That Mouthpiece

A London Selmer ff alto saxophone mouthpiece (not Charlie Parker’s)

From late 1949 to the end of his life Charlie Parker consistently played an unusual bronze metal saxophone mouthpiece marketed by the London branch of the Selmer Musical Instrument Company; mouthpiece historians call it the ‘Selmer London ff’ model.’ It was probably made by another company but stamped with the Selmer London name – something called a stencil in the musical marketing world. The main Selmer Company based in Paris had nothing to do with this peculiar model; it apparently was only made for a few years.

What did it sound like? For an answer, listen to Bird’s incredible rich sound on the November 1949 Charlie Parker with Strings session, or check out his compelling full spectrum timbre on the Bird and Diz Reunion studion session from June 1950 – what a sound! That’s the Selmer London mouthpiece that Bird’s playing with his white plastic Grafton alto at the May 1953 ‘Quintet of the Year’ concert at Massey Hall in Toronto. This was Bird’s first choice mouthpiece for years and you can hear him play it on countless studio and live recordings. Occasionally there is photo evidence to confirm, such as this session, these recordings, and this one.

Unlike most saxophone mouthpiece makers, New Jersey based mouthpiece craftsman Ted Klum is also a superb saxophonist. The saxophone mouthpiece market is largely a seething, scummy jungle of hype and overpricing but Ted Klum stands out because of the genuine quality of his products and his integrity as a businessman. Evidently Ted has recently created a new product based on the Selmer London ff alto mouthpiece, and he’s going to debut it by streaming a live gig tomorrow Friday July 31. His Facebook page says:

After 18 Prototypes, Ted will debut our upcoming Yardbird model this Friday at 5 pm eastern time at…/21450-ted-klum-mouthpieces-pr…/
The Yardbird model is the culmination of decades of experimentation and research into the rare “London Selmer” bronze mouthpiece which Bird played exclusively from late 1949 until his final performance. It will be available in August in time for his centennial birthday celebration.

For a longer look at the many horns and mouthpieces that Charlie Parker used throughout his career, Nicholas Trefeil has done fine work in examining the photographic record.

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