Whoa!! Michael Brecker Performing on a Hard Rubber Tenor Saxophone Mouthpiece!!

I wanted to share this interesting video I found on Facebook this morning that was shared by Louis Gerrits who runs the website michaelbreckerliverecordings.com which is a website dedicated to the great tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker who passed away in 2007. *Louis was also kind enough to share the Michael Brecker photos in this article with me.

There are thousands of Michael Brecker videos floating around the internet but what makes this one so interesting to me is that it is the only one I have seen of Michael Brecker playing a hard rubber tenor sax mouthpiece during a live performance.

Michael Brecker Playing Hard Rubber Mouthpiece (Nice, France 2000)

Michael is reported to have played a hard rubber “Early Babbitt” 8* Otto Link refaced by Frank Wells on his CD “The Nearness of You: The Ballad Book” which he borrowed from Dino Govoni in 2000.  The Nearness of You was recorded in December of 2000 and this video is from July of 2000 so I wonder if this is the same Otto Link 8* Early Babbitt tenor mouthpiece that Brecker recorded his “Nearness of You” CD with?  Maybe he is testing it out and getting used to it?

Michael Brecker Playing Hard Rubber Mouthpiece (Nice, France 2000)-Does anyone else see two lines on the shank of this mouthpiece when looking at it closeup?

*After I posted this article, Dino let me know that Michael borrowed his Early Babbitt 8* Link refaced by Frank Wells in 2000 sometime and had it for about six years.  He told Dino he used it on the Ballads album and even thanked Dino Govoni in the liner notes (he accidentally misspelled his last name).  He returned the mouthpiece to Dino 11 days before he passed away……..

As I am a person that is quite interested in sax mouthpieces (as you can tell from this website), I am very interested in this video.  To my ear, there is an obvious difference in sound between this live video of Michael Brecker playing a hard rubber tenor sax mouthpiece and his sound and tone on his usual Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece.

Michael Brecker with Pat Metheny (Photo from Youtube Concert)

I hear the Early Babbitt as having a darker tone that seems to boost the mid frequencies more than his brighter Guardala tenor sax mouthpiece. The tone also sounds warmer, fatter and more spread than the more focused Guardala mouthpiece tone usually does.

Lastly, I do not hear as wide a variation in volume on the hard rubber Early Babbitt mouthpiece as I do on his usual Guardala tenor saxophone mouthpiece.  The Guardala seems to go from volume 1-13 and the hard rubber Otto Link seems to go from 1-8 in my opinion.  I also find the Guardala to sound thinner, brighter and edgier up in the altissimo at louder volumes whereas the hard rubber Otto Link Early Babbitt mouthpiece seems thicker and fuller to my ear.

Michael Brecker Playing Hard Rubber Mouthpiece (Nice, France 2000)-Does anyone else see two lines on the shank of this mouthpiece when looking at it closeup?

Closeup of Michael Brecker Playing Hard Rubber Mouthpiece (Nice, France 2000)-Does anyone else see two lines on the shank of this mouthpiece when looking at it closeup?

Whether this is actually Dino Govoni’s Otto Link 8* Early Babbitt saxophone mouthpiece and not another hard rubber saxophone mouthpiece is yet to be proven but since it is around the time that “The Nearness of You” was recorded,  it seems likely that it might be.   As I am a huge Michael Brecker fan and someone who is obsessed with saxophone mouthpieces, this video is extremely interesting to me.  Let me know what you think in the comments below…….    Steve


Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site Neffmusic.com.


  1. Avatar Bill Scavotto says

    Why would he have Dino Govoni’s Early Babbitt Mouthpiece?

    • Dino says that Brecker tried some of his mouthpieces and loved the Early Babbitt so much that he asked to borrow it for the Ballads album.

  2. Avatar Alexander van Rose says

    I would never have recognised the great man by sound alone. Can’t say I much like this sound regardless of whose it is and it’s just not Michael Brecker

  3. Avatar Jeff giacomelli says

    The only thing I would add is comparing the Guardala to the Ottolink it “sounds” like from an articulation standpoint the Guardala responds faster. That could be the from a shorter facing curve on the Guardala, (speculation without knowing the break), or from the Guardala being brighter and the notes sounding more crisp especially noticeable in fast passages.

  4. Avatar Paul Millard says

    Hi Steve, much prefer Brecker’s Guardala sound, even though his playing and lines are fabulous on this video I miss the edge and awesome intensity he can deliver on his regular metal mpse set up.

  5. Great find! Never saw this.
    His sound is very different on this MP.
    More of a Joe Henderson palate with mid frequencies enhanced. As you’re fully aware, a mouthpiece can alter how we play and that is evident here with Michael’s execution and ideas.

  6. Avatar Thomas Hayes says

    Wow!! Great find, Steve. Although it’s instantly recognizable as Brecker, there is a massive difference in the quality of the sound between this piece and his Guardala, to be sure. Quite honestly I think I prefer his metal Link sound from the 70s if I had to pick one but of course he sounds incredible on anything and always did. It appears to me that he struggles just a bit with the altissimo on this piece as well, probably a result of him not being as familiar with this piece.

  7. Avatar Frank Zona says

    Hi Steve, I agree with your assessment of MB’s sound on a hard rubber vs the Guardala. Of course it’s still MB, he’s so unique but I have to say that I miss what the role that the Guardala mpc contributes to his sound. Thanks for the video, it was awesome.

  8. I like his sound on the rubber piece much better than his usual sound. He should have played it more often!

  9. Avatar Mats Granath says

    Interesting! Definitely darker sounding than “regular” Brecker as you say Steve. Nice in the low end of the horn. But to me it sounds as if he’s struggling a bit with the altissimo register… well not struggling maybe.. but he usually has a lot more power and volume up there I think..as if he’s used to a better respond up there. Sound quality isn’t the best in the video so it’s a bit hard to tell. But definitely different in sound!

  10. Great to see this. What’s most interesting to me is that even though the timbre is all the softer and darker qualities you get from a HR piece, his core sound is STILL the Brecker sound showing that your sound is from your concept, not your mouthpiece. There’s one video I saw where he’s playing on a wooden neck. It’s the only Brecker vid I’ve seen where he didn’t sound good. The neck was working against him tonally and pitch wise. I don’t know if it’s still up on YT. Thank’s for posting, Steve!

  11. Avatar Dan Hitchcock says

    Whoa, very cool! I love the warmth/ thickness of sound he is getting in the lower register, although I miss the “sting” that he usually gets in the middle to upper register.

  12. Avatar Pete Pascua says

    Thanks for the video! Enjoyed it very much. I wonder if the use of the rubber Link Early Babbitt was an attempt to more closely match the tone and timbre of Pat Metheny’s guitar – especially the unison lines between the two. It may hold true as well with the warm sounds of the Hammond through a leslie amp.

  13. Avatar Mike Eipper says

    This is great!! Thanks! What I find the most interesting is all of the parts of his improvisation that rely on dynamics or tone color change seem to fall flat. Please don’t take this as me criticizing Mike Brecker…he is a personal hero. The solo on Sarah’s Touch Smokin in the pit changed my musical life. Like you said Steve 1-8 in dynamic range. The beginning of that first solo with those short little motives and the pitch smear are so much more effective on the high baffle mouthpiece IMHO. Thanks again!!

    • Totally agree Mike! Sarah’s Touch was huge for me! Brecker does this flutter tonguing thing at 2:07 of the tune at the start of his solo where he is just going up and down with the tip of his tongue hitting the reed on the up and down movement that is so cool sounding. The energy on that solo is incredible. I spent so many hours playing along with it!

  14. Ultimately everyone sounds like themselves, but it’s noticeable how the ‘edge’ (thinness) is absent in this. Personally I prefer the edgier metal pc sound to the woolier sound here, but it’s still interesting.
    Obviously Brecker dug the tone, otherwise he would not have allowed himself to be recorded using it (I imagine?)
    Great share thanks Steve.

  15. I heard from Dino Govanni on Facebook and he told me the hard rubber Otto Link that Brecker borrowed and played was an Early Babbitt Otto Link (I changed this in the review). I was mistaken when I called it a “Slant” Signature. I will say that I have an Early Babbitt hard rubber Link as well and I have been told mine is from the same mold the Slant Signature mouthpieces were from. There are some Early Babbitts that are essentially Slants and some later Early Babbitts that have a much higher rollover baffle to them from what I have seen. Steve

  16. Avatar Mike Eipper says

    Yes!!! And that out thing in ST at like 6:28 is from another world. I love all things Mike Brecker but that solo and the solo on Two Folk songs 80/81 always stick in my my Mind as quintessential Mike Brecker Godlike forward motion on simple changes. Love your content man! Thank you so much for your service to our saxophone community. Do you know if anyone ever transcribed that Two Folk song solo? It would be an incredible exercise in overtone usages melodically. Be well.

  17. Avatar IS ILFAT SADYKOV says

    Hi. Thank you for sharing. In this concert Michael Brecker also plays a hard rubber mouthpiece https://youtu.be/RSbu6CozmLQ

  18. Did you also ask Dino whether or not he knows if this is his mouthpiece?

    • Yes, he can’t know for sure if this is his mouthpiece in this video but he lent his EB Link to Brecker around this time and Brecker used it on the Ballads album. Brecker thanks Dino in the liner notes of the album also. Brecker had it for like six years and gave it back to Dino 11 days before he passed. He told Dino that he played it often over those years…..

  19. He seems to be struggling and the mouthpiece doesnt seem to be responding the way he wants it to. It also doesnt sound even throughout the horn. Interesting though.

  20. Thanks for sharing this amazing and awesome vid, Steve. I’d ask for more! Very interesting and accurate points of views of you all. But one question just hit my mind: what would be better to listen to: MB best ever solo with an EB HR mpce or an average solo (let’s say brilliant, anyways) with his inseparable Guardala?

  21. Avatar IS ILFAT SADYKOV says

    Steve, this picture is from concert on 2000 in Nice, Paris https://images.app.goo.gl/Z1YtboaMp1tS4ZgV7

  22. Avatar Michael Hutchings says

    Hi Steve,I have had and enjoyed The Ballad Book C.D. for a long time now, (probably from when it was released) and do not think MB was using a hard rubber on those recordings. In the liner notes Michael does not specifically thank Dino Govoni for the use of this mouthpiece, he is just listed in a long line of credits including (two names later) Dave Guardala. The EQ on this TVE (Television Espana) recording could be very badly set, but I think that MB used his usual Guardala on The Ballad Book. Best Wishes from Spain, Mike Hutchings.

    • Michael, Dino says that Brecker told him himself that he played his hard rubber Early Babbitt Link on that album. There is also a photo of the hard rubber mouthpiece in the liner notes of the album and Brecker thanked Dino in the liner notes by name which Dino says was for letting him borrow the mouthpiece.

      I also found this quote online:

      “I remember reading an interview with Mike Brecker after he recorded “Nearness of You: The Ballad Book” where he said that he used a hard rubber mouthpiece for the album, instead of his usual one, because he liked the tone and thought it was more appropriate to the music he was playing.”

      Also, Patrick Boone on Facebook posted this:

      “In December 2003, Mike personally told me that on his Ballads album, he played an Otto Link HR 7* “with some adjustments”. All songs but one were recorded with the Link HR. One was recorded with his metal Guardala. He told me the tune he used the Guardala on. Can you hear which one? 🙂 If he hadn’t told me I don’t think I could have guessed.”

      If I did more research I could probably come up with more proof that he used a hard rubber Link for that recording so I think you are most likely wrong in your assumptions that Brecker used his Guardala on that recording. Steve

  23. Hi Steve, IS ILFAT SADYKOV was correct. Mike played the same mouthpiece in Nice. July 25 2000.

  24. Steve,
    Glad to see the photos. This seems to confirm something for me about the sound. In the video I thought I had seen a side-positioned microphone, which I now see is clearly present in the photos you’ve added from the video and the outdoor concert. My best guess as to why Brecker sounds so odd on the video is not just an eq thing. I have a theory that the bell-positioned mic (where you would hear more clarity) might be much lower (if not muted) compared to this side mic. If you listen to the album, it’s clear that there are different colors than we’re use to hearing from Michael’s horn but you still hear the core and nuance of his sound. From the side, you would be less likely to hear these nuances and instead hear the inconsistent boxiness/tubbiness of the indirect sound source and the tone coming from the keys rather than feed through the bell. If anyone wants to try at home, point a recording mic at the side of you horn vs in the bell and compare your tone. I would almost put money on this theory.

    Thanks for getting me to go back to this album, which I mostly didn’t dig when it came out. I missed out on a lot of beautiful sounds!

    • Good catch Jimmy! I didn’t even notice that. The photos are from another concert in Nice, France 3 days away from the Youtube video concert in Vitoria Gasteiz, Spain with Metheny. The one photo from the concert in Spain has the mic on the side also though. Interesting! I wonder why Brecker did that?

  25. I see the two rings on the shank in that photo and wonder if that is really a Link.
    I suppose lots of HR mouthpieces have two rings like that… I’m sure some Links do for whatever reason.
    What comes to mind for me is a Herb Couf piece I started on as a kid.
    What say ye?

  26. Avatar R Sudduth says

    The Link Reso chamber has two lines on the shank. I can’t see enough detail in the photo to say whether its a Reso.

  27. Que boquilla de goma dura es?


    What hard rubber mouthpiece is it?

    • Silvio, It says in the review. I think it is a hard rubber Otto Link EB that was worked on by Frank Wells that Brecker borrowed from Dino Govoni. We don’t know for sure though and some of the photos look like the hard rubber mouthpiece has two lines on the shank which the EB would not have. Those photos are from a different concert though…….. Steve

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