Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Visit from "The Reed Guy"

You've heard us say it before but it's worth repeating; "the greatest thing about music is the people you meet through it".  We are fortunate at DSM and DLP to meet folks from all aspects of the music industry, from accountants to educators, instrument manufacturers, sheet music publishers, and retailers.

About once a year or so, Kurt Wilbur stops in to see us at DSM. Kurt is a larger than life character with a strong handshake and straight forward Midwestern appeal.  He is a D'Addario representative and he's extremely knowledgeable and passionate about their products.  I call him 'the reed guy'. His visits are always entertaining, informative, and sometimes sprinkled with samples of new reeds and reed related products. We dig Kurt!

I’ve often referred to reeds as 'the bane of our existence' to fellow woodwind players. I've lamented about reeds with teachers, students, colleagues, and even my alto hero Phil Woods. It fascinates me to learn of the rituals each person goes through to get a reed to sound 'just so' or in some cases, simply to sound.

My colleague Chiaki Hanafusa is a classical soloist and a reed aficionado.  She will coax all she can out of each piece of cane. I am much more lazy and sort of a 'wet it and play it' type of guy.  I do very little breaking in, curing, or filing, and if a reed doesn't feel right in a few seconds I'm pretty much done with it. I remember one extremely gig-happy year I spent nearly $1,000 on reeds. Luckily, I was self employed at the time and claimed most of that as a business expense (special props inserted here to music accountant extraordinaire Alan Friedman who just happened to be my college roommate and band-mate).

All that being said, I was anxious to learn about and try the new Rico Reserve and Rico Jazz reeds that Kurt and Kristen McKeon at D’Addario made available to us, and I promised to let them know what we thought.

I opened the box of Rico Select Jazz reeds (unfiled) and put one in a cup of water for a few minutes.  The first few notes were so stuffy that I actually checked to see if my Francois Louis ligature was seated properly.  I re-wet the reed, made a small adjustment on the mouthpiece (moving the reed a smidge lower), tightened the ligature, I tried the reed again. Better but it was still not the ‘lightning fast’ response I was hoping for. I placed the reed on a flat surface an noticed it was slightly bowed so I took some old reed rush to the back and made a few passes down the shoulder and vamp (basically the top sloping section of the reed) toward the tip.

Voila! Even though this was a bit more work than I would normally do on any given reed, I wanted to be fair to everyone at D’Addario. The reed is hearty and nicely responsive. I played it later in the evening during a faculty performance here at DSM and it seemed to get even better.  Now, a few days later I am playing it again after being stored in my reed case. It’s holding up nicely and still sounds great. I chose this reed randomly out of the box of ten and if the rest are similar, I’d say they have a winner on their hands. I will sample the Reserves and more of the Jazz reeds then follow up with Chiaki and share our thoughts next time. 

Thanks again to D'Addario's Kurt and Kristen!