Jeff Driskill Dood-n Tonguing
Sylvain Carton: Hi I’m Sylvain Carton, I run the Vandoren Studio here in Los Angeles and here I’ve got Jeff Driskill. Jeff do you want to say a little bit about yourself?
Jeff Driskill: Hey! So I’m a studio musician and a theatre musician and I play in the Big Phat Band and several other Grammy nominated and Grammy winning ensembles. John Daversa’s band, Chris Walton’s band, and I’ve been here in LA since 1992, woah. Making my living full time playing music, a pretty fortunate thing to do. I mean, making a living being a relative thing. (chuckles)
SC: I think you’re doing pretty well!
JD: Ya know, things are cool. I’m very fortunate, no doubt I’m doing fine now. But there were times of thin-ness.
JD: It’s been a great thing though, I’m lucky to do it for sure.
SC: Well thanks for coming down. I’ve thrown a mouthpiece on you to try out. We’ve got the V16 A6 S+ that Jeff is just trying out for the first time today. It’s a new model we have that came out this year, and what else are you playing on? What’s your reed and ligature setup?
JD: So this is a JAVA 2.5. I’ve probably been playing JAVA 2.5’s since 80-something, I mean, a long time. And I like these reeds, they’re great reeds. My approach, especially on the alto, is to take a darker mouthpiece and play a, what I would think of as, a brighter reed. Do you think that’s true?
SC: I find that JAVAs tend to be more flexible which can translate into more brightness. It depends on who’s playing and the mouthpiece.
JD: Now, I’ve always thought that too about the JAVAs that the vamp, the distance between where it starts and the tip of the reed, is shorter. Is that true?
SC: There’s a little bit less heart in the core of that reed, so yeah. It vibrates more fully, like through the reed.
JD: Right, okay. Well that’s sort of how it feels to me too. Anyway, my approach is to play that brighter reed on a darker mouthpiece. And then this is the M|O Ligature. And actually, I do use this ligature regularly, or at least semi-regularly. I like it, I was using this regularly instead of the other ligature, I actually switched to it, because these are great ligatures. The thing that’s funny, like, I think that every ligature is a little different. But this one, and you (Sylvain) told me this, works better when you crank it down.
SC: I like it, it gives you a really nice, tight seal. I mean, don’t go too far, but it does really help solidify so that it gives you a nice quick response and everything.
JD: Yeah, which is different than the other ligature I was using where I would just turn it to the point where it was barely making contact. You know, just so you could feel it kind of go, and when I did that on this ligature it just didn’t work as well. It’s interesting how those little things make a crazy amount of difference.
SC: Yeah, it’s all built of little things. Well, do you want to play for us a little?
Alto Saxophone Playing
SC: Nice, sounds great!
JD: Yeah, it’s good, I like it! You know, it’s definitely a good facing. It’s a good setup and feels very comfortable to play and I think it’d be great especially for somebody, you know, it’s hard to get people that are starting out, the mouthpiece makes such a big difference for young players.
SC: Yeah absolutely. What do you look for whenever you’re trying new equipment, new gear out? I’m guessing you don’t do that too often since you have a good setup, but what are some of the things you’re drawn to?
JD: Well, definitely not a huge baffle. Like a smaller baffle, a relatively large chamber, and something that’s not going to affect the sound too much. I don’t want something extreme that’s going to make it so that there’s only a narrow window of things that I can do with the mouthpiece, I want something that’s pretty flexible. For me, that tends to come from something that’s got a fairly big chamber, something that lets the saxophone sound...
SC: Something you can blow through.
JD: ...Yeah, you can blow through it and it’s got some darkness to it. I want the sound to have those elements from the darker parts of the sound up through the brighter parts as well, and not have it put me in one place that I can’t move it out of. You know, so much of that stuff is all internal, in your mouth, the cavity, and your airstream and all that stuff.
SC: That’s where the sound starts!
JD: Yeah, totally. So I want something that I can make…
SC: (Gestures) Continue that kind of, shape?
JD: Yeah that I feel like isn’t forcing me into one particular thing. So that’s what I look for.
SC: Is there anything else you would like to share with everybody?
JD: Well, you know, I thought I’d like to talk about just this one little technique thing that sort of seemed like it would be appropriate for this because it’s definitely reed-centric. I’m not even sure if this is the right word, I was thinking about this on the way up, but to me, everybody described it as “dood-n” tonguing, have you ever heard this?
JD: Dood-n, really?!
SC: Oh wait, I can guess what it means but go for it! I think I’m going to learn something new right now.
JD: Well after I tell you maybe you’ll know a better term for it because it’s just something I heard. It’s something that I think I do a lot, and then I think a lot of, um...
SC: I feel like I do that too. (Chuckles)
JD: But it’s a good name, dood-n, because it’s kind of what you end up doing when you do it, you kind of make an “n” sound where you put your tongue back up on the reed. But instead of when you traditionally tongue you stop the sound completely, but the idea with this is that you don’t stop it all the way. So you get a: (Demonstrates dood-n tonguing on alto saxophone). Right?
SC: Exactly, that’s what I imagined it would be.
JD: Yeah that’s what you imagined dood-n would be, is there some other term for it?
SC: I like dood-n.
JD: Dood-n. We’re gonna go with dood-n! But I hear, I definitely hear on the alto, I hear Cannonball do this a lot. Although not so much in that straight “N-duh, n-duh, n-duh.” But, there’s some famous places where you can hear players do that, and more tenor players do that, I think.
SC: Dood-n-duh? (Smiles)
JD: Dood-n-duh? (Chuckles) You couldn’t resist that, could you?
SC: (Smiling) I couldn’t, it was building up inside me!
JD: Right?! The thing I know I realize is I don’t just use that in that straight way of dood-n, dood-n, dood-n. But I use that when I’m playing a regular bebop kind of a line where I want to swallow a note because it’s a way of doing that without having to change my air stream.
SC: Yeah, and you can change the phrasing of the melody. That way you can emphasize certain notes a little bit more and, more or less, use it on a tune.
JD: Right! Em-PHA-size the different syl-LAB-le. (chuckles) A little bit about how you do it, I mean at least how I do it, I think there’s probably more than one way to do this. The way I do it, anyway, is on the tip of the reed I put my tongue on just half of it. So basically I’m closing off (points to section of his reed on the mouthpiece).
SC: Oh, you’re just muting half the reed?
JD: Yeah! I mean, some people do that to test the reed by turning your head and then you close it off that way, but I’m doing it by putting my tongue on. The thing that’s cool about that is, when I pull my tongue off it automatically emphasizes the next note. So, if I play four eighth notes, like I’m going to play F D E D, right? So I’m going to accent the first note, and then I’m going to swallow the second note by putting my tongue up there on the reed and then I’ll pull it off for the last two. Hopefully I’ll do this without…
Demonstrates dood-n tonguing on alto saxophone
JD: So that second note, I put my tongue up on the reed and then I pull it off. But when you hear somebody do that I don’t think you necessarily, as a young player if somebody doesn’t tell you, you’re thinking, “How do you do that?” If I heard that and I didn’t know I think I would assume that they were doing that with their air stream.
SC: It’s giving it that swing feel.
JD: Right, but I think it’s something that is a great thing because a lot of times with this kind of tonguing where you’re not actually stopping the reed all the way. It helps you to get that connected…. Thing. Which you hear a lot of young players not do or they go: dee-YUT, dee-YUT, dee-YUT. Instead of: dee-ya, dee-ya, dee-ya, where it’s all connected. And if you don’t actually stop the sound completely, it obviously helps you get that. So it’s a really, the other thing that I was thinking about this, is that it’s a really small amount of tongue. It’s a small amount of pressure that you need in order to make that happen and my tongue stays, when I’m playing, my tongue stays pretty close to the reed, so I can do that.
Demonstrates dood-n tonguing on alto saxophone
JD: Does that make sense? Can you hear what I’m…
SC: I do, it really mutes it a little bit but the sound is still coming through. Is there a way that you practice it? How would you suggest practicing? Or maybe experimenting bringing your tongue closer to the reed?
JD: You definitely have to experiment. For some people, like for me, it’s easier to do it on the left side of the reed, but for some people it probably is easier on the right side and I’ve heard people say that they do it in the middle. I don’t even know… (Tries various dood-n tonguing on alto saxophone). Which I think you could kind of do that by just putting your tongue this way (Points to area on the reed). Not very much, but I know that I cut off half of it and do it that way, so I think it’s one of things you’ve got to experiment with and figure out, first, what works in terms of the geometry of your mouth, you know, and how you naturally play. It’s definitely worth doing because I think it really takes your ability to phrase to another level. I mean, do you think you do that? Do you use a little bit of that?
SC: I do. I think when I do it, I do it more in the middle though. I do kind of like, (demonstrates with finger and tongue) not with the tip of my tongue but kind of a little further in, and then just lightly articulating. But I’m going to experiment with putting it on the side because I think you can get a little bit more volume but that still-muted sound.
JD: Yeah maybe so. I don’t know, anyway, I thought it was a cool reed kind of a thing and something that maybe you wouldn’t figure out. It would be difficult, I think, to figure that out just by listening.
SC: Yeah, you hear that sound and it’s like, “How’s that happening?”
JD: I was also trying to remember how I learned that, like who showed me, I’m pretty sure it happened while I was at school but I don’t remember who it was. It’s amazing the stuff you’ll know.
SC: Well thanks! Do you have any projects you’re working on? Or what do you have going on, what’s on the plate?
JD: Well, in terms of work, I just finished doing a six week run of a show. Amelie was the show and I played flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, and bass flute.
SC: Just a couple instruments!
JD: (Chuckles) Yeah! Well, the more the merrier! Yeah it was crazy because I played the bass flute every night for six weeks and I felt pretty confident that I was probably the most prolific bass flutist for those six weeks, right?! Nobody else was playing the bass flute as much as me. I just finished doing that and I have a few little studio jobs and things that are coming up. Some award shows; I have an award show that I do every year that I put together the musicians for and do all that, it’s just a smaller awards show, you know, the Cinema Editor’s Show. And then I’m going to play on the Oscar’s again this year which is a huge honor, really, very cool.
SC: Cool! Yeah that’s great!
JD: Yeah! I’m still (chuckles) working on the saxophone quartet record.
SC: Which I’m looking forward to, by the way.
JD: Yeah, I’m hoping that’s going to come out sometime in the first part of this year so, you know, it’s one of those things where my schedule gets busy and it gets pushed to the back of my things between family and everything else, it’s hard to keep all these things rolling. Hopefully that will come out and people will be able to check it out.
SC: Well thank you so much for coming by, Jeff!
JD: Aw, thanks for having me Sylvain I really appreciate it man. Long time Vandoren supporter, it’s great stuff!
SC: Jeff Driskill everybody!