Finding the Right Tool for the Job

Advice from Alex Graham

Date Posted: August 29, 2016

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Alto saxophonist Alex Graham has performed with a wide variety of artists from Diane Schuur to the Temptations. His groups have performed at festivals and clubs nationally and have opened concerts for Dave Brubeck, The Count Basie Orchestra, and John Pizzarelli. His latest CD on Origin Records, Brand New, was ranked in the top 50 nationally for airplay. Dr. Graham is an Assistant Professor of Saxophone at Belmont University in Nashville, TN.

What do you teach at Belmont University?

Alex Graham: "As an Assistant Professor of Music at Belmont University in Nashville, TN, my primary responsibilities include teaching our saxophone studio, and directing several of our small and large jazz ensembles. Belmont has a fantastic school of music, and Nashville provides a diverse musical environment for young musicians looking for opportunities to start their careers. It's not uncommon for my saxophone students to be as equally engaged in learning standard classical repertoire as they are in playing jazz and a multitude of contemporary commercial styles, so my work keeps me on my toes!

What is your philosophy on equipment?

AG: In a saxophone studio as varied as ours, finding the correct setup can be challenging. Students at Belmont are often simultaneously challenged with playing classical repertoire (solo and chamber), jazz (small groups and big band), and popular styles (R & B, Funk, Rock, etc.). As such, I always insist that my students endeavor to find the right equipment for the right job. This can be more difficult for some students at first because switching frequently between different reeds and mouthpieces requires different voicing and sound concepts. However, it gives them more flexibility as performers, and hopefully gives them the best chance to success when the right opportunity presents itself.

What products do you recommend for your students?

AG: For mouthpieces, I recommend the V16 (A6/T6) for jazz, and A20 for classical. For reeds, I prefer Java (green box) and standard Vandoren reeds (blue box). I have been using the M|O ligature for all of my set-ups, and find it to be the most responsive ligature on the market today. All of these products are easy for students to start on, and provide the performer with the maximum amount of flexibility in regards to tone color, dynamics, range, and intonation.

Alex Graham is a Vandoren Regional Artist, whose goal is to enhance the quality of the music experience in your school. To learn more about the program and request a free clinic, please go to the Regional Artist page.

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