Transcending the saxophone


So What’s a Towel Mute? 

The towel mute is exactly what it sounds like it is - a rolled up bit of fabric which was initially a cotton cloth which has gotten so threadbare over the years that I've taken to adding other bits of fabric to it. This is folded and rolled up to make something that looks like a large hockey puck. It is dense enough that when placed in the bell and a low B-flat is fingered (i.e. all the holes in the horn closed thus making a complete tube) hardly any air can escape. 

The towel mute is an invention of mine which was born one day not long after moving to Brooklyn in 1994. I was living in a brownstone apartment with guitarist Brad Shepik and drummer Mike Sarin. Sometimes the only place I could practice was a tiny closet in the basement of the building which Mike had made into a little drum room. This room was really small. The walls were so close that playing the saxophone in there was simply too loud. I tried playing while wearing earplugs and even headphones but these didn't work. Finally one day in desperation I reached down and grabbed this thick cotton cloth that I kept in my saxophone case for padding and stuffed it in the bell of my horn. To my pleasant surprise it did cut down on the volume a bit depending on what notes I played but more importantly, it allowed me to make some very amazing and un-saxophone like sounds which were immediately interesting to me. It was like instantly having a completely different instrument in my hands. Over the more than twenty years since then I have developed a wide range of techniques involving the use the towel which have become a regular and important feature of my playing.