Webster’s dictionary defines Transcendent as:
| ˌtran(t)ˈsend(ə)nt |
beyond or above the range of normal or merely physical human experience.
• surpassing the ordinary; exceptional.
• (of God) existing apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe.
• (in scholastic philosophy) higher than or not included in any of Aristotle's ten categories.
• (in Kantian philosophy) not realizable in experience.
Transcendency is what each musician seeks in performance. That moment when one bypasses the instrument, the notes, and the rhythms to reach a higher plane of musical spirituality. If you have never had this experience, it is why you practice all the scales, patterns, and etudes. If you have been fortunate to reach this level of musicianship, it is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning. It is a calling and ultimately a quest.
Today, there are so many mouthpieces on the market that tout unparalleled greatness that it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. It’s a strange business and one that I am happy not to be a part of. It used to be that new mouthpiece companies touted being a better option than the classics like Otto Link, Meyer and Berg Larson. Now the trend has come full circle where most companies offer mouthpieces that are so close to those classics you can’t tell the difference.
I did a quick web search for “Florida Otto Link” and found no fewer than 30 makers that offered their take on the iconic mouthpiece. So, I have to ask, which one is right? Didn’t most of these companies get started because the old mouthpieces weren’t that good? You can see how confusing it can be if you are a consumer. What is the point? What is the goal? Is it not simply to make a good playing mouthpiece? If that isn't the goal, it should be.
I have been playing and testing new equipment for over 25 years, and I am happy to report there are many excellent products on the market, and many of them were among those companies I discovered. But the reality is this; the decerning player doesn't care about the packaging, branding, hype, or a mouthpiece’s ability to pay “homage” to the past. A real player is searching for a tool to allows them to transcend their equipment and craft their music.
It's ironic that a great mouthpiece is going to be one in which you notice the least. Where I have been blessed to test many fine mouthpieces, The Ted Klum Florida mouthpiece was genuinely a transcendent playing experience.
I pestered Ted Klum for nearly nine months about reviewing his mouthpieces, and when his Florida model was released, I ramped up the pressure. I wanted to test his claim that "Those who play them know.” Finally, he sent me a Florida model in German ebonite in size 7 (.100). Everything about this mouthpiece reminds me of the vintage pieces. The shape of the box, the printing, the contour and angles of the mouthpiece itself will be familiar to the discerning eye.
But the devil is in the details, and it is here that Klum has set himself apart. The mouthpiece is created with a medium chamber for power and projection. One can produce a tight, muscular sound one minute and then spread the feather the tone without a loss of control in the extreme registers. The low and high registers were stable, and exceptionally well balanced. It is rare that I play a mouthpiece that has warmth, power, character, and response. Playing into the low register requires no subtone (unless you want it) and the articulation is lightning quick. Equally the palm keys allow for easy voicing and movement into the altissimo. For those who like to play outside the traditional range of the saxophone, you will be richly rewarded. The ability to voice altissimo notes is dreamlike. There were moments when I was simply in awe at how well I could reach the altissimo. It was as if the mouthpiece dared me to go higher and higher.
This mouthpiece is truly a tool for a decerning artist. Its flexibility allows it to be used for everything from a cocktail party gig to a top-40 band. I was most impressed with the variety of reeds this mouthpiece would accommodate. I used everything from Vandoren Java 2 1/2s and D’addario Jazz Select 3's (S, M, H) to Rigotti and LaVoz in high strengths. The Florida Model just seemed to accept everything. A special point to mention was how precise the tip contour was to the shape of the reed. You would not believe how such a simple detail often gets overlooked. With this mouthpiece, the fit was exact and like a glove.
The success of this mouthpiece is not without history. Klum’s has over 35 years of experience as a maker and mouthpiece refinisher. After talking with him, it appears the Florida Model was based on data collected when he 3-D scanned several of his favorite vintage early Babbits and Slant Links. Then, he made adjustments based on his own years of experience. For those who have enjoyed his Tonamax mouthpieces but want more of an early Babbit chamber, you must try this mouthpiece.
The Florida model has a medium facing, which allows for the amazingly precise control. However, this is not a mouthpiece that directs you towards a particular sound. It has that characteristic Flordia Link vibe but feels and plays like a mouthpiece that has been hand adjusted. Factually, all Klum mouthpieces are hand finished, but this mouthpiece is different. Honestly, playing it reminded me of when I visited the late, great, Frank Wells and had him work on one of my mouthpieces. The feeling I experienced playing the Klum Florida was very personal. The Flordia Model is offered in black ebonite, which produces a more lively sound, or a marbled ebonite which is slightly warmer. Retail price is $449 which actually places it in the more affordable range of custom mouthpieces.
Scarcely can I remember a time when I have been impressed from beginning, middle, and end of a playtest. For me, the Ted Klum Florida model mouthpiece is a complete game changer. For the knowledgeable player, it is like a fine paintbrush in the hand of an artist. Bravo Ted!