In the winter of 1990, Ben went to Loyola University New Orleans’ Jazz Festival to hear a saxophonist named Phil Woods. His high school band director had recommended he go hear Mr. Woods since Ben had expressed a significant interest in saxophone playing. Upon first seeing Mr. Woods, Ben stated, "I simply saw a greasy haired older man, aged beyond his years, wearing a hat indoors who even at a distance smelled rather strongly of cigarette smoke." But while Ben--a thirteen-year-old in his infinite wisdom at the time--so maturely objectified Mr. Woods’ appearance and smell, that older man walked across stage, picked up his his gold-plated Selmer (Paris) Mark VI alto saxophone with his Meyer 5M mouthpiece and two-screw ligature, and began to play. Ben had never heard anything quite like it and was hooked.  He was enamored by Mr. Woods’ sound, his articulation, and his phrasing. Up to that point, the saxophone was David Sanborn and Kenny G’s tool in Ben's mind, but this old guy was blowing his mind. He picked up this 35-year-old saxophone and mouthpiece and blew the roof off the auditorium. What could possibly explain that guy’s playing? So, on his car ride home, Ben so astutely determined that he played so well partly because he had the right equipment. Yes, we know--an incredibly keen observation for someone who had just missed Mr. Woods’ pithy statements on equipment in the workshop prior to the performance. And while Ben did decide to start practicing more, he also became obsessed with equipment.

 

About 18 months later, during the early-summer of 1991, Ben attended Loyola University’s Jazz Band Camp where his love and passion for jazz and the saxophone was cemented. Ben became infatuated with the tenor sound of Tony Dagradi, who was testing some Ralph Morgan Mouthpieces and Dave Guardala reeds at the time. And of course, by the end of camp, Ben was playing a Morgan Excalibur with Dave Guardala reeds on tenor. Ben's affection for Tony’s playing and Ralph Morgan’s mouthpieces continues to this day. (Ben firmly believe that Ralph Morgan’s mouthpiece designs along with the hard rubber used in his pieces are among the finest available.)


In the summer of 1993, Ben attended the Eastman summer jazz program. Ben studied with saxophonist Aaron Drake during this time and was amazed with his dedication, focus, knowledge of mouthpieces, and knowledge of ceramics. At the time, Aaron was playing on a Dave Guardala mouthpiece and BARI plastic reeds on tenor, and Ben felt Aaron sounded fantastic. Apparently, Aaron had studied with Dave Liebman, who at the time played BARI reeds. Aaron was also working with ceramics in creating interesting flute concepts. Of course not much time passed before Ben too was playing BARI reeds (as well as the proud owner of a Shakuhachi flute).

 

Upon returning home that same summer, Ben started tampering with saxophone mouthpieces. Ben was religiously following Ralph Morgan’s articles in the Saxophone Journal and placed several phone calls to Mr. Morgan for assistance in his effort to learn about mouthpieces, facing curves, and refacing. Around that time, when the assistance of his grandfather, a mechanical engineer, Ben refaced an Otto Link STM, which played much better after his efforts. Ben was quite surprised how simple the actual act of refining a curve is, but Ben was frustrated on how difficult crafting a tip rail was. To Ben, mouthpiece refacing was more about correcting factory errors than trying to change his sound/tone. It was an undesirable necessity because, according to Mr. Morgan, the hand craftsmanship of the prior years had seemingly vanished. Ben's refacing efforts took a long pause at that point because he had his mouthpieces. On tenor, Ben had his Selmer S80 C*, my Morgan Excalibur, and his Otto Link STM, and on alto, he had my Dave Guardala BeBop, a Morgan Excalibur, and a couple of Selmer S80s.

 

Ben spent the next several years studying and playing the saxophone “part-time,” having decided to minor in saxophone performance as an undergraduate, but he did not want to be a “full-time” player.

 

In 2006, after a seven-year pause from the saxophone, Ben again began playing and studying saxophone and clarinet and their mouthpieces. In 2008, Ben began having “phone visits” with Dr. Paul “Doc” Tenney, and a five-year relationship with a master mouthpiece artisan began.