Tim Garland - Saxophones

Thursday, October 30, 2008

“I was writing music before I was playing it,” Tim Garland says. “I used to get so incredibly impatient writing everything down. Then when I was about 16, I found there were people who actually specialised in making it up. That’s when I fell totally in love with jazz.” Garland started playing the piano aged six. “I went through all the grades,” he says, his tone reflecting his clear lack of interest. “Then when I was 14 I started playing the clarinet.” He ploughed through all those grades as well, “then I got a D in A level music,” he says, laughing, “but I still got offered places at the Royal Academy and the Guildhall. In the end I chose the Guildhall, because it seemed at that time to be more interested in jazz and I was veering towards that freedom and spontaneity.” He stayed there for four years, majoring in composition.

Garland then explains the story of how he first picked up a saxophone. “I think it was when I was 16. One bonfire night I was given a Yamaha 62 alto. I remember the first tune that I played on it was the Pink Panther theme – perhaps because of the influence of Tony Coe, who only lived a street away from where we were living at the time.”

Garland however didn’t take a serious interest in the saxophone until he was in his second year at the Guildhall. “I would have been about 21,” he starts. “Gradually the saxophone took over, and I blew a full term’s grant of £600 on a Selmer Mk6 Tenor which I used on the Points On The Curve album,” produced while he was still at college. He has subsequently owned three Mk6s and two Selmer super balanced tenors. “I still have one of the super balanced,” he says. “I love that saxophone”. His eyes are watering. “You know the reason,” he says, “why they can’t get the old sound any more is because the material they were using in the 40s was the same material they had used to make tanks. It was so impure, a mish-mash of all sorts of metals, so each instrument sounds slightly different. This particular horn has a really rich, deep sound – I guess it was a really nice tank!

The bore of the old super balanced horns is a tiny bit bigger than that of the Mk6, and this also helps to give the instruments a slightly darker and warmer sound. “That’s what attracted me to the super balanced horn,” he says. “I was really looking for that darker sound. Having said that, of course, it’s all very personal because you can hear people with the darkest sound on the planet playing a Mk6.”

Garland was, as he puts it, slowly “weaning” himself off the Mk6s. Then about 18 years ago he got to play on Joe Lovano’s Borgani. “I subsequently bought one,” he says “and was blown away”. Garland made a couple of albums on the Borgani, but eventually went back to the Selmer because he couldn’t get used to it. “But Borgani kept on improving and improving,” he says.

“I now have another horn, the Joe Lovano model and they’ve made a special silver crook for me. So effectively it’s custom made. I remember when I did the first Acoustic Triangle album, it sounded different.

“I had to work quite hard on the top notes, but the bottom notes are gorgeous on those instruments. They’re really rich and warm. I’ve had it for five years now and I think I’m unlikely to change – it’s incredible. I started off with vintage instruments, but now they’re all modern, and all made by different manufacturers. These days, the Joe Lovano custom Borgani is my number one and the Selmer balanced action is my number two instrument.”

Garland doesn’t just play tenor saxophone. “No”, he says, in qualified tones. “I also play a Yanagisawa solid silver soprano sax and it’s the best one I have ever played. You know they’re really quite amazing instruments, because you can get more than one sound out of them. I use the bent crook for two reasons. Firstly, it’s got a slightly darker sound and secondly, it hangs more comfortably, because having so much silver in the body, it’s quite a heavy instrument.” Garland by now is ready to wax lyrical on his third and possibly favourite instrument, the bass clarinet.

“I started on an Eb Buffet. Not the low orchestral C, you more or less have to sit down to play one of those, which is not conducive to gigging! But now I have a gorgeous Selmer Privilege,” he says, smiling and then begins to tell the story behind the acquisition.

“I went over to Paris and Patrick Selmer took me out to lunch and then followed that by saying ‘choose the one you like’. I must have started with about half a dozen instruments, which I whittled down to three and then this one just stood out. It’s a wonderful instrument as it’s very sure footed around the middle register, which is why I bought that particular one and the wood’s really good and it travels well.” When it comes to mouthpieces and reeds, Garland likes to keep things uniform.

“On the tenor I use an ebonite 9 Link while the soprano is an 8 Link. I wanted to make the clarinet one similar, so I use an ebonite Selmer G which is quite wide. I use Vandoren Bluebox reeds on all my instruments. The reason is simple: I can always find them wherever I am in the world. I use 31/2s on the saxophones and 3s on the clarinet.” But what about the flute as there’s one laid out on the table – how many instruments does this man play? “It’s a silver Miyazawa open holed flute,” says Garland. “I use it a lot with Chick Corea.”

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