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Saxophone Lessons Learned

Playing through Adversity - Reeds

By Paul Navidad

"Can you do it amidst distraction? Can you make the shot when you must?" Words spoken by Kevin Costner in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to a young aspiring archer, yet extremely poignant words when applied to the aspiring working musician. - Don't miss the first part of this 2 part Sax Lesson by Paul Navidad.

Adversity and Saxophone Reeds

Reeds are another issue where adversity can rear its ugly head. I remember the days of complaining about the high reject rate per box. I remember my clarinet and oboe friends tirelessly working on reeds. I remember that I had finally found the "perfect" clarinet reed my first year of graduate school, played on it for a month, only to be disappointed when my hand accidentally came down on the mouthpiece while sitting in an orchestra pit, thus breaking the "perfect" reed.

In the world of the working musician, if you work as frequently as I do, and have as many outside interests as I do, there really is no time to spend working on reeds. Years ago, when I realized this, I made the decision to give up the oboe. Nowadays, I have a "slap-n-go" philosophy when it comes to reeds: I pull a new reed out of the box, if it works well enough, I stick with it until it wears out, and if it doesn't work well enough, I toss it. It's practical AND cost-effective.

I recently had a conversation about reeds with an old friend who is a respected professional oboist based on the east coast. Here's what he told me: "Reeds can totally take over an oboist's life. Most oboists are crazy when it comes to reeds. Me, I'm too damned lazy to be crazy. When I was a student, one of my mentors told me that he actually enjoyed my playing a little less when I started getting my reeds in shape-that I was content to have a nice sound, and not trying as hard to make something wonderful. I'd like to think that I can do both now. My old teacher told me once that he played an entire summer season on the same reed. Me, I make reeds only on an absolutely-need-to basis, which is decidedly not every day."

I remember working at a theme park back in 1999 with a battle-wearied veteran of the music world who also happened to be a sax player. One day he happened to show me the reed he had played on for a month-it was worn out and broken in multiple places, yet you wouldn't have known it by the way he was playing. I asked him why he didn't just throw it out and put on a new one. He told me that it was just out of sheer laziness. I learned from that experience that no matter how bad the reed is you should be able to play on it.

This past year, I did a couple of gigs in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a town with a base elevation of 7400 feet-more than a mile high. All of my #3 reeds felt more like #4s, but I still had to buckle down and play two shows with the equipment I had. As my friend Greg Vail says in another article: "Just shut up and blow!"

I know it sounds cliché, but I learned early on from my days of scouting to "Be prepared."

If you'll indulge me a moment to play on the words of the late, great Julian "Cannonball" Adderley . . . "You know, sometimes we're not prepared for adversity. When it happens, sometimes we're caught short. We don't know exactly how to handle it when it comes up. Sometimes we don't know just what to do when adversity takes over. And I have advice for all us." I got it from President Calvin Coolidge who wrote this passage "and it sounds like what you're supposed to say when you have that kind of problem:"

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

by Paul Navidad

Paul Navidad is active as a freelance professional musician in Southern California, but his work has taken him all over the world. He holds a Masters in Music degree with a concentration in Saxophone Performance/Jazz Studies from California State University, Long Beach. Some of his performance and recording credits include Perry Farrell, Deborah Harry, Isaac Hayes, Al Jarreau, Dave Koz, Lisa Loeb, and Lou Rawls. He has also recorded on numerous film and television soundtracks. Paul currently serves as the Director of Jazz and Commercial Music Studies at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. For more information on Paul Navidad, you can visit his website at

More Articles by Paul Navidad:

More Paul Navidad:

Playing Through Adversity - Part 1

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