all right here in "Playing". Pete broke down to three ways to sound "original", that is, to get a voice. What is a voice? Yes, a sound, a rhythmic approach, an articulation, intonation, all of the above and maybe more. If you think about Miles Davis, he doesn't really sound like much that went before him on that instrument.



Yes, I am the third, but I did the first step, listening to a lot of saxophone over decades. In fact, that's inhibiting in a way, not because I can't play some of what they played, but because I can!

I think aside from playing in a big band or doing weddings (nothing wrong with either), the pursuit of an original take on the saxophone is not easy. I would add listening to other instruments a lot, because that's what I did on guitar. I almost never listened to guitar. Piano was a huge help on the guitar. Now I listen to blues harmonica a lot, in addition to the more obscure saxophone approaches I can find.

Go ahead, dump you innermost thoughts about this right here, it's free, it's fun and it won't make you gain weight.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Some great comments there while I was asleep! A couple of thoughts bouncing off some of the points.
Range: you can only go so low, right? But the quest for altissimo comes from wanting to expand the range of the sax. I often change the key of a song to make sure I can play all the notes comfortably (duh!).
Key: I think I already mentioned that, as a sax player said years ago, "You guys only have to move up and down on the wires!". Yes, playing something you know in one key is less trivial to do in a new key, especially if that key is a half-step different. The circle of fifths has been mentioned recently in the talk about math. When I took up the horn alone, I worked on scales from C, up chromatically. When I got a teacher, he had me go up in fourths. I immediately understood why. There's only one note different each time.

I still think when you listen to other players, you want to try to identify why you like how they play more than what they play.

Some song writers are afraid to learn any theory. They express fear that their creativity will be channeled away from their natural inclinations. I guess that depends on the person. I personally do have a bit of a fear about learning licks because as mentioned above, they're bound to come out in improvisation. However, in both of these cases, understanding the why really helps you play if you are not an exceptional performer like a few, but not all primitive blues players of the past.
 
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randulo

randulo

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While I'm here...
I was just watching Brecker with McCoy live on Impressions, then Chris Potter with Dave Holland. Both solos are obviously top level on tenor, but would I recognize them if I didn't know what song or what circumstances? I have to say, no. But you can always hear Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, or BB or Albert King by their composite style: sound, rhythmic approach, note choice, density, etc. Originality is composed of a number of things.
 

Karolis

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I once had a good fortune to meet legendary singer Bobby Mcferrin. He told me that when he made the transition from piano to singing, he consciously avoided listening to other singers to develop his own unique style.
I also had a saxophone teacher who told me to read the newspaper on a note stand and make sounds with my horn to interpret the info I was reading. He thought that could help me develop my own orgininal style. Make of it what you will ... :sax:
 
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randulo

randulo

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Yeah, I haven't studied Brecker at all, and I know him from his live stuff with the Brecker Brothers band, which has a lot of AWAI, which is amazing stuff, but I'm not sure how recognizable it is as a saxophone style. As it happens, I have a recording of a Paris concert right off the mixing board.

(addendum) However, I'll bet there are many imitators that could almost fool you!
 
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Pete Effamy

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Yeah, I haven't studied Brecker at all, and I know him from his live stuff with the Brecker Brothers band, which has a lot of AWAI, which is amazing stuff, but I'm not sure how recognizable it is as a saxophone style. As it happens, I have a recording of a Paris concert right off the mixing board.

(addendum) However, I'll bet there are many imitators that could almost fool you!
Almost. Only almost. He’s out there on so many aspects of playing. A true colossus.
 

OldNotGrey

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"How to be original"? - at my point of development, I'm not really sure I want to be original as this implies being different to the norm or others.

But what I would certainly like to do is to improve and produce a sound or tonality somewhere near some of the saxophone players that I have been listening to ever since I got hooked on this instrument 10 years ago. I am under no illusion that I won't develop their technical ability in my lifetime but hopefully reaching a level of half decent quality sound could be possible. This opens up a much bigger question of how to measure sound and tonality, which I won't delve into suffice to say I trust my ears will recognise it when (or if) it comes along ;)
 

Clivey

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Aagh. The whole originality thing again. It's a great diversion. Lots of the people here have a job to do with their playing that really offers little or zero scope for this to any degree. Their roles being to play the piece they are given to the most accurate and recognized standard.
The originality thang really only comes into spotlight when the genres involving improvisation come under discussion.
We can compare brand name players who by definition at least have recognised aspects of originality or we can think of the many many so called free and Avant garde types who offer up emperor's new clothes "Originality".

These days I think that true originality tends to be facilitated by the tech advancements inovations that arrive every decade or so and that result in absolutely new sounds, there's not really much room for reinventing the wheel when it comes to acoustic musical instruments but I always live in hope.
 
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