Flutes can be found playing any style of music there is. Whether it’s Baroque concertos or folk music, the flute fits right in. If you’re playing jazz, it’s important to look for the right instrument for the job.
When choosing a flute for jazz, it’s important to find an instrument that responds with low overtones that will make the tone darker. The flute needs to respond easily and the keys need a quick action. It must play in tune with itself. Open holes help with bending pitches and overall expression.
Jazz artists like Hubert Laws, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Mann and Dave Valentin each had their own style and sound. Read below to find out how you can get the right flute for you to express your own style.
Features to look for in a good flute for jazz
Budget for a jazz flute
Deciding on your price range is an important first step when purchasing a flute for jazz.
It would be great to be able to buy a solid sterling silver Haynes flute for somewhere around $15,000-$20,000, but you can find a very good flute for a lot less.
One smart possibility is to purchase a good quality intermediate level flute. There are quite a few to choose from that produce the clear, full sound that’s needed, whether playing in a big band or a jazz combo.
An intermediate flute for jazz can run between $1,100.00 and $2,2500.00.
If an intermediate flute is out of your price range, think about purchasing a student level flute and combine it with a solid silver head joint. This will help your sound have the clarity and warmth that’s needed.
You can often find a new student flute for $500-$1,000. Some solid silver headjoints cost less than $500.00.
Jazz flute material
Flutes can be made from several metals, including silver, gold, platinum, and gold-plated, silver-plated, or nickel-plated.
Nickel and alloys are used for inexpensive beginner models. Nickel is light and produces a crisp, light tone.
Silver and silver-plated flutes have a darker sound due to the heavier metal. Nearly all intermediate and professional models are silver or silver-plated.
At the higher end are gold and gold-plated flutes, which claim to offer a colorful, warm tone and are visually attractive. The purity of the gold varies in karat, much like jewelry, so a 24-karat gold flute will hold a high price tag.
Platinum is a prestige metal used in the most expensive of flutes, and solid platinum flutes cost more than some houses. It is not necessary to invest in platinum for your jazz flute.
There are active debates about whether the material directly affects the sound, but it is undeniable that the more expensive materials are used in higher quality craftsmanship. T
he density of the metal seems to be the bigger influence on the tone rather than the type of metal.
In general, a solid metal flute is preferable to alloys and plated metals. Silver or gold flutes are most often used in jazz.
Flutes which are solid silver are regarded as the best investment. They produce a clear but warm, round sound. However, there are many silver plated instruments on the market that are quite good, too.
Embouchure hole (head joint)
As mentioned above, the head joint is a very important consideration when buying a flute for jazz. It can be purchased separately, but that will obviously add to the cost.
If you decide to buy a head joint, it is best to purchase one which is solid silver.
The shape and height of the embouchure hole varies with the different head joints. In general, a larger embouchure hole produces a larger sound for jazz. A small embouchure hole works best for soft playing.
Smooth key action
For most styles of music, a flute needs to have easy movement of the keys. In jazz, you want to be able to play fast passages.
This is more difficult if the keys are stiff and your fingers have to work hard to open and close the holes and keys.
The key action will vary even between two flutes that are the same brand and model, so it’s important that you try out the instrument before purchasing.
Open holes for jazz
Most intermediate and professional flutes that are sold are open holed. This means that the holes are open on five of the keys. Many feel this helps the flute produce a clearer and fuller sound.
An open-holed flute has many advantages when it comes to jazz flute. You can bend the pitches and glissandos are easier. Many flutists feel open holes allow you to change your sound and express yourself more freely.
Tone, response, and bore size
Jazz flutists are basically looking for the same tonal aspects as classical flutists. They want an instrument that responds easily and produces a full, warm sound.
Clarity of articulation is also important. Even if you produce a big sound, you may still need to use a microphone when playing jazz.
The thickness of the wall of the tubing is also a factor in how it feels to play. Standard, or medium-wall tubing is brilliant, responsive, and flexible. Thicker tubing offers darker sound and more resistance.
Whether you’re playing a Classical sonata or a solo with a jazz combo, it’s vital that you play in tune. This means that your instrument first needs to play well in tune with itself.
If a flute doesn’t play well in tune with itself, that means you’ll be required to make embouchure adjustments for every note, which would be nearly impossible if you’re playing very fast.
You can test the intonation tendencies of the chromatic scale from low to high to judge the intonation tendencies of the flute. If your flute has a problem in this area, you may be able to find a head joint that will help.
Next, we take a brief look at a few flutes that are great for jazz.
#1 flute for jazz: Yamaha YFL-482H
This intermediate Yamaha flute has a sterling silver head joint and a silver plated body. It produces a beautiful, round sound.
The Yamaha YFL-428H has a B foot joint, allowing it to play a half step lower than a C foot joint. It comes with a split E mechanism, which helps the high E respond more easily.
It also has a gizmo key on the foot joint, which makes it easier to play the low B.
With a lip plate designed for beginners and amateur players, the Yamaha YFL-482H is a very popular choice for an intermediate jazz flutist. The keys are made with precision for an easy response
This flute sells for $2,256.
#2 flute for jazz: Gemeinhardt 3SB NG
The intermediate New Generation Gemeinhardt 3SB features a solid silver headjoint, body, and foot joint, and silver plated keys. It has a B foot joint, along with an offset G for more comfortable hand position.
The head joint is an NG1, which gives easy response and articulation while producing a beautiful sound, namely for jazz.
This flute is worth $1,750 new.
#3 flute for jazz: Jupiter 611 (now JFL1000)
Jupiter is a newer company (compared to the above two) but it’s becoming well known for producing high quality, reliable instruments.
The JFL1000 has a silver head joint and silver plated body, foot joint and keys. It comes with an offset G to make the left hand more comfortable. The headjoint gives the flute a full-bodied tone well-suited for jazz.
This flute has a B footjoint. The keywork provides a quick response for fast playing and the intonation is quite good.
The Jupiter JFL 1000 is $1,099.00
#4 flute for jazz: Pearl 665RBE-IRB
This model of Pearl flute is a very good intermediate instrument which works great for jazz music.
It features a silver head joint and silver plated body, foot joint and keys. It has a B foot joint, an off-set G and a split E mechanism.
With this flute, you have a choice of three different head joints, allowing you to zero in on the tone and response you like.
This flute is made with the intermediate and amateur musician in mind, providing easy response, excellent tone and accurate intonation that work great for jazz playing.
Pearl flutes are built to last. The 665RBE is quite affordable at $1,354.00
Flute works well playing any style of music. Its ethereal sound and flexibility make it a perfect choice for jazz.
If you’re looking for a flute for playing jazz, get the best instrument within your budget. Find a flute with as much silver as you can afford. A flute with a silver headjoint and silver plated body works well.
If the flute isn’t silver plated, replace the head joint with a silver one can also give good results.
An open hole flute helps the sound, makes expression easier and allows you to bend the notes for jazz. If you’re not accustomed to playing an open hole instrument, it only takes a little time to adjust.
One of the most important things is the intonation. If the flute doesn’t play in tune with itself, you will have to make minor adjustments for each note that’s out of tune, which interrupts your ability to be expressive.
When you try out instruments, you’ll be able to tell a difference between the various brands and models. Play on them until you can determine which fits your style best.