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The Corry Brothers Mouthpieces

John Robert Brown

Jim Corry

BORN IN 1974 in London, Paul Corry attended Leeds College of Music (LCoM) for four years, from 1992 to 1996. His brother, Jim, born in 1976, was at LCoM from 1995 to 1998.
The brothers' period at LCoM coincided with the end of my own 22-year of service as a lecturer and course-leader, before I took up the challenge of travelling the globe as a student recruitment consultant for LCoM.
In late May of 2015 we met again, this time in the pleasant surroundings of the Lakeside Cafe in Roundhay Park, Leeds. Over lunch, we chatted about their new mouthpieces.

I began by asking when their interest in mouthpieces began.

Jim: "When we first started playing, I was 14. Paul chased me up the stairs to grab the saxophone from me. I tripped and smashed the mouthpiece I had on my alto. It was only a cheap plastic mouthpiece. I had to go out the next day to the music shop to try some more. I thought it would be easy. But the guy got out fifteen or twenty mouthpieces. I'd only been playing for a month or so. There were Dukoffs in there, Lawtons, all sorts. I remember thinking: "Wow. This is another world." It wasn't until I went to Music College that I got into a certain player who was playing on a Dukoff, and I wanted to find out what that was, and why it sounded a certain way. For me, that was when my interest started. It was a bit of a hobby - trying them, collecting them, looking at them, and measuring them. Paul's experience was different."

Paul: "My experience was that my saxophone teacher, when I was about fifteen, said: "You're getting good chops. Go to Howarth's and buy a Lawton tenor mouthpiece, in metal." I was given some money by my Mum and Dad, for the GCSE results I got. An incentive: you get an 'A', you get fifty quid! Anyway, I got one 'A', a 'B', and two 'C's. I had enough money to buy a Lawton mouthpiece. Our teacher had one. I loved the sound of it. I'd played his mouthpiece.

Paul Corry

I went to Howarth's. They got ten of them out of the box for me. I went into the room downstairs, played - and I didn't like any of them! Obviously I didn't know why. They might have had too wide a tip opening, or whatever. But then the guy returned, knocked on the door, came in and said: "Oh, there was this one, at the back of the shelf." And that was the mouthpiece I've had ever since. It had this massive sound. It had a different chamber inside, from the other pieces I'd tried. So I've had that for ever. That's my main tenor piece. It's complete luck. I was in that downstairs room for hours, and I didn't like the other ones.

Paul: I met the mouthpiece maker Geoff Lawton. He came to college. I went to see him. He'd come because he was showing off his ebonite pieces. He was saying: "These are my newer ebonite mouthpieces." He saw that I had one of his pieces.

He said: "What's that you've got there?"

I said: "Seven star, double B."

He said: "Play it for me, then." So I played. He said: "That is the sound I heard in my head when I designed that mouthpiece."

I went all tingly, and a bit weird. It totally inspired me. I've got quite a bright sound, and I like it - not really edgy, but it's loud. A lot of the jazzers at college would ask: "Why do you want to sound like that?" They wanted to sound like Stan Getz, with a darker tone - and I didn't. I got on with Geoff Lawton. He sat and chatted to me. He actually gave me bits of information when I asked him. I didn't know how mouthpieces were made. When I asked him he said: "On my lathe, in my workshop." I always remember the things he said, and thought to myself: "I've met Geoff Lawton, who made my mouthpiece." So those things stayed in my head. It wasn't until recently that those memories helped us along the way with what we're doing."

Jim: I met him once. I started doing some work with horn sections. I'd never found anything I liked. I went to his house in Macclesfield. He brought me up a tray from downstairs, with loads of mouthpieces on it. I ended up on a stainless 8BB I think it was, which I don't have anymore. I remember him being really welcoming. He asked me what I was after, and then disappeared downstairs. He came back with a tray of mouthpieces, and I sat in the entrance hall to his house. His wife offered me a sandwich. That was a great experience.

Later, I was having lessons with the British alto player Peter King. Through him I met the maker Freddie Gregory, and asked him to make me one. I went twice to his house in London, and watched him work. A lot of the handwork was done in his flat, in a room off his kitchen. That's where I met him. He had to buzz me in to his flat, where he had all sorts of mouthpieces.

Paul: I can remember meeting Geoff Lawton in the lower mezzanine room of the Leeds Mechanics Institute building, in Cookridge Street, Leeds, where LCoM was housed at the time. I wish I could remember all our conversation, like a tape recording, but I can't. I remember being a twenty-year-old lad who met the guy. I do feel privileged, actually.

Jim: Freddie Gregory passed away not long ago. It's a precious thought, to have spent time with these men. I've had quite a few conversations with Rafael Navarro, who is a fantastic maker who studied under Ralph Morgan. Unfortunately I've never managed to meet anyone such as Meyer, Otto Link, or anyone from the Babbitt Company.

***

Jim: A few years ago we were both chatting, talking about starting a project together, maybe a group or a band, just chatting. I said: "I've always wanted to make mouthpieces." And you said: "That's a great idea." From then we started to take it seriously, and research it a bit more."

The brothers began with no engineering background. "But we ended up talking to lots of friends of ours, those who had some experience in certain fields, working with lathes or milling machines, or looking at it from that perspective. We learned it by asking questions, and then trying it ourselves. So we learned very quickly. You wouldn't believe the things they are making in there.
Paul: I have the advantage of living near Halifax, where there are still lots of machine shops, down little alleyways. A friend of mine owns a lathe. He taught me how to use it. He introduced me to loads of guys higher up the chain in engineering. I used to hang out and ask them questions about turning, or milling, what would be the best way to do this or that. At first they thought it was a bit funny.

In making a mouthpiece, there's more milling than turning. I asked lots of questions, and spent a lot of time reading engineering books, and researching, trying different tools, different cutters, and different shapes. Just trying, basically.

Jim: The amount of pieces we've messed up along the way is enormous. We've got a whole collection on the shelf! It was a matter of working out angles, and the way to do it.
Paul: The more we thought about the engineering side as the priority, the quicker we actually achieved what we wanted to do. At first we wanted to know why all mouthpieces were different, so that was one of our challenges. Like people, what are the things that make them all different? Once we'd figured out why that is, that's when we went on to making our own stuff, and bring out the things we wanted to hear in our pieces. We've had some really good teachers. I've had some really good engineering guys teach me about milling. It's like doing an apprenticeship - considering the safety aspect, and the maths, the facing curves, holding the work. We've really gone to town.

Jim: Considering all of the details - the chamber size, the bore, the throat, baffle, tip rail, side rails, and end rails - there is so much to consider.

From having a collection of vintage pieces and modern pieces, all the measuring and looking, and asking ourselves why is this one playing better than that one - then translating those things that we'd learned, combined with what we felt we wanted, we just started making prototype after prototype after prototype. Then we would hit on a combination where we would think: "That's got it!"

***

JRB: Why has the Otto Link mouthpiece remained popular for three-quarters of a century? Is it still popular with young saxophone players?

Jim: The design of the Otto Link mouthpiece has definitely evolved over the years. You have the Slant-Sig Link, Florida Link and Reso-Chamber Link. On the Slant-Sig Link the name Otto Link is printed on a slant. Mouthpieces that were made during that period were keenly sought, because of the way the large chamber was, the actual ebonite of that time, and the hand finishing. They did a model before that, called a Reso-Chamber, which is sought-after because of the size of the chamber. Now we have modern Otto Links, which some people say don't match up to those models. But it's a great design, and a special sound.

Paul: I would say that the history of mouthpiece manufacture has evolved from turning on a lathe to mouldings and castings. Obviously, Jim and I are going back to turning on a lathe. But of all the methods that have evolved, you can't say that one is better than another. For a company, injection moulding might be the best way if they are turning out high numbers. We're not turning out high numbers.

JRB: Geoff Lawton was critical of some makes - some of the Dukoff mouthpieces, for instance.

Paul: Some of the Hollywood Dukoffs...

Jim: ...like Dexter Gordon played on, which were really sought after, fantastic...the material had quite a high lead content...

Paul: ...it was called Silverite. From what I've read, it was actually a type of solder. In time, a lot of players found that they could bite through the beaks. I don't think they make them from that material anymore.

Jim: I bought a Dukoff when I was at college. I put my crook on, and didn't quite have it secure. The mouthpiece dropped, hit the back of the horn, and as I picked it up I saw that I had put a massive dent in the back of the Dukoff tip rail! But it was a fantastic design that changed the sound of the saxophone. David Sanborn came along. He had that fantastic sound, and everyone asked: "What's that he's playing on?" Again, he's a big name in the industry, who has set the standard.

Paul: But it's not only the mouthpiece...

Jim: ...it can't be. For me it's a crucial part of the way you join the instrument, and to have an instrument that doesn't get in the way. A bridge...obviously, and the neck also has a huge impact on the sound, as does the body.

Paul: But the glory of it is that we are all different. We all have to sound different, and we shouldn't have to sound the same. If you like something dark - brilliant. If you like something bright - brilliant. We all have a different face, different teeth.

Jim: Lots of different mouthpieces are called a certain thing, or a certain model. We were wondering, when we were making these, what to call our tenor model, and our alto model. So we've hit on a geology theme. A P Wave, which is what our baritone model is called, is actually the P Wave, or the Primary Wave, of an earthquake. So the S Wave is going to be the metal model of this, which is the secondary wave, which comes back. So our alto model is called a Tephra which is ejected volcanic material. Then our tenor model is called a Caldera, which is a cauldron-like depression at the summit of a volcano. Then there's the Mesa and the Scoria."

Corry mouthpieces are sold in a neat wooden case which resembles a pencil case, with a sliding top lid.

More information here:http://www.corrybros.com/

Information about other mouthpieces is available on the following websites:

John Robert Brown

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