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Tools of the Trade

“A musician is only as good as his horn,” said my sax teacher way back in 1965. “It’s time you got a horn you can grow into. One that will give you great service for years to come.” My teacher, Jimmy Giacone, knew what he was talking about and. Even though I didn’t have much money as a college freshman, I agreed. A few weeks later at my music lesson he opened a case and presented me with a used Selmer Mark VI. “This is the horn for you,” he said. And it was. After playing it I couldn’t help but notice the difference between a professional horn and my student model. The tone was richer, deeper and fuller. There was also a remarkable difference in its response. The notes flowed easily from low Bb to high F#.

It was a joy to play, and it could be all mine for just $350. Just? That was more than my student horn cost new. Yes, I could scrape together the money but then my pockets would be empty. It was tempting to be practical, say I couldn’t afford sax-1it, and spend the money elsewhere. Luckily, I made one of the best decisions in my life. “Yes,” I said. Jimmy smiled and said, “It’s all yours and it will be with you for years to come.” More than forty years later, my Selmer Tenor Mark VI #65313 is still going strong. Well, sort of.

Through the years I’ve had the horn serviced a few times. In the early 1990’s, after a tumultuous trip to India, Pakistan and Turkey, my horn returned battered and dented, compliments of Pakistan International Airlines. I brought it to Emilio Lyons in Boston who did a masterful job in restoring it to superb playing condition, even though my limited budget wouldn’t allow for a complete overhaul. I’ve been playing it that way ever since. With a few adjustments here and there the horn has continued to play nicely—until the past couple of years.

Maybe it was just old age, time, usage and the bumps and bruises of travel catching up with it, but I found the horn increasingly difficult to play. So, I’ve been relying more and more on my soprano sax. With its fluid responsiveness and resonant sonority that fits my particular style, the soprano became my “go to” horn. But something was missing and I realized that my old friend was languishing in its case. I needed to take better care of it, but it was easy to procrastinate.sax-2

One of the great things about moving to St. Louis is Saxquest—a cool store with everything saxophone (clarinet and flute too). They even have a saxophone museum with original Adolphe Sax instruments. At Saxquest I met George Bunk, their master vintage sax repair artisan. He handled my horn with loving care, showed me the dented imperfections and what he could do to restore the body with new rods, pads and resonators. He said my Mark VI was one of the earliest models they made and it was an incredible instrument. I left my tenor in his talented hands. A few days passed and he invited me over to his workshop to see my horn “taken apart and cleaned up.” It was an eerie experience, yet really interested to see t the essence of my instrument.

Ten days later George called to say my tenor was ready—and like new. I rushed over and played the horn. He was absolutely right! I couldn’t believe how efsax-3fortlessly it played with the sound filling the room. Low Bb came out sweet as honey, even played with a soft sub-tone. Up and down the horn the notes flowed easily. What a delight! I gave George a big hug and we chatted for a while about our careers and the joy of playing sax.

So, to George Bunk and Saxquest, a big thank you for restoring my horn to its original self. And to my sax mentor Jimmy Giacone, now in his eighties and still growing strong. He was right, of course. You’re only as good as your horn. I have a lot to live up to.

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