I am sure many musicians have fond memories of buying their first guitar, or keyboard, or whatever instrument they might play. I’ll confess though that I don’t really remember buying my first saxophone. I was about 10 at the time, and my parents bought me a Jupiter alto saxophone that I still play today. But I do remember, a little further into my musical development, trips to Long and McQuade to buy a new mouthpiece. Many thanks to the L&M staff for making a young saxophonist feel like a very cool and serious jazz musician as they gave me plenty of time to test-run mouthpieces of different sizes, openings and materials!
What many people don’t realize is that buying a new mouthpiece is like buying a brand new guitar. The saxophone itself amplifies and shapes the sound, but the sound is initially created by the reed and the mouthpiece, so that is what has the biggest impact on your tone.
For the last few years at the Steel City Jazz Festival we’ve tried to offer some alternative and complementary events to help people dive a bit deeper into the music. Last year we hosted talks on musicians’ health, drum and saxophone clinics, and mindfulness as it relates to music. Unfortunately this year our talk series didn’t quite work out, but I couldn’t resist highlighting a very unique development for the jazz scene in Hamilton (and beyond): the establishment of CJ Bennett Mouthpieces, a Hamilton-based custom mouthpiece maker.
CJ Bennett is my good friend, saxophonist and former festival performer Connor Bennett. Connor is an excellent musician and active member of the Hamilton music community. Over the last few years he has found a way to combine his many passions in one place, making saxophone mouthpieces, a job for which he is very uniquely and perfectly suited. I asked Connor to give us a brief overview of what CJ Bennett Mouthpieces is all about:
For a saxophonist searching for their sound, mouthpiece selection is critical. It is the most personal element of a musician’s setup and, second to the players themselves, has the largest impact on how the instrument sounds and feels. A mouthpiece colours the tone of the saxophone making it bright or dark, open or focused and will also affect how much resistance there is and how responsive it feels. Since everyone’s anatomy is different (facial muscles, tongue, throat, jaws, teeth, etc), finding a mouthpiece that works just right for an individual is a challenge.
This challenge is what inspired me to start making mouthpieces for saxophones. I wanted to learn how the internal geometry and form of a mouthpiece relates to an individual’s anatomy and how these relationships can work together to help a musician realize their sonic vision.
Each time I have collaborated with a musician on a mouthpiece design, I have learned more about these formal relationships and truly how personal the craft is. What can work very well for one player can be completely off for another. This surely keeps the work I do exciting and dynamic!
You can see more examples of Connor’s work and learn more about the process on his website (cjbennettmouthpieces.com) and can reach him on Instagram or at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. I strongly encourage any saxophonists looking for a new mouthpiece to give CJ Bennett Mouthpieces a look!