Saxophone

Eddie Daniels Talks With Richard Boulger About Creating A Sound On The Horn, Meditation, Equipment and More

Eddie Daniels is that rarest of rare musicians who is not only equally at home in both jazz and classical music but excels at both with breathtaking virtuosity. Richard Boulger spoke with Eddie about creating a sound on the horn, meditation, equipment and current projects.

RB:  The first time I ever heard you was on one of Freddie Hubbard’s recordings years ago.

ED:  The Hub of Hubbard, right?

RB:  Exactly, exactly, yeah, yeah, yeah, man.

ED:  Freddie was very nice to me. Who could ever feel like they could keep up with Freddie? Especially on a tune like that, you know, “Just One Of Those Things.” On a gig, we’re talking 35-40 years ago, it was spontaneous and it was not supposed to be a record. We were in the Black Forest in Germany and touring with Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Freddie and his trio. Joe Henderson didn’t want to do this recording because there wasn’t enough money. I was the second choice and I said “of course, I’ll do it!” I was the youngest guy in the band and of course I was glad to be the second choice after Joe, who’s so great. Playing on “Just One Of Those Things," I felt like I was scrambling, but every time I talked to Freddie, he said, “no, you were playing your buns off.”

RB:  What is your approach or concept of creating a sound on the horn?

ED:  You don’t create a sound on the horn. You kind of have to let the horn be the sound it is and funny you would ask that, because this morning was the first time I’ve played the clarinet in three weeks. I recently had dental work, so I’ve been playing the flute for the past three weeks and I just picked up the clarinet and somehow it was me. My wife came in and said, “sounds like you.” It’s so many things. Let’s say somebody wants to sound like me, or I want to sound like someone else. A lot of people who want to sound like me get the same kind of clarinet that I’m playing, the mouthpiece, the ‘Eddie Daniels Ligature from RS Berkeley’, which we will talk about later and they put all the pieces together. They play and realize, “this doesn’t sound like Eddie Daniels, what is this?” Everybody thinks, “what are you using so I can sound like you?” It has been a long evolution of how much effort I want to put into the sound. What makes a sound, what makes who you are at that moment. I’m a lot of pieces of things. Part of the sound is your temperament. So when I play the tenor, I’m sometimes more like a roaring lion, or a sweet kinda Stan Getz thing, which is part of my temperament.


I put in hundreds of thousands of hours with the intent of a sound that is connected with my heart. I also studied with Joe Allard and all these people to learn how to do things efficiently, and yet all the people (who studied with Joe Allard, who’s one of the greatest teachers) don’t sound like me. So how does that work out? Michael Brecker studied with Joe, you know? A lot of people studied with Joe and they don’t sound like me. Some of them, but that was the efficiency of a great teacher letting you sound like yourself.

RB:  You totally nailed it, man. Ultimately it’s coming from within your own being and coming out through the horn. So you can buy the exact same equipment that you have and have everything, but they’re not necessarily going to get your sound. They’d have to have lived your experiences, perceptions of reality and then that will come out through the bell of the horn. 

ED:  And the struggles and the struggles, it’s not just the emotion. If I could bring this being that I am now back to 40 years ago when I was 30-something and struggling with the clarinet, it wouldn’t make any difference because there were all those steps in between about “how do I get that sound?,” and “what do I do with my chops?” You know, all those little things. It’s the emotion, it’s your being, it’s your heart, it’s all of those things and it’s a lot of other stuff too.

RB:  Before we go into the next question, I have a little side question that came out while you were speaking. I’m just curious. I myself am a trumpet player, but I’m just wondering, do you do anything away from the horn, do you work out, any type of breathing exercises, anything that when you come back to the horn, makes it that much more positive for you?

ED:  Well, I play tennis. I run around on the tennis court. I meditate. I try to sit still every day for a couple of hours. I think the horn for everybody, aside from learning to meditate to play better on your horn, I think playing a horn (an instrument of any kind) is a meditation. I find that if the person who’s playing any instrument, no matter what level, asks themselves, “who’s playing this instrument at this time?” You’ll come to a place where you’ll go, “whoa, there’s something going on here.” Just say while you’re playing the trumpet, you ask yourself, “who’s watching this… who’s here now?” It was like an “A-Ha!” moment that I had a couple weeks ago, even though all through the years you know there’s not a lot of thinking when you play an instrument, no. You notice a mistake and you try to correct it, but as you’re blowing, you’re basically watching it and listening to it, until something happens that you want to change. Meditating is great, doing other things is great, but being aware while you’re playing is great. Like asking yourself, “who’s here watching this?” I think that’s one of the deepest things I learned in the last month.

RB:  You mention about consciousness, in terms of just the spirit and the presence of being ‘the observer’… Do you find there’s a difference between how you practice and approach when you’re sitting in a room, where your focal point is as opposed to when you walk onto the bandstand, and you’re more interacting with other players and you’re just kind of being in the moment, reacting.

ED:  I think every single situation is different and yet, the presence of who’s watching is the same all the time. I think you want to bring that presence when you’re practicing on the stage with you, the awareness. You’re not going to stop and re-do a note that you didn’t like, which you might do in your practice room all day long. I think it’s the same. It’s an evolution. You get on the stage. I used to be more nervous. I used to be in sessions with Hubert Laws sitting next to me or David Baker. I’m playing flute and I was playing flute a lot back then, which now I’m gonna do again because I love it. I used to be nervous until I wasn’t nervous any more. I always wondered, “How did that happen?” Now being in a studio is one of the most comfortable things to me. Oddly enough. You know, being on jingles back in the old days and I was the kid, I felt like the kid even though Hubert wasn’t that much older than me and some of the other great players, Sanborn and Brecker, I was the older guy at that point, but early on I was nervous. Then you know, you do it, you do it — it’s like you keep doing it until it’s easier.

RB:  How do you approach practicing improvisation?

ED:  I don’t practice improvisation.

RB:  So if someone came to you for a lesson on how to improvise. How would you approach teaching them?

ED:  Practicing improvisation is a contradiction. You figure out all your licks and then you go do it. Part of it is improvised because you have to grab it from your memory, but it’s very interesting because we were just visiting our grandchild, and Sam asked, “What is spontaneity?” - just that question and having to answer what that is. You can’t be totally spontaneous because you have to draw on stuff you know. If you didn’t draw on your vocabulary, nothing would come out other than sounds and you could be avante garde and make a bunch of sounds. 

You don’t need a horn to do that, but if you can put a horn in your mouth you might as well learn how to make a sound. Or you don’t have to, you can be spontaneously putting an instrument in your mouth that you never played before, and have “Giant Steps” go by, and “Go Ahead.” You never played the sax or the trumpet or any instrument — be spontaneous. That has gradations up to okay, well I have to practice the trumpet at least 20 years in order to be able to play that tune and how do I then become spontaneous on “Giant Steps?" I better know all my chords and I better know the changes and get a little bit loose with it and maybe even practice some licks, but when it really comes along, it’s so fast that you can’t be spontaneous. You have to kind of let it go.

RB:  Would you suggest to students that they work with a metronome?

ED:  Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. I used to work with a metronome. I have to get back to it, because my hearing is not as good. As you get older, you lose your hearing. You lose some of the highs and so your time has to be strong enough to cut through even if you can’t hear what’s right. To a young person, that may not make much sense, but you know you’re on a bandstand with the drums crashing and the band roaring and somehow you miss a beat because you didn’t hear it right, so you have to really stay focused and keep your time and a metronome is really important. I have to get back to it myself.

RB:  Eddie, how would you say your equipment has had or does currently have on your playing?

ED:  Well, I’m constantly looking for the right equipment. Still, this morning, trying a few different mouthpieces, wanting the resistance and the sound to be right. I mean, that’s the eternal quest. Here I am, in my 70s, and a pretty good player and I’m still looking for the sound and the ease, and trying to find what works right, trying to find a little bit more something — whatever it is. The equipment can make a difference. It depends on the stage of where you are in your playing. For a person on my level, most people would say, “you sound the same on everything,” and I kind of do on every good piece of equipment.

The equipment is important depending on how well you play — if you’re just in the middle of your playing and you’re pretty good, you find some equipment that makes it easier and your teacher says you’ll get the high notes for this and you won’t have to work as hard and blah-blah-blah, and there begins the quest for the rest of your life as you step to the sound that is your sound of your heart. By the time you’re 77, you’re still looking. Like I just had these two flute head joints and another flute that just came in the door, why?

RB:  This is a nice segue, now, in terms of equipment. Can you tell us about your new Eddie Daniels ligature?

ED:  It’s funny, the ligature is the last thing in the chain of your blowing. You have your horn, the bell, the two middle joints, barrel, then the mouthpiece, that’s five pieces, then the reed, that’s six. But you can’t play unless you have something holding it on the mouthpiece. Which you think — okay, it could be anything — but you’ll find that the differences in material, and this is also for the gearheads who play pretty darned good and for those who don’t play that well, it will make it easier to make it facilitate easier, so the ligature is the last thing in the chain. I think it’s one of the most important things. The ligature is holding the reed on there, but it’s more than that, it’s the reed, the vibrating object, which can cut out vibrations or add vibrations, and it’s interesting after the clarinet being an instrument that’s a hundred years old, there has always been ligatures. 

I love this final iteration of what we came up with for the ligatures, the carbon fiber and the gold. They both facilitate the sound and hold the sound. For me, the most important thing is holding the sound, so that you don’t have to. Holding the sound means keeping the pitch even so you don’t have to bite to do that. 

RB:  Eddie, would you say that the ligature would be beneficial for all levels of players and age groups?

ED:  Yeah, it’s inexpensive enough, but we’re also working on a student model. But you know, if you’re not playing that well and you’re a beginner, you could have anything for a ligature. You’re better off having a better mouthpiece, a better reed, or a better clarinet. But if you have that, and you’re starting to play pretty well, why not have a good ligature? I think it’s good for everyone, even a beginner, I think it’s good for anyone, but it’s especially good for the better players who would notice the difference. I love the ligature, I love what we have. I think it’s the best thing ever.

RB:  Can you tell us a bit about what projects are you working on right now?

ED:  Well, I’m starting a new album in two weeks. The music of Brazilian composer, Ivan Lins, one of the great composers… one of the super greats. He was on one of Dave Grusen’s first albums, “Harlequin,” and he did a tune and we’re gonna do it on the new album. Actually Dave Grusen and Bob James will join me on this new album, the music of Ivan Lins. So Dave is one of my heroes and so is Bob James. I’ve appeared on a lot of their albums. They’re being very generous to come to L.A. and play with me on this new album, which will have the Harlem Quartet again, as well as on “Heart of Brazil”. That’s the music of Edberto Chesmonte with the Harlem String Quartet and a phenomenal rhythm section. That album was nominated for a Grammy this past February. 

RB:  Do you have any advice for young, aspiring players who are coming along and just starting out, and trying to get it together?

ED:  Well, you’re going to be what you are, no matter what. Enjoy the passion of it. If you don’t have any passion for it, forget it. Go do something else. You may like all this music and you may love the music but when you play, you find like you’re not that into it, you can’t find your passion, and by passion I mean, here I am in my 70s, and I still play a couple hours a day, and that’s from age 13 to now. I still love practicing. So that’s passion. If you don’t have it, find a way to get it… If you have that passion, you’re gonna find your way. No matter what. You will find it.

About The Author

Richard Boulger is a trumpeter, composer, producer, recording artist and former student and protégé of Freddie Hubbard and Donald Byrd. Richard has recorded with Randy Brecker, Eddie Henderson, Alex Foster, Jimmy Greene, The Allman Brothers Band and many others.

RS Berkeley Introduces Eddie Daniels Signature Series Ligatures

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Designed in collaboration with renowned Jazz icon Eddie Daniels, Signature Series Ligatures are available in Carbon Fiber and Gold for Bb Clarinet, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone and Soprano Saxophone. 

The Carbon Fiber series ligature offers players a new choice in optimizing their instruments sound producing characteristics, while the Gold series ligature removes sound production boundaries and offers players a new freedom of expression. The  innovative “air channel” design offers unique reed holding pressure points, resulting in a greater sense of balanced overtones and warmth in tone. 

“These ligatures enable me to hear myself better and make my reeds come to life!”  - Eddie Daniels

Eddie Daniels is that rarest of rare musicians who is not only equally at home in both jazz and classical music but excels at both with breathtaking virtuosity.

Artist Spotlight: Saxophonist, Tim Ries

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For this issue, Richard Boulger had an opportunity to sit down with saxophonist Tim Ries, a member of The Rolling Stones band and one of today's most sought-after musicians in the industry.

RB: Where and when did you first get involved with music?

TR: I was surrounded by music early in my childhood, as my father was a trumpet player and my mother and three sisters played piano. There was always a lot of music in the house and everybody sang. My father was very good at harmonizing, so my sisters would sing the melody while he sang the harmony. I gravitated to him singing harmony early on and as I got older I would start singing the bass.

My father played in a band on weekends and he would take me to his gigs. Afterward, the band would come back to our house and my mother would cook food before a jam session took place, which sometimes lasted until 5-6 in the morning. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and play the trumpet, so I started playing trumpet. I also wanted to play piano but never took piano lessons. I remember I would listen to the piano instructor teach my sisters, who weren't really interested in playing piano but, meanwhile, I was.

My father would come home after his day job and he would sit at the piano and improvise and play these melodies. When he finished playing and got up, I would sit down and try to imitate what he did just playing by ear. I remember going to one of my dad's gigs and I saw a saxophonist play the tenor and thought, 'I want to play that.' So that's how it started for me. I started playing in his band when I was 10 and started on the C Melody, because I could play the piano music. I got an older tenor saxophone from another saxophonist in his band and then eventually got a Selmer Mark VI of my own in the 10th grade.

My father thought it was important that I also study classical music, so I began taking lessons at The University of Michigan with Larry Teal and Donald Sinta. At the same time, my dad took me to jazz clubs in Toledo, Ann Arbor, and Detroit where I began sitting in with great local musicians, many of whom were amazing Motown players.

Following high school I enrolled at North Texas State (now The University of North Texas) and studied with some great teachers like Rich Matteson, Dan Haerle, and Jim Riggs, where I received my Bachelor's degree. I moved back to Michigan following graduation with the ultimate intention of moving to New York City, but a chance encounter with my old professor Donald Sinta (the Professor of Saxophone at the University of Michigan), led to my enrolling at Michigan where I earned a Master's Degree in classical saxophone and composition. Donald Sinta is a true master and guided me with complete brilliance not only in the classical repertoire but also sharing with me his ultimate concept of playing music on the highest level of artistry.

When I finally moved to New York City in 1985, I became good friends with Michael Brecker. A decade later I moved to Westchester County where Michael lived and we began practicing together in his basement, sometimes for hours at a time. We would both switch off between playing drums, saxophone and piano.

Being in the room with Michael was somewhat like being in the room with Donald Sinta, in the sense that someone who is that passionate about music makes you feel like you are with some Buddha-like person. You're drawn into that energy and you leave the room saying, "Ok, I gotta practice."

Michael would constantly be trying out new saxophones, mouthpieces, and reeds that companies would send him and he wanted my feedback. That was my original introduction to Les Silver when Michael received a saxophone from Les. This was the early stages of the present-day Virtuoso saxophone. Following Michael’s passing, Les Silver learned of my close relationship with Michael and that I was going to Michael's house and practicing with him and that I knew the instrument. Les called me and asked me if I'd be interested in coming over and trying the horns and seeing what I thought about them. To his surprise, I told him I had already played the horn. It is very interesting how the cosmos works and how things happen for a reason.

RB: Do you have a daily practice routine to maintain your sound, facility and overall musicianship on your instrument?

TR: I don't have a typical routine. There were periods of time when I developed a routine when I first went to school at North Texas. I made detailed graphs for myself because of my busy schedule with classes and rehearsals that included which instrument I would play during specific breaks. As I got older and started doing gigs with a band, I had to practice the music for that band. There was a period when I was playing with Donald Byrd, at which time I was transcribing John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter solos. Donald heard that I was transcribing them but told me, "You have to transcribe yourself — that's what 'Trane did." With that advice, I began recording myself almost every day and I'd practice for ten to fifteen minutes and listen back while critiquing my playing. While listening back, you're asking yourself, 'How is my pitch?' 'How is my time?' I just played something that's interesting, so I would transcribe what I thought was more unique to me and what was my language. I could spend my entire life trying to sound like Coltrane, Michael Brecker, or Bird — any of the masters — but I would still always be a second-rate Coltrane, etc. I still want to learn from them, but you then have to learn from yourself. What is it that you are playing on your instrument that is uniquely you that you are hearing? So that's how I started transcribing myself and picking apart what's unique to me.

RB: What are some core principles and basic building blocks you could offer to students learning to improvise?

T.R: It's a life-long learning process but on a basic level, it's about learning any foreign language — you have to listen to it a lot to be able to articulate it. In other words, if you want to play jazz, you have to listen to a lot of jazz. Sometimes while conducting a clinic I'll ask students, "Who do you listen to?" Through listening, you begin to emulate the musicians you admire. For me they were Dexter Gordon and Stanley Turrentine. They were my early heroes because their music was very accessible and I could get at it way more than say late Coltrane or late Wayne Shorter. Since I liked trumpet, I listened to Miles Davis, Chet Baker, and Clifford Brown. Louis Armstrong was my first hero because my dad had Louis Armstrong albums. Then make the decision you are going to practice, transcribe and imitate your heroes. So that is one of the first steps and the technique comes through that. Michael Brecker told me how Bob Berg could take a Coltrane album, drop the needle at any point along the Coltrane solo and he could just start playing along with it. He was that brilliant and had so much in his vocabulary, so developing a vocabulary is HUGE.

Growing up in the Detroit area I was able to hear great musicians live and that impressed me greatly. My father would take me to hear Duke Ellington's band and Woody Herman's band and I'd hear these great soloists, like Paul Gonsalves. That inspires you to want to do it and eventually, you want to break out and develop your own voice.

RB: What's happening right now for Tim Ries?

TR: I’m still touring with The Rolling Stones and have been traveling often to Europe where I have been playing with a group of musicians from Budapest called the East Gipsy Band. We have an HBO documentary about this group that's going to be coming out. I also play a lot with a Flamenco dancer in Spain named Sara Baras. I've just released a CD on the "Smalls" label, "The Tim Ries Quintet, Volume 2".

I am continuing to perform concerts with the Rolling Stones project group that are my jazz and world music arrangements of Rolling Stones classic material for small-group, orchestra and big band. Finally, there is a group I have formed with members representing many countries and religions. We are going to be touring with the band and then going into schools and doing workshops with the focus on Music for Peace.

Tim Ries plays on RS BERKELEY's Virtuoso Alto and Tenor saxophones and Volare flute.