One Person’s Treasure

I had a really expensive saxophone.

It was a Christmas gift from my parents, back when I was a junior in high school.  I was taking lessons from a very talented musician who taught at the University of Mississippi, Dr. Wade Irving, and I felt that I needed the best of the best.  And my parents were reluctantly able to give it to me.

I also had a selection of mouthpieces, most of which were pretty expensive.  I had a ligature (the part of the saxophone that slips over the mouthpiece and holds the reed in place) that cost a few bucks too.  Hell, I was even ordering reeds from a specialty shop in Indiana and having them mailed to me.

“It’s gotta be the shoes.” Mars Blackmon said about Michael Jordan. Us band geeks–it was all about the instrument.

Halfway through my senior year of high school, I had an opportunity to listen to a renowned university jazz band.  They were touring around the south, and had chosen a few local high schools to stop in on.  I sat with my fellow saxophonists and listened to them wail for over an hour, enjoying every single sound.  (Side note–best school day ever.)

During the performance, we fell in love with the sounds that the tenor saxophonist was making.  Rough and rugged, his music cut through the rest giving him a distinct tone and resonance the others seemed to lack.  It was brassy and smooth at the same time–two sounds that usually didn’t go together on a saxophone.  It was brilliant and my friends and I were all thinking the same thing:

We had to have this sound.

Of course, to paraphrase Mars, we knew it gotta be the mouthpiece.  So the minute the concert was over, we made our way to the saxophonist and quickly introduced ourselves.  He smiled and was amiable.  And that was our cue to start probing.

“What kind of reeds do you use?  What kind of ligature?  What kind of mouthpiece?”

He laughed.

“Really, the mouthpiece I use is one I bought for five bucks at my local music shop.  Use the ligature that it came with.”

We looked at awe at that cheap mouthpiece.  Our REEDS cost more than five bucks.

That night we all ran into each other at the local music store, each armed with a five-spot and looking for that particular mouthpiece.  (Wound up having to order it out of a catalogue.)

And none of us ever made that mouthpiece sound like that dude did.  But it was okay, because we were developing our own sounds without even knowing it.  By simply trying to play like someone else, we were creating our own style, our own voice.  By emulation, we were on our way to creation.

So, if you see something you like, give it a shot.  Especially if you’re stuck.  Maybe there’s a genre you just picked up that seems interesting–write in that genre.  Maybe you see something stylistically–use it in your work.  Don’t copy straight out, but use what you see and give something different a try.  Who knows what that simple bit of effort might spark.

One person’s trash is another person’s treasure might be true.  But one person’s treasure might be your muse.

signature - josh