Stan Sulzmann - Saxophone

David Gallant talks to the saxophonist about how he got started, the instruments he has played over the years and his all-time favourite choice

“Jazz was extremely un-cool when I started out,” says Sulzmann. “It was the time of rock and pop – the Beatles and the Stones. And it was only when I joined the original NYJO, then called the London Youth Jazz Orchestra, and met other likeminded young people who loved jazz that I thought, well, I’m not that odd after all!”

Sulzmann started his playing career when he was just 16. “I joined the Palais Band at Wimbledon Palais as one of Mike Rabin’s Demons. We played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays opposite the ‘stars’. It was considered to be a big venue in those days, holding about 1,500 people. It was also a rough place and there were a lot of mods and rocker punch ups. Then when I was 17 I started playing with rhythm and blues bands at the Flamingo club in Wardour Street. Georgie Fame had a great band, as did Graham Bond, Brian Auger and of course John Mayall.”

Sulzmann clearly got an early start in music. “I guess so. My dad was a semi-pro pianist and accordionist in the 1940s in Islington playing in pubs and parties and doing coach trips, so he kind of encouraged me. When I was a kid I had a recorder and a melodica and then when I was 13, my dad bought me my first sax. I remember going into the Selmer shop on Charing Cross Road and coming out the proud owner of a Selmer Super Action Tenor.”

At school Sulzmann wanted to play the French horn. “But there weren’t enough instruments to go round. So as a consequence, I wasn’t allowed to take music at school. I actually got on very well with the music teacher Ed Semmons, who helped me post-school to learn enough theory to get me into music college as a mature student when I was 20. [Sulzmann went to the Royal Academy.] The only practical sax lessons that I had were on a private basis from a pro player called Terry Porter, who taught me for three years.”

So is Sulzmann still playing his Super Action? “Sadly not. I was foolish enough to trade it in during my early teens for a new Mk6 with a bright blue S

on the crook – just like on the record sleeves. My teacher Terry got me a Boosey and Hawkes 926 clarinet, but I never ever got to grips with that. I tried loads of mouthpieces and reeds, but I could only play well enough to get by and in truth, it was a great relief to hang it up some years ago after years of torture. I think it’s such a beautiful instrument, it just has to be played well. I had more luck with the flute. My first ‘good’ flute was one of the first Muramatsus brought in from Japan – and I still have it. I bought a great hand- made Jack Moore later in life, but sold it to pay for my Big Band CD Birthdays Birthdays on Village Life. I’ve had a Mk6 Soprano and a Series 2 and my present Soprano is a Selmer 80 series 3 which works just fine.

“I’ve had quite a few Selmer tenors, mostly Mk6s. One very good one got trashed in a car accident along with me about 25 yrs ago. Now I have a 1960s Mk6 with silver keywork that makes such a beautiful sound. A very close friend and wonderful player found it for me. I also have a wonderful ‘bastardised’ alto flute that I bought from Keith Bird. It’s an Armstrong silver plated with a head joint made by Albert Cooper and right hand tone holes redrawn by Cooper. It looks a total mess, but plays wonderfully.”

As for mouthpieces and reeds for the tenor Sulzmann now uses a copy of his “very old 7-star Rubber Link” made for him by Ed Pillinger as the original was wearing out. He has, he says, “an old-style Selmer soloist opened up to around F/G on the soprano. As for reeds, I now use 2H Rico Jazz Select on both, as I’ve had to make adjustments because of dental work.” There’s little doubt that Sulzmann himself now influences the style of younger players, but who influenced him? “Just a few,” he chirps. “Getz, Sims, Stitt, Rollins, Desmond . . . how many more do you want? But I really loved Stanley Turrentine’s playing, and I still do.”

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