My Mk VI Tenor…
by Paul Coats
I began my musical career in the school band program, not as a saxophonist, but a clarinetist. I had always been attracted to the sound of the saxophone, no matter what style of music. Big band, jazz, rock and roll, all styles, I would listen intently to the saxes. But when it came time to go into the band program, over my protests I received a clarinet. The band had plenty of saxes already.
I stumbled on for a few years, until finally in high school, after my freshman year, the director called me into the office.
“You don’t seem to be getting anywhere on your instrument… don’t you practice?” he asked. I shook my head no. “Why not? You have a lot of natural talent, interest in music, you borrow theory books from me, and are starting to write and arrange… so, what is the problem?”
“I hate the clarinet!” I told him.
“Well, why are you playing it?” he asked.
“That is what I had to start out on.”
“What do you want to play?”
“Sax! I want to play in the jazz band, I want to rock and roll, I want play all the music you can’t do on the clarinet.”
He reached over the desk, tapped the top of my head with his hand, like being knighted by the queen, and said, “Zap! You are a saxophonist. Go back to the instrument storeroom, and get the one marked TS5. Bring it back here to the office.”
I did, and upon return, he had an elementary book, a good mouthpiece, and half a dozen new reeds for me.
It was Friday afternoon. He told me to go home, when I returned on Monday, I would be expected to know the fingerings and play sax.
Well, practice I did, all weekend. After that, three to five hours a day. Plus band rehearsals, marching in the afternoons, homework (I would skip lunch, do homework so I had more practice time at home).
After only a year, I made District Honor Band, the top band (Contraband, right there in Lake Charles).
About that time, the school received a set of four new Selmer Mk VI saxes, two altos, a tenor and a bari. I fell in love, this was my horn!!!
A year later, I made All State Band. Not bad for a kid on the verge of quitting band just a few years earlier.
I had also sought out a teacher for weekly private lessons in Lake Charles, 35 miles from my home.
So, my Dad, always a sucker for musical instruments for us kids (thanks, Dad) told me I was doing so well, that if I found the sax I wanted in a store, he would somehow come up with the money to buy it for me. He knew I needed to have my own instrument.
So, look I did. Few stores in the small towns, or even the larger towns, carried Selmer Paris saxes. They had the Bundys, Signets, and Bueschers, but would only get the Paris model, the Mk VI, on order. Did not have them for stock to try out first.
We went to Texas to visit relatives on Easter break. Dad suggested the large town nearby probably had several music stores, to bring my mouthpiece and reeds and go check out some horns.
It was Saturday morning, I left my uncle and aunt’s home, stopped by my other uncle’s auto repair shop a few minutes, and headed up the road to shop around for saxes. Just a mile down the road a car was on the shoulder of the road, hood up, and steam pouring out. A well dressed man, nice suit and tie, was fighting the steam, trying to look under the hood. I had to stop.
His wife looked at us with a worried _expression through the window. I immediately saw the problem. Water was pouring out of the water pump shaft seal. The man remarked that he was really in a jam now, he had a big business meeting in Dallas that afternoon, and then was to attend a ball game with these people, box seat and such.
“Well, if anybody can get you there on time, it is my Uncle James, right down the road. Hop in the car, we’ll go get him.” I dropped the guy and his wife off. Uncle James headed out to the tow truck, and I left to resume the sax shopping trip.
I looked at a few Conns and a Buescher, but they laughed when I said I wanted to try a Selmer. I headed home.
Wondering how the repair was coming along, I stopped back by Uncle James shop. As I pulled in, the fellow came out to the car, stuck his head in the window, wallet in hand. He said, “Young man, I just have to thank you. He had the pump in stock, he is putting the belts back on now, and we’ll be out of here in 15 minutes.
I’ll make my meeting with time to spare. You have no idea how important this is, how much money it means to me and my company. I want to give you a little something… ”
“No way, ” I said, “I can’t take your money.”
And then, noticing my tenor sax mouthpiece on the seat beside me, he said, “Oh, I see you play tenor sax.”
Well, most people would not even know it was a woodwind mouthpiece, but to recognise it as a TENOR mouthpiece… well, he had to know something about music, for sure.
“Why, yes. I was in town shopping for a new sax. I am playing a school instrument now, and Dad is going to buy a sax for me.”
“Well, I’ll bet you want a Selmer. All the sax players want a Selmer. I just happen to be in the music business myself, I am the regional vice president of sales for (a very large publishing company). I know all the store owners and can find a Selmer at a good price for you.”
“Thank you very much,” I told him, but I am not from around here. I live in Louisiana, am just visiting, and it would be too much trouble for you. Thanks, anyway.” We shook hands and parted.
About three weeks later, back at home, I had just come in from an afternoon rehearsal. It was about 4:45.
As I walked in the door, Mom said, “Did you order something without telling us?” She asked me this several times. I did not have a clue what she was talking about.
“Get down to the bus station, it closes at 5:00, and they said they have a big package insured for a lot of money, and they want it out of there.” Back in those days there was no UPS or Fed Ex. Big packages too small for truck freight were shipped by bus.
I got there as they were about to shut down the package pickup window. I had to show ID, sign for it. Took it out to the car and opened it. A Selmer Mk VI!!!
I rushed home, into the kitchen, and put it on the table, started pulling corks and string (strapping down the keys for seating and shipping). My parents looked at the sax, me, each other, with puzzled looks. I thought they had ordered from someplace, and sent me to pick it up as a surprise.
As I bent over to pick up the neck from the case, an envelope fell out of the bell unnoticed by me. Dad picked it up off the floor, handed it to me. I opened it up, it was from a music store way out in west Texas, almost to New Mexico. (I later looked it up in the Rand McNally)
“Mr. (x), who you helped on the side of the road near Tyler a few weeks ago, asked that I ship you this instrument to try out, for possible purchase. Call me Monday for details at…” and the phone number.
I stayed home from school to make the call. The store owner told me that if the sax was not satisfactory, he would get another, and another, and another, until I had one I liked. He quoted a price that I knew was far below the list price usually paid for a Selmer Paris. I found out some time later this was his cost. He made no profit at all.
He also arranged financing, whatever my family could afford for monthly payments. He signed for the loan himself. He stated my credit was good with him.
“Why are you doing all this for me?” I asked.
“You see, Mr. (x) helped me start my business. He helped me get a business loan with a letter of support. He helped get large companies to do business with me, when I was just a small little store, just barely making it. He carried me for a few years when I had trouble paying my vendors, trusting me to pay when I got the business up and running. He did so much for me personally, I could never repay him. And he would not accept it. So, I am repaying you.”
I played that tenor all through my college years as a music major. I played it on weekend gigs, for fun, or when I needed the money to pay for school expenses for my kids. And I still play it.
I have always taken good care of it, and have been offered quite a sum for it on a number of occasions. So much, in fact, I could buy a new Selmer Paris, and have enough left over for another sax or two.
No, I don’t think so. It just wouldn’t be the same.