State Of The Art - an open discussion

Dear Greg,

Please help. I have just started playing jazz, using an Otto Link mouth piece 7* (tenor sax). I have been practicing various lines with the off beat feel and I have noticed that when I add diaphragm emphasis to get the off beat feel I notice my mouth moving slightly around the cheeks and chin. The movement is quite minimal (I have to look closely in a mirror to catch it) and I think it is the result of the increase in air on the off beats, but at the same time I am not sure if I am emphasising the off beat in the correct way or whether the movement I a getting is ok. Is what I am doing ok ? If it isn't ok, how would I fix it ?

Thanks a lot for your time

... Christian Watson


I can not reasonably answer your questions as I do not know of your musical background or current training level.

Also, the term "off beat" is one that I do not use when describing music.

Concerning the degree of mouth movement, you only need to be concerned if you have severe intonation problems or are loosing too much air. If your tone does not suffer during bouts of excessive body movement, the problem may not be that serious.

Good luck,

Greg Osby

Dear Greg,

Thank you for your reply and words of advice. I understand how difficult if not frustrating it must be to answer emails like mine, so I really do appreciate your time in responding. I have actually been playing music for about 10 years (about 4 of those seriously) and for the last 2 years I have been studying for a Bachelor of Music at a university here in Australia. I am curious as to why you don't use the term off beat. Not that I have a reason why you should :-). I am just curious. Anyway, thanks again for your help.

Best regards,



In nature, all things are asymetrical in their appearance, form and construction. Only man-made objects such as buildings, tools, machines etc. are made to be even and perfect for human usage. Documented music is a man-made crafting. Thus, the only so-called "off" beat would truly be within a 4/4 meter since it is entirely even and metrical -even militaristic in the way that it sounds and makes people respond.

This is why ethnic and folk musics from remote parts of the world are more organic and much more closely connected with nature as they remain unaffected by rigid meter, time and tempo restraints. These musics are actually attempts at the recreation of natural effects and symbolic representation. They also have much more advanced practices of interpreting the beat. There are also far more methods of emphasis and variation than in "civilized" music. This is why they have more complete metrical variants - as opposed to the painfully stiff Western divisions of 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.

This is why I do not use terms like on and off beats. I routinely superimpose compound meters within given compositional and improvisational constructs. This sounds entirely normal to me and I have issues with musicians that only adhere to the rhythmic dictates of a given format. Music should flow like water and other non-solid elements.

I hope that I have been helpful and that your question was answered.

Best regards,

Greg Osby

I would like to add an additional perspective to the "off beat" exchange

Given that time in music is relative. We can think of time in a variety of different ways. Many musicians may think of a note played in relation to the "pulse" or beat but that beat can be divided into all kinds of other beats. (a pulse could be divided by 5 6 7 9 etc) Which beat(s) within which beat(s) within even a 4 "big beat cycle" would be considered off?  For that matter, even with conventional pulse divisions (multiples of 4) in a 4/4 time one has 16 16th notes available or 32 32nd notes to place a sound. There are all kinds of ways to present assymetrical material. African and Afrocuban traditions illustrate this quite well.

I think the issue is really conventional thinking in a genre or culture that state that particular moments in time deserve more attention or emphasis than others. There are no actual restrictions on what these moments are other than our own imaginations and musicianship. We often confuse the way that we think about music with the way music sounds. The two are obviously related but we should recognize that the structure is merely a language that musicians use to communicate how to play something. It's actual musicality is something on a completely different level that requires another kind of awareness. While we may be able to see some things about a house when we see only the frame there is a lot more that we won't be able to see until it's actually been finished.

I think that when it comes to the rhythmic dimensions of music, most artists build the frame and think that their work is done. I would like to hear more people finish it.

Julian Douglas - March 2000

From: Date: Fri, 12 Mar 1999 To: Subject: What they're doing

Being as how I'm a "white" man and having grown up in a rural environment, I find that there seem to be other factors besides the obvious of things like environment, race, etc. that can turn a person around. I have an interesting history. Got started in music by listening to different kinds--from Jimmy Rogers(muleskinner blues) to Bob Wills and swing era stuff my folks and friends were listening to during the WW11 years to crossing over to Jazz. My instrument is guitar. Well, I guess of all the musicians, guitar players tend to be the most "Gypsy" often. Well I find there's a spiritual thing about music that goes beyond fads and the business and regular entertainment world. But there were less formulas in the 'old days'. Everyone sounded different. This is what has got to happen again. More openess to sounds. People want to classify everything too much. They're scared. It all goes along with not thinking for themselves. What is hip? Hell with what is hip, unless you mean hip--like 'awareness'. Things don't come out of nothing. That's what we need. Comparison is not always bad if it helps you build on your own premesis. Otherwise it's just competition more than music. The athlete Michael Jordan plays ball that great because that's the way he plays. Everyone has a frequency, something they are that needs to be manifested because of their being. To be means to manifest through expression. Thank you for letting me get philosophical here.


Greg (or staff): What is your set up? I just bought a Yanagisawa Bronze Tenor (T992). Someone said that you now play a Bronze Yani. Is that right? It would be nice to have your set up on your web page. J. Jeffrey Lambert, CFP Sacramento

I have never thought of posting my set up as I don't prefer to bring emphasis to equipment. It's too easy to get caught up in those matters when proper attention should be given to study and application. I know quite a few saxophonists who spend more time changing reeds, ligatures, and mouthpieces than practicing!

Actually, whenever I have played someone else's horn I sounded exactly the same as I always do so I am convinced that body type, oral makeup and lung capacity all impact one's sound as much as (or more) than brand of saxophone and mouthpiece.

But I will post the information since there are so many requests for it.

Vandoren A75 Jumbo Java mouthpiece w/ #3M Alexander Superial "DC" reeds

Yanagisawa alto A-9930 - (silver body, brass keys) Yanagisawa alto - bronze A-992

The bronze is darker and records better but I prefer the silver one for live performances as it cuts and projects more. For an all around horn, I would say that the bronze is a better bet. I think that Yanagisawa has set a new standard for saxophones. I am sure that you have made the best choice.

Best regards,

Greg Osby

Pat Harbison (From JazzCorner) 02-11-2000

I think that an artist's role is to tell or retell a story in his or her own words. In doing so they present their viewpoint on the subject and implicitly their view of the world, their time, and the history and tradition of the tune and idiom.

I don't need to hear someone play "Confirmation" and sound just like Bird. However, I can enjoy hearing someone tell Bird's story in their own words. I can tell if they understand Bird, if they understand Confirmation and bebop in general, and I can tell how they feel about Bird and the tune. It's like the oral tradition of passing down legends. Legends and myths grow and evolve in the retelling by each generation, incorporating each storytellers insights and perspective on a timeless archetype that contains part of the code of a culture.

Each artist is a product of their own experiences and genetics. Therefore their music is both a reaction to and a reflection of many things (including their contemporary setting).

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