take it upstairs

over the past couple of years, the wife has been brushing shoulders with some broadway folks.  i think she is quasi-reliving the musical theater dreams of her youth, and we are the beneficiaries.  her flutey talents have enhanced multiple broadway tours that swing through our area, and we have luckily snagged cheap/free tickets to these shows.

sonja, jennifer, the richard and i all attended our first viewing of jersey boys.  sonja knows nicholas, the guy on the far right, from his dick van dyke reincarnation in mary poppins.  they played flute duets everyday during that run in dsm.  the jersey boys show was fun.  i actually knew a bunch of the songs made famous by the four seasons, humming along while chuckling at the gratuitous vivaldi one-liners.

here's the jist of it: one guy is the even-tempered bass man, one guy is the songwriter, one guy (our friend nicholas) is the muscle and hustle, and the gem of the foursome has the dreamy falsetto.  frankie valli swooned all of the girls, despite his height disadvantage.  they all hail from new jersey, minus the hot tub hijinks and spray tans.  they play their own instruments and handsomely lock into fancy moves and tight harmonies.  but the money is in frankie's descant.

i love singing in my head voice. as a kid, it meant i could sing right along with michael jackson and whitney houston (but not quite able to squeeze off those mariah licks).  my saxophone students are often drawn to the same flame, wanting to play in the altissimo.  some times it's necessary, some times it's a parlor trick.  i am slow to guide them through this because a) once they figure it out, it's all that they want to do, and b) the learning curve punishes my ears.

the best top tone saxophonists do it with ease, never hurling themselves at the upper register.  miguel zenon, chris potter, and tim berne simply extend the range of their horns.  dave binney, joe lovano, chris speed and john zorn rub some type of primal grunt/scream on stuff beyond the palm keys.  for me, the champion of altissimo is tenor saxophonist mark turner. his refined sound is hauntingly comfortable and, through the development of his altissimo range, has extended his saxophone vocabulary to further his musical language.  phenomenal stuff.

some artists rarely played up there - desmond, getz, bird. for some reason, it has become unnecessarily vogue these days to flex your upper register.  the old schoolers stuck with their defined limits, finding that freedom within structure.  i say - play high notes because you need to, not to impress somebody.  who cares how to finger a high E above the palm keys anyway?  it sounds rough.  some composers sit down with extended techniques bibles and try to include all sorts of stuff, seemingly in an effort to create a ridiculously challenging piece that is thirstily waiting for it's world premiere.  i get rascher wanting to push the altissimo stuff, but that was 80+ years ago.  move it along, folks.

as far as r&b guys soaring into the stratosphere, some of my favorites include songwriter extraordinaire babyface, shalamar's own howard hewitt, the incomparable prince, the debonaire el debarge, and balladeer al b. sure.  the latter two are both on permanent falsetto, and join forces with tour-de-force james ingram and face-for-radio barry white on the quincy jones classic "secret garden".  sho ya right.

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