Expert woodwind repairmen are among the most important professional associations for any performing artist. They often are the difference between having a good performance or a great one and allow us to achieve our potential. In this video, we examine the careers and artistry of four of the most respected woodwind repair technicians in the business—Mark Jacobi, Bill Singer, Tomoji Hirakata & Tony Salimbene. For anyone pursuing a career in woodwind performance, these repairmen should be familiar names. They come together here for the first time to share their insights and secrets in an inspiring roundtable discussion of their profession.
I met Mark Jacobi in the early 1980s while I was studying with Ron Reuben of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mark demands absolute perfection in his clarinet repairs and has the patience of Job when an instrument is in his possession. His repairs always stand the test of time—you know that when you get a horn back from him it is playing at its maximum. He maintains a sense of calm when repairing an instrument, no matter how severe the damage to the horn or difficult the task at hand. The other unique thing about his approach to repairing is that when you book an appointment that day is yours—you and your instrument(s) are his total focus. I’ve never had a bad experience with any of Mark’s work in the 30+ years I’ve been bringing him my clarinets. In addition, Mark is a very humble person. He defines the term “master technician.”
Bill Singer has been a premiere New York-based saxophone repairman for over 25 years. He loves the saxophone and it’s reflected in his work. His desire to constantly seek ways to maximize any horn’s resonance allows his customers to have total trust with his repairs. I have worked with Bill since 1992 and have recommended him to every one of my students. He treats each one of them with the same respect as he affords the top pros. His knowledge and love of older saxophones is particularly helpful to the many saxophonists who come to his shop from all over the country. He also seems to have a photographic memory of any repair he’s done on a horn. He can recall the work he did on a particular horn 10 or more years ago and when a pad was last changed—astonishing!
The Woodwind/Brasswind opened its New York flagship store in 1999. Unfortunately, it closed several years later but perhaps the store’s greatest service was introducing Tomoji Hirakata to the woodwind community as its woodwind repair technician. I met Tomoji that first year and have always loved and respected his meticulous and exacting work. He has the rare gift of being able to work on any woodwind with equal artistry and an ability to concentrate on the job at hand for hours without a break. He loves all types of music and is therefore comfortable working with top-flight symphony players, jazz artists, or commercial musicians on any of the woodwinds. He’s a throwback to the days of the multi-dimensional New York woodwind repairmen like Nick Engleman, Herb Kleeman and Saul Fromkin.
Tony Salimbene has been active in the New York metropolitan area as a woodwind repair specialist for close to 30 years. I first met Tony when he worked at Roberto’s Winds in midtown Manhattan. There were several times when I had emergency repairs needed and he was always willing to make time to help me out. He did beautiful work and that has led me to work with him on a more regular basis in recent years at his own shop in Nutley, NJ. He creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere in his shop and his repairs are excellent. Music is always on in his shop and you leave with a feeling of enjoyment—always the goal when having your instruments adjusted.
About the Artists:
Mark Jacobi has been recognized as one of the premier clarinet technicians in the U.S. and throughout the international community for over 40 years. A native of Philadelphia, he began studying the clarinet at a young age with Mike Guerra and continued his studies with Anthony Gigliotti at Temple University. Additional clarinet studies included work with renowned players such as Ron Reuben, David Weber, and Donald Montanaro. However, early in his collegiate studies he decided that he would rather repair clarinets for a living and enrolled at the Eastern School of Musical Instrument Repair. He established his own business after leaving the school and has worked as a sole proprietor since. Virtually every major orchestra clarinetist in America as well as freelance professional has entrusted the care and repair of their instruments to Mark at one time or another. Top professionals such as Harold Wright (Boston), Stanley Drucker and Dave Weber (New York), Greg Raden (Dallas), and Richie Hawley (Cincinatti/Houston) would travel to Mark’s home in Philadelphia for their most crucial repair work as well as players from the Philadelphia Orchestra. He has continued the lineage of high–level clarinet repair work available in Philadelphia and many of the traditions that Hans Moennig helped to establish.
Bill Singer grew up in Los Angeles and began his musical adventure playing the blues on harmonica. Shortly thereafter he discovered alto saxophone and began studying with local teachers. Three months after buying a Conn alto, he decided to take it apart and so began his journey into saxophone repairing. Largely self-taught, Bill moved to New York in 1983 after working as a saxophone repairman for 8 years on the west coast. At the time he came to NYC, a number of sax technicians such as Saul Fromkin, Artie Pinkus and Joe Sax were just leaving. This created a space for a newcomer and Bill set up shop in midtown Manhattan blocks from the historical 48th Street music district. His initial customers included Harold Vick, John Stubblefield and J.D. Parran, among others. Since then, Bill’s clientele has grown to include virtually every major saxophonist on the east coast as well as those performing in NYC while on tour. For many years, he has worked exclusively every week with the great Dave Sanborn and has discovered a great deal about the saxophone and resonance as a result. He has created a three-volume set of repair videos entitled “Saxophone Repair Made Easy” available through his website: Billsinger.com.
Tomoji Hirakata was born in Japan and began to play trumpet at the age of 9. He was initially drawn to jazz trumpet playing but ultimately discovered his love for fixing horns when a local repairman would visit his school to repair instruments. Tomoji ended up working with this technician at a local music store and that led him to eventually attend the Yamaha Technical Academy. There, he was trained in both woodwind and brass repair. After relocating to the U.S in 1999, he landed a job as the principal woodwind technician at the Woodwind/Brasswind New York store. Tomoji quickly gained the recognition of professionals as a top-tier repairman. In 2004, he joined the Yamaha Showroom in NY where he is currently the Senior Technical Specialist. Along the way, he also became adept at playing the woodwinds. Tomoji works with members of the top symphony orchestras on the east coast on flutes and clarinets including members of the New York Philharmonic, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His saxophone clientele has included such renowned jazz saxophonists as Frank Wess, Lew Tabackin, Phil Woods, Steve Wilson, Jim Snidero, Brandford Marsalis, Lee Konitz, and Jerry Dodgion. Tomoji was the principal designer of the Yamaha “A” clarinet YCL-CSGII model and continues to work as part of the Yamaha woodwind research & development team.
Tony Salimbene is a native of Northern New Jersey, where he still lives and works. He began playing saxophone in school bands at age 10 and thereafter picked up the clarinet and flute. He began playing saxophone professionally at 17 and still plays gigs today on saxophone. He became interested in woodwind repairing during his senior year at William Patterson College and then spent two years apprenticing with Joe Sax. Shortly thereafter, a 15-year association commenced working as the woodwind technician for Sam Ash, stores, both in Paramus, NJ and in NYC. He began a 10-year relationship with Roberto’s Winds in NYC in 2003. Since 2013, he has run his own repair shop in Nutley, NJ: AJS Woodwind Repair. Over the years, Tony has worked for many great artists including Michael Brecker, Lew Tabackin, Bob Malach, Lawrence Feldman, Andy Snitxer, Gerry Niewood, Ken Peplowski, Houston Person, and Jackie McLean.