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Oboe sound on soprano

Nick Wyver

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And this "oboe sound" thing comes up again. In 47 years of playing soprano I've never come across a mouthpiece that makes it sound like an oboe. It might be quite handy if I could.
If you want your sop to sound vaguely like an oboe then the easiest way is to stick the mic up the bell and I suspect this is what most people are hearing when they accuse sops of sounding like oboes.
 
nigeld

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I have never understood what "oboe sound" means when applied to soprano sax. Can anyone give an example?
 
rhysonsax

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I have never understood what "oboe sound" means when applied to soprano sax. Can anyone give an example?

I think of John Coltrane's sound on soprano, for instance this clip from about 2:18:


But perhaps that is more like an exotoc instrument from Asia or Africa.

Rhys
 
Wade Cornell

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And this "oboe sound" thing comes up again. In 47 years of playing soprano I've never come across a mouthpiece that makes it sound like an oboe. It might be quite handy if I could.
If you want your sop to sound vaguely like an oboe then the easiest way is to stick the mic up the bell and I suspect this is what most people are hearing when they accuse sops of sounding like oboes.

As a (former) oboe and English horn player I can relate to the oboe sound and make some mouthpieces sound that way. As an experienced player you probably already had a tonal concept. Without that concept (let your embouchure go) you'll get that sound and more easily/exaggerated with some mouthpieces than others. Would be amusing to have an oboe sound alike posting. Anyone game?
 
Nick Wyver

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I think of John Coltrane's sound on soprano, for instance this clip from about 2:18:


But perhaps that is more like an exotoc instrument from Asia or Africa.

Rhys
Yup. That's what you get when you point the mic straight up the bell. I bet he sounded nothing like that in the studio. I wonder how much of that was his intention or whether it was just down to the sound engineer.
 
David Roach

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I have never understood what "oboe sound" means when applied to soprano sax. Can anyone give an example?

The Australian player (Jorga someone?) who played for Bryan Ferry in the last few years has a soprano sound that is extremely oboe-like, which is of course entirely suitable for some of the parts she was playing.
If you want to sound oboe-like, get an S80 C*, or any close mouthpiece with a small throat, and Vandoren Blue Box reeds; bite quite a lot to restrict the tone and don't take too much mouthpiece in your mouth. Go for a really focused, bright sound.
 
Alice

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I listened to a classical oboe sound clip played by a professional musician, as part of an informative guide to the orchestra and was struck by how clear and bright the sound was. It literally soared. The soprano sax to my ears, sounds very different. I realise that the sound is going to depend upon how well the instrument is being played and recorded.
 
Pete Thomas

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Both oboe and soprano can have a tendency to sound nasal, which I think is the issue. But in the right hands (and in the case of soprano the right mouthpiece) then you can get brightness and warmth to the sound without the nasality.
 
nigeld

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It seems to me that people may be using "oboe-like" to mean fairly different things:

1. A buzzy sound like a shawm. I think this is what @rhysonsax is referring to.
2. A fairly bright focussed sound - I think this is what @David Roach is referring to.
3. A nasal sound, which is what @Pete Thomas is referring to

Regardless of what meaning is intended, when the term is used the context is usually "I don't want to sound oboe-like".

This is what an oboe can sound like. To my mind it fits best with meaning 2.
I wouldn't have a problem with sounding like that when I wanted to.

 
rhysonsax

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Ed Pillinger Soprano Saxophone Mouthpieces - Pillinger Mouthpieces writes that:

It’s worth remembering that smaller chambered and throated sop mouthpieces can usually offer better intonation – maybe the reason Link changed their design from barrel to bocal after the 1950s, but they also push the tone towards an Oboe quality rather than a high saxophone sound.

Rhys
 
jbtsax

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I have decided over the years that no mouthpiece "makes" a particular sound. It merely helps to "facilitate" the "concept of sound" the player is striving to produce. In the recording below which I have posted previously I was using a Selmer D scroll shank mouthpiece on my vintage Evette-Schaeffer Buffet soprano saxophone. What I was striving for is more of an English Horn sound than an oboe---anything other than a typical soprano sax tone which I don't particularly care for. "Voicing", embouchure control, choice of reed, and airstream were all used to create the concept of sound I was striving for.

https://soundcloud.com/jbtsax%2Fgabriels-oboe-soprano-saxophone
 
jbtsax

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One of my favorite examples of soprano playing can be found in this Wayne Shorter recording beginning at 1:28. It is one of my favorite songs as well.

 
nigeld

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I have decided over the years that no mouthpiece "makes" a particular sound. It merely helps to "facilitate" the "concept of sound" the player is striving to produce. In the recording below which I have posted previously I was using a Selmer D scroll shank mouthpiece on my vintage Evette-Schaeffer Buffet soprano saxophone. What I was striving for is more of an English Horn sound than an oboe---anything other than a typical soprano sax tone which I don't particularly care for. "Voicing", embouchure control, choice of reed, and airstream were all used to create the concept of sound I was striving for.

https://soundcloud.com/jbtsax%2Fgabriels-oboe-soprano-saxophone

Personally, I would call that a "classical" sound. And very nice too.
 
Andrew Sanders

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One of my favorite examples of soprano playing can be found in this Wayne Shorter recording beginning at 1:28. It is one of my favorite songs as well.


I love this album John.
 
nigeld

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So here's what I think I have learned so far:

There seems to be very little consensus what "oboe-sound" means.

Some people think that an oboe-like sound is OK for a soprano sax.

Other people use "oboe-sound" to describe a pinched or unpleasantly buzzy tone.
 
David Roach

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So here's what I think I have learned so far:
There seems to be very little consensus what "oboe-sound" means.
Some people think that an oboe-like sound is OK for a soprano sax.
Other people use "oboe-sound" to describe a pinched or unpleasantly buzzy tone.

I think the sound of the modern oboe has change immensely in the last 20-30 years, almost more than with any other instrument. Listening to the great players of the mid-C20th the tone of the oboe had much more brightness, reedy-ness if you like. Also, the difference in timbre between German, French, American and British players has become much less pronounced.
I think the comparison between a small thin soprano sax sound and the oboe has become far less relevant in some ways; the oboe has a fatter, creamier tone in the vast majority of young players than it ever used to.
However there are certainly characteristics of the oboe, cor-anglais and even the flute that can be reproduced on the soprano sax. In the lower register my own playing has been liked to the cor-anglais at times, and in the upper register it has been mistaken for a flute, but that's because I was an oboist at Music College, played a lot of Flute as a double at one time and I think very relevantly, I often use diaphragm vibrato which is uncommon in single reed players.
 
altissimo

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just a few vaguely related thoughts..
the soprano sax was in danger of becoming extinct at one point - Steve Lacy said they when he switched from clarinet to sop sax in the 1950's there was no one else in New York whom he could talk to or consult about playing the instrument. Sideny Bechet had moved to Paris by then.
It appears that none of the american sax manufacturers had updated the designs of their sopranos since the late 20's and it's possible that they didn't make many sopranos post WWII except as special orders. Given that Selmer did update their soprano design we can assume that demand was greater in Europe.
Opinions vary as to how John Coltrane got into playing soprano sax, but he must've heard Steve Lacy at some point. Although Lacy's role is crucial, I think it would be reasonable to suggest that Coltrane is the one responsible for the popularity of the soprano sax in jazz and it's probably his playing and tone that have had the greatest influence. And it's Coltrane's tone that has sometimes been likened to an indian shehnai or oboe. 'Trane was certainly interested in indian music, but we don't know if he was consciously copying the great indian shehnai players like Ustad Bismillah Khan or whether he just naturally sounded that way..
It could be argued that Coltrane's soprano tone is an extension of his tenor tone, as anyone who's accidentally played one of his albums on tenor at 45rpm may have observed. There's also the fact that he was having to play really loud in order to make himself heard over Elvin Jones's thunderous drumming in an era when PA systems were rudimentary or non existent.
In the 70's the rise of jazz fusion and loud electric bands made it necessary to go for louder, brighter sounding mouthpieces in order to hear yourself above the din and the resulting tones were sometimes a bit thin, bright and squealing....
and of course there was Jan Garbarek and that haunting Berg Larsen tone as well as other great soprano innovators like Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Lol Coxhill, Charlie Mariano and the almighty Wayne Shorter all of whom have a little bit of Coltrane in their playing. Zoot Sims is one of the few who broke the trend and got a full rich tone out of the instrument, Johnny Hodges should also get a mention..
So the thin, buzzy, reedy, hollow, "oboe" tone is part of the history of the instrument.

I tend to think that the soprano sax torments you with the tone it thinks you deserve rather than the tone you think you want
 

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