Hey everybody meet Paul Bertin, the amazing french sax player you need to listen to right now! He was kind enough to answer a few questions from our awesome sax student Lucas, who found his music and playing so super inspiring. We think you will too!
1. What are your favorite inspirations?
Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker were a big inspirations from a very young age, because my Dad would always play those records. Some pieces of Sydney Bechet really stuck with me too, I love his style. Lately I've been very inspired by different musics from the world, Mulatu Astatke's Jazz from Ethiopia, Selim Sesler's Turkish clarinet, Hungarian folk tunes, Rajhastanis nomad songs, Romanian melodies.. the list is long, but I find traditional musics to be fascinating. I also love when artist like Avishai Cohen or Tigran Hamasyan can mix traditional roots with a modern Jazz sound.
Besides music I get very inspired from observing nature: places like the forest, mountain tops and seasides fill me up with good creative energy. Watching stars as well, and I've got obsessed with sci-fi books that talk of space travel.
2. What made you want to be a sax player?
When I was 6 years old my parents asked what instruments I'd like to play, I replied saxophone, trumpet and cello (the way the music school worked, you had to pick 3 and be auditioned on each one). The cello teacher was not available that day and I couldn't make a sound out of the trumpet mouthpiece, but somehow the sax mouthpiece worked for me ! And so I kept studying classical saxophone in that school for the next 12 years.
What decided me to be a professional musician however was a visit to New Orleans in 2009 : I didn't know anyone there but I was very fortunate to meet wonderful people through music and play every night. To me it was a confirmation that I had something to offer and that I could make a career out of it.
3. What's your favorite thing about the alto?
I love the bittersweet sound of the alto, the tone cuts straight through to the heart. It is very expressive and versatile.
4. If you could play any other instrument what would you play?
Piano ! I wish I could play it well, that would make me a much better musician overall. It really is the key to understanding western harmony, and a great tool for composition. I also love the Bass, I learned to play it as a teenager but never was great.
5. What's your favorite type of cheese?
You know how french people feel about cheese… we love it ! I am particularly fan of a cheese called Mont d'Or, it comes from the region of Besançon where I am from; it is a runny raw milk cheese that comes in a pinewood box. You dig a little hole in the cheese, pour some wine in it, and put the box in the oven; when it comes out, you have the most delicious warm liquid cheese with a golden crust, and you can dip bread in it or pour it over potatoes. It's amazing ! Unfortunately it's impossible to find in the US.
6. How do I play as fast as you?
Eat more cheese! Just kidding.. For the 12 years I spent learning saxophone, my teacher would have me play scales and arpeggios in every key. I didn't like it all that much, but that helped a lot for agility and fluidity. For some of the Romanian melodies I've learned lately (Romanians are notorious for playing extremely fast) I had to start very slow, not even half of the actual speed, and work my way up gradually. Some pieces have taken me weeks, even months, to master.
Articulation is very important : fingers can move quite fast but it's a precise tonguing that will make the note come out. When learning a new piece I always start by finding my articulation points : once that's set it's a lot easier to bring up the speed.
7. I'm very interested in this Balkan music. Do you recommend any pieces for a novice like me?
Here's a very famous tune by Macedonian saxophonist Ferus Mustafov called Dada Sali.
You will notice that there are a lot of ornamentations around the notes; I'd recommend to start by focusing on the melody even if you have to simplify it. Once when you're comfortable with the shape of the melody, you can add more detailed ornaments.
Here is a beautiful piece by Turkish clarinet player Selim Sesler called Gözyaşı (teardrops)
The melody is long but quite simple, feel free to simplify the ornaments when you learn it! A last one for now, by Selim Sesler again, called Kasap Havası (the song of the butcher)
This one is a little bit more advanced, but if you start veeeery slow and work your way up it's not so hard. And I'm sure your awesome teacher Stefanie at Kalabash can help you with that!