Ingrid Laubrock - Saxophone

“So you want to know about my saxophones,” says Laubrock, her rich dulcet tones characterised by a clear Munster lilt. Growing up in a musical family, “my mother and father were both music teachers”, certainly helps to put you on the musical track.
“Yeah, my dad played piano and my mother sang in various choirs,” says Laubrock. “I started playing the piano from seven years onwards. That was the main instrument that I played, but I also sang in choirs and played the recorder. When I was at secondary school, I was fortunate to have a very dedicated music teacher who led the big band, several choirs and orchestras – it was a really big feature of my school. In fact he was also an active musician.”
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Laubrock also benefited from a committed music teacher in the latter part of her school career. “We had a music teacher who was trying to get us interested in different types of music, like jazz and rock”, she says. “And he would also record things with us and we put a band together. We were reading, harmonising and analysing classical music as well. I also remember listening to a lot of free jazz without really knowing what it was.” Laubrock has clearly had a thorough grounding in all things musical.

So how did she first get to pick up the saxophone? “From the tenor recorder I guess,” she says. “I was self taught really, I kind of scrambled through. Then after about three years I had some lessons”. Does Laubrock remember that first instrument? “Sure”, she says with a wry chuckle. “It got run over by a bus and ended up kind of two dimensional, like a sheet of paper”! How had she come by it in the first place? “Well, my music teacher picked it up from a member of the Ivory Coast military marching band”, she says, “I think he picked it up pretty cheaply. It was a silver alto super balanced action… and pretty battered. It’s followed me around ever since – after all, it doesn’t take up any space!”

Having finished school, Laubrock spent six months in Berlin, before deciding to put down roots in London. “I played a lot of gigs in cafes and restaurants,” she says. “I busked a lot and did some Brazilian gigs, dance music and did a few masterclasses with David Liebman [1997-98], and then in 1999 I did a post grad at the Guildhall School of Music.” So what had replaced the squashed silver horn? Laubrock reminds me that she is “not a big equipment person”, then continues. “I bought a Yamaha alto – I think it was a 32’ [but she’s not sure]. “Then in ‘93 I got a Yamaha soprano – the one with the interchangeable necks. However, when I was in New York I bought a King that was made in 1928. It was partly out of tune, but it had a really lovely sound and it kind of taught me about the character and quality of sound. By comparison, I would say the Yamaha is quite clinical but the change over to an old instrument was for me something that felt really good. Eventually I switched to a Selmer Mk6 alto and then bought a Selmer Mk6 tenor – but that was a late one – I think early 70s. Then in 97-98 I exchanged the tenor for a Selmer super balanced action.”

The tonal characteristics of a saxophone come not only of course from the instrument itself, but also from the mouthpiece and the choice of reed. “I use different mouthpieces on every instrument”, confirms Laubrock. “I have a 7 star ebonite link on my alto, an 8 star vintage metal link (from the 60s) for my tenor and I have a Freddy Gregory ebonite for my soprano.” And as for the reeds? “For my alto and soprano I use Harry Hartmann 3 medium fibre reeds. For my tenor I use Rico Royal Jazz select – 3 soft.

So how, I wondered, had Laubrock come to Yanigasawa – after all, she is one of their endorsees. “Originally I wanted to get a Selmer Mk6,” she confesses. “But when I bought it, I could not get on with it. The tuning… well just everything, it just seemed like too much hard work. I didn’t want to go back to the Yamaha, and I tried a Yanigasawa bronze – one of the S992 range, which is quite warm sounding and it was very easy to play. It has interchangeable necks. I like the curved necks because it seems that they make the sound warmer. About three years ago I had a special neck made out of very thick brass by Stephane Bosgen. It’s made the sound a lot heavier and darker than the standard curved neck and it really makes a big difference.”

Curious as to what a 2D saxophone looks like, I ask if I can see the silver super balanced alto. “I’ve given it to Freddy Gregory,” she says, sensing my obvious disappointment. “He recently retired to Spain and one of his retirement projects was to fix that saxophone up again,” she says. “He sent me some pictures of it. It’s amazing. Like a resurrection!”

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