I had the pleasure of reviewing the first P.Mauriat System 76 saxophone back in 2006 for Jazz Times magazine. At that time P. Mauriat was making a name for itself in the United States with its rolled tone hole saxophones (67 & 66 R). At that time I found the system 76 to be a good horn but lacking the complexity and punch of the 66R.
I had not played a system 76 saxophone since; not until my recent visit to Asia in November of 2011.
I had contacted P. Mauriat about the possibility of borrowing a saxophone during my visit rather than brave the poor baggage handling in the united states (known for destroying instruments). This is a report of my experiences playing the System 76 (second addition) tenor saxophone from November 7th to the present.
The P. Mauriat Saxophone in Shanghai
My first official day of teaching/playing at the Shanghai Conservatory was originally scheduled to be on the 8th of November. To my surprise I was scheduled to present a masterclass on the 7th as well as perform with the conservatory big band. Since the P. Mauriat saxophones had not yet arrived, I was kindly offered another saxophone, one made by a Chinese company. They played fine and I was able to perform my responsibilities as requested.
The next day a representative from P. Mauriat was kind enough to fly to Shanghai and bring me two saxophones...the tenor being the 2nd Edition System 76. I must say that I had some skepticism about the instrument (not that I ever doubted the quality). I had always played a rolled tone hole Mauriat and didn't know if the 76 would give me the tonal support that I was used to.
At the first masterclass of the day, I picked up the Mauriat and was immediately taken back by the depth, power and complexity of the sound. The action was vastly improved from the first model that I had reviewed years earlier. The pitch and scale of the instrument was near effortless (it had just the right amount of resistance). Many saxophone players in the room asked, "Have you changed reeds since yesterday?". It was clear they had noticed a drastic change in my tone and has assumed that the change was one of a harder reed.
Later that afternoon I had a rehearsal with the conservatory jazz ensemble. On my first solo the reaction by the members of the band was immediate. Something made an instant impression in my playing that was not present the evening before. Of course the difference was the addition of the System 76 tenor. After the rehearsal many of the saxophone players came up asking what I was playing. They were impressed but skeptical of the Mauriat. In Shanghai it is Selmer, Yanagsawa, and Yamaha that are commonly purchased by the players.
Throughout the Shanghai trip, players kept asking me about the saxophone. Did I like it? Was it easy to play? How long had I been playing the saxophone? They were obviously interested in the instrument, yet decorum and respect did not allow them to ask to play it.
The saxophone players told me about how they had gone to an Asian instrument conference to play saxophones and to buy equipment. Yet, they admitted they only went to the instrument companies mentioned above. Many said they would try to the P. Mauriat in future years.
The P. Mauriat Saxophone in Taipei
The reaction to the P. Mauriat in Taipei was, in many ways, similar. All were impressed with the quality of the sound, commenting on how nice and full it was. Since I was performing with professionals they were more familiar with the name P. Mauriat.
The P. Mauriat Saxophone in The United States
Upon my return to the US, my students and fellow professionals were very inquisitive about my experiences in Asia. My discussions with them, specifically about the artist center and its vast collection of horns, eventually lead them to ask about the new System 76 saxophone that I brought back with me.
Many seemed happy that I had a good experience with the P. Mauriat saxophone yet didn't seem to be so interested that they would ask to try the instrument. I was certain this had to do with the sigma that all non Mark VI saxophones have. Students who played the saxophone were quickly impressed. When I performed on the System 76 with The Nebraska Jazz Orchestra the perception quickly changed and many of the saxophone players commented on how good the instrument sounded. A few tried it after the performance and complemented how well it played.
I decided to do a play test in my studio class (for 18 saxophone majors). First I played the System 76 against my 1957 Selmer Mark VI. I did this, first in full view, and then with the students blindfolded.
When they could see the instrument, the students would often choose the Selmer Mark VI as the better sounding instrument (although they all said the P. Mauriat was an outstanding sounding horn). When blindfolded the observations were different. Well over half of the studio chose the P. Mauriat as the better sounding saxophone. This tells me that the perception of what someone plays is sometimes stronger then what the ear tells us.
An Interesting Discovery
As we were concluding the play test, one of the students asked if I had ever switched necks (placing the Selmer neck on the P. Mauriat and reverse). I had mentioned that I did try a Magnum neck but not on the System 76 that I had been used to...so it was difficult to tell how it changed the sound. To appease them, I did try switching the necks (Mauriat and Selmer). The experience was quite eye opening and here are the classes observations:
The P. Mauriat System 76 Tenor - produced a stong, full tenor sound with depth and projection. The pitch was very good and the scale was full. The tone was a bit brighter and bigger than the Selmer, lacking just a few middle overtones.
The Selmer Mark VI produced a smaller, more compact sound with less brightness and more middle overtone warmth. The scale and tone was smaller.
The Selmer Mark VI with the P. Mauriat neck - produced a bigger and brighter sound that was somewhat of a hybrid of the two instruments.
The P. Mauriat with the Selmer Neck - this combination seemed to draw the most praise from the students. All said the sound was full, powerful, and quite unique. One student said, "it was the best of both worlds". The combination created a sound that was powerful and centered (like the Mauriat) with a bit more middle overtones in the sound (from the mark VI Neck). From a players standpoint it produced a rich, effortless feel. All who heard and played this combination said that the change was not simply because of the addition of the Mark VI neck. They said it was clear that the P.Mauriat body design was a major factor in the creation of such a great sound. All agreed that the combination was superior to the Mark VI alone. Many asked if the magnum neck, offered by P. Mauriat, would produce this same effect. I told them that I would inquire.
Before we left for the day two of my graduate students followed me to my office and said, "I think P. Mauiat is not only on the verge of finding the sound everyone craves, they are on the verge of creating a sound players didn't know was possible."
In conclusion the System 76 far surpassed what I ever expected from the instrument. Furthermore, I am intrigued by the the neck configuration and now it can alter the sound of an already excellent instrument. I look forward to learning about the Magnum neck and what the company is planing in this area in the future.