Sean Packard: What was it like playing and touring with Maynard Ferguson’s big band?
Denis DiBlasio: It was great. Maynard was confident enough to feature everyone in the band. If you wanted to take a risk he was all for it as long as you kept working at getting better. He was the best. Not a day goes by where I don't think of him.
SP: What were some of your responsibilities as Maynard’s Musical Director?
DD: Arrange, compose, play bari, flute and scat a little. After I was on for about 3 years I became Maynard's musical director.
SP: Do you have any advice for saxophonists switching from alto or tenor to baritone sax?
DD: If you're talking about switching that's one thing, if you're talking about doubling where you go back and forth that's something else.
To switch just find a mouthpiece and reed set up that you can control, gives you a good sound, feels good and plays in tune. Don't fall into the game of playing a specific mouthpiece because someone you like plays it. Everyone hears and feels mouthpieces differently. Also there are a lot of factors that you don't even see such as tongue placement, throat position, posture and a host of other things that can determine what makes a mouthpiece comfortable.
To go back and forth between horns constantly is another game, (sort of). You certainly want to take into account all the above information but I suggest consistency between all setups on all the horns. Don’t go for a huge mouthpiece on one horn and an itty bitty one on another horn. Having that situation is a recipe for problems. If flute become a serious choice and I mean serious; it's the flute that will determine the right mouthpiece for the sax. If you go to flute after your chops have really gripped hard on the sax, you can bank on your good flute sound being about 10 minutes away from when you start playing the flute. The chops can't adjust quickly to the delicate flute embouchure after weight lifting on a huge sax mouthpiece.
SP: How do you maintain your chops on both bari sax and flute with your incredibly busy schedule?
DD: It's not easy. I do what I can when I can. It's important to stay consistent as possible but it’s more important to be effective and not waste time. Make sure when you practice you know what it is you're trying to accomplish. Is it learning a tune, working scales, patterns, an etude, sound, or just playing? You can spend all your time on any one of these areas. If you're not sure what to do be honest with yourself and go after what your weak points are, otherwise you will stagnate and never grow. Also do what feels good. After all you got into music because there was something about it you loved. Don't ignore that feeling. It's important that you 'feed your soul' and continue to encourage yourself. Remember, be organized!