Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Today,  I am reviewing a mouthpiece made by Aaron Drake of Drake Mouthpieces.  This  new mouthpiece is the Jerry Bergonzi model.  I have been a fan of Jerry Bergonzi’s since my first days at Berklee College of Music in Boston (1986).  Up until that time, I had only been an alto sax player.  I had bought a Couf tenor saxophone the year before after I had discovered the sounds of Michael Brecker but all I was playing at Berklee was the alto sax.  I remember talking to few friends about music and they told me about Jerry Bergonzi and what an amazing tenor player he was.  “He was the guy I had to check out!” I was told.   I remember going into the record store and buying a bunch of albums with Jerry on them (I don’t have those albums anymore but I believe there were a bunch with the words “Con Brio” and “Gonz” on them)  I took these albums home and played them endlessly for months.  I had no idea what Jerry was playing and they totally blew my young impressionable mind.

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

A few years later, I was lucky enough to study with Jerry for a year or two.  I had switched to the tenor sax after college because 9 out of 10 gig calls were for a tenor player and I wanted to be able to pay my rent………  I learned so much in those weekly lessons with Jerry!  Mr. Bergonzi is an amazing teacher and a great guy.  I used to go out with friends and fellow students to hear him play around town whenever we could.

Jerry Bergonzi has a very unique and personal sound.  His tone reminds me of a Coltrane type of sound.  To my ears it has a bright dry quality to it.  The only way I can get closer to his sound concept is by playing with much harder reeds.  To be honest, whenever I try to do that I exhaust myself.  His sound concept is very different than mine but when I heard that Drake was coming out with a Jerry Bergonzi model,  I was very interested in trying it………..

The Drake Bergonzi tenor sax mouthpiece was hard for me to review and critique because it seemed a bit hard to nail down description wise.  Most mouthpieces I try out I can pretty quickly put in a certain category.  Bright, Dark, Fat, Focused, etc……..   With the Drake Bergonzi model I found that as soon as I labeled it as dark, I found myself thinking it was bright.  As soon as I decided it was bright, it was sounding dark to me.  It had a mix of a fat spread sound that I found very focused also……………..You get the point…………  There is a quote of Jerry’s on the Drake website that I think sums it up:

“What I look for in a mouthpiece is the ability to shape the sound that I hear in my head with the ease of articulation. Drake’s mouthpieces do that for me”– Jerry Bergonzi

The key words that stick out to me are “the ability to shape the sound that I hear”.  I found myself trying to figure out this mouthpiece but maybe what I was trying to figure out was myself……(I know……really Zen right?)  I think what I was experiencing is that the sound of this mouthpiece is able to be shaped and molded so easily that I was experiencing different qualities depending how I was playing.

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

The Drake Bergonzi model was as perfect as I have found all of Aaron Drakes mouthpieces to be.  The tip, rails,table and baffle were all immaculate.  Everything was even and symmetrical.  The baffle sloped down perfectly into a large chamber.  The craftsmanship was superb.

After hearing Dave O’Higgin’s advice on Sax on the Web, I decided to try an 8* version of the Drake Bergonzi model.  I usually play 7*-8 tip openings but Dave told me that he was playing 7*’s also and he felt the 8* was perfect for him.  I think the 8* was indeed a good choice for me.  It didn’t feel huge to me but was easy to get used to.

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

It took me a while to dial in the reed choice for this mouthpiece.  I tried a variety of reeds and brands.  I found that Rigotti Gold 3’s, Rico Jazz Select 3M’s, and Vandoren Java 3’s played well on the Bergonzi 8* but I found that the sound was very different than what I go for.  It leaned more towards a Bergonzi type of sound with those harder reeds. The harder the reed the brighter and drier I felt the sound got.  This isn’t a bad thing in the least but it just isn’t my sound on the tenor.   If you are going for a Bergonzi type sound I really think this mouthpiece will get you there with a 3-4 reed………

I finally locked in my reed choice when I tried an Ishimori Woodstone 3 reed on it. The Woodstone 3 reeds are a bit softer and more easy blowing than the other  size 3 reeds I had tried but it wasn’t as soft as the 2 1/2’s.

It played easy enough to get a clear vibrant sound but offered enough resistance that I could push against to shape the sound.  I tried all the Rigotti Gold 2 1/2 sizes also but those just felt too soft for this saxophone mouthpiece.

Vintage Selmer Soloist Alto Mouthpiece

This is the description of the Drake Bergonzi model from the Drake website:

This model has been developed through a close collaboration between Aaron Drake and Jerry Bergonzi.  It has taken over two years to refine the various design elements incorporated in this model.  The fundamental design is based on Jerry’s personal EB from the 1960’s.  The classic “crescent” shaped baffle transitions to a re-calibrated floor contour and ultimately a round large chamber.  The tip and side rails are finished to the exact specifications that Jerry prefers – this slightly wider contour helps to generate a thickness and stability in the sound and attack.  The addition of the banding on the shank helps to focus the core vibrational frequencies and generates greater projection.

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

Now the hard part, trying to describe the sound.  I did feel like the tone was darker in the lower register.  It got brighter as I went above second octave A.  The tone was very thick, full  and had a dry aspect to it to my ears.   It was very easy to play in the altissimo and to get around the horn.   I would actually say that the altissimo was much easier to play than many other Otto Links and “Link” type mouthpieces I have reviewed on this site.   It was very easy to play fast and the tone was smooth and even around the horn.

The 8* also had a lot of room to be pushed.  It could play really loud and full.  I felt that the more air I put into it the bigger and more focused the sound got. The intonation was great and within normal limits.

I will say that you should take these words on sound as just words and opinions of mine.  The true test is to listen to the clip below and to judge for yourself.  I have run into sax players that say a sound is dark when I think it is bright, or they say it is so focused when I think it is spread sounding so………..listen to the clip and decide for yourself what words describe the sound.

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

I really enjoyed playing this Drake Jerry Bergonzi Tenor mouthpiece.  If you like the sound and look of this mouthpiece you can try contacting Aaron Drake to see if you can try one yourself.  Here is the website for the Drake Bergonzi saxophone mouthpiece.

Let me know what you think in the comments below.  Thanks, Steve

Drake “Jerry Bergonzi” Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece

 

 

 

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Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 25 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.

Comments

  1. Great review steve, this mouthpiece to my ears had more
    warmness and a fuller midrange area than the christlieb model.
    Did you find this model enough versatile for many styles or you
    think is a strictly jazz model?

  2. Nice review and playing (of course). I have had a Drake Bergonzi 8* since the end of last year. I have never got on with HR pieces but This mpc is just great, easy to play all over the horn, classic sound, very well made and I think value for money. I use RJS 2M, as anything harder, for me, although fine to play, just tire me out too quickly. I guess I just don’t play enough!!

  3. Hi Steve, thanks for another great review! Could You give a short comment concerning the difference to Aaron’s Son of Slant?

  4. Pan,
    I would use it for Jazz although it does have enough power and oomph to lean over into other styles of music I think. Even with the power though, it still is darker than I like for Rock and funk playing. The Christlieb had more brightness and edge to it.

  5. Walter, It’s been years since I played the SOS mouthpiece. I can’t really remember how it played for me. I guess the best thing to do is to listen to the clips and see what differences you can hear. I know Aaron has another Son of Slant piece out with a bigger chamber than the original SOS I reviewed years ago……..

  6. I was just about to email you to ask for a review on this one when I checked the site and there already was one! Do you plan on keeping it? How does it compare to your EB? Next to the Gerber this is my favorite HR piece on your website for me.

  7. Austin, The Jerry Bergonzi is brighter than my EB link. I bit more focused than it also. The EB has a more spread sound to it. I didn’t keep the JB as I always tend to go with metal mouthpieces for some reason. I think because I like how focused they are in general.

  8. Nice review Steve.

    The piece sounds pretty at home when you play it and you definitely personify it and give it your own flare.

    How does this stack up to the countless other pieces you’ve tried over the years?

  9. Thanks Machado, I liked it a lot. It is up there with my favorites for hard rubber. I usually lean towards metal mouthpieces on tenor but if I went to hard rubber I would consider getting one. Maybe in an 8 tip opening.

  10. Hello Steve, keep up the good work. Steve I’m just wondering if you can do a review on a metal Tenor Brancher( made in France) mouthpiece.
    Their featured on the SaxForte web site. The owner of the site is a sax player and he speaks very highly of this mouthpiece. He’s very easy to talk to and has been around the block a few times.
    The problem is that you can not hear on his web site what the piece sounds like.
    Thank you,
    Angelo – L.I., N.Y. Tenor/Soprano

  11. No, I’ve never tried a Brancher mouthpiece. Sorry……..

  12. Larry Weintraub says:

    Steve: The Jerry Bergonzi HR mpc sounds very good, very Linl like. You said it was based on Jerry’s Early Babbitt HR Link. Do you know which mpc Jerry really plays? I’ve seen videos and it definitely looks like he’s playing a HR Link.

    Btw- just incase you don’t know or other people don’t know a Early Babbitt Link is really a FL Link. The mpcs were made and faced in FL by Ben Harrod. He had sold Otto Link mpcs to Babbitt. The EB’s were then sent to Elhart, IN from Pompano Beach, FL. Babbitt polished them, maybe did the engraving, boxed them and sold them. This was sometime in the mid-late 70’s. The mpcs that Babbitt made after the EB’s were sold were quite different than other Links made in FL and NYC. For 1 thing the length of the metal mpcs were not the same like the FL’s and NYC’s. The bigger the tip opening the longer the mpc was. He basically took a great product and ruined it. Everything was done by machine, there was no hand work at all.

    I hear with the new “Vintage” Links that there is some handwork involved, however I haven’t seen one to play.

    Like you I prefer a metal mpc and use a 60’s vintage metal FL Link 8*.

  13. Stefano says:

    Hello Steve… I happened to be the sax assistant to Jerry for a week in a Jazz festival in Orsara Italy. He had 2 mpcs EB and slant, 10 opening, and explained his views about rails and – especially – the tip.Now the big issue with reproducing those mpcs is that most folks play 7*or perhaps up to 8* (besides not being skilled as Jerry). So the imitation has to stop several steps before “the real thing” in terms of opening.

    Jerry had done a similar cooperation work before with MPC Café. I happen to own his very own piece that he sold in Italy as being a 7* thus just too closed for him. MPC Café is plastic i believe rather than HR.

    All this said, I think the Drake recording you posted has a double soul: kind of dark inthe bottom range and then crisper and perhaps a bit too dry to me in the upper stack. Always very focused. Again, perhaps too much to me. Could it be recording chain you use as well?

    I like better other essay I heard on Drake’s site and you tube, mostly I like the “son of slant” model and sound.
    Thanks for your wonderful reference work … Stefano

  14. Saxophone player says:

    If one wants to sound like Jerry, and if Jerry plays an EB, why not just buy an EB….instead of something based on an EB….. ?

  15. Well, EB’s are starting to get up in that 600-800 price range lately. A lot of players don’t want to spend that kind of money if they can get a great copy that sounds and plays the same for a lot less………… Steve

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