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Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Exacting Art of Saxophone Repair | New York Times

In Perry Ritter’s tiny saxophone repair shop in Midtown Manhattan, prominent jazz musicians mix with a menagerie of sculptures Mr. Ritter makes from sax parts, as New York Times reports.  
Perry Ritter decided as a young man that he would never play the sax professionally. But he was good at fixing them.
Photo:Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Perry Ritter’s tiny saxophone repair shop in Midtown Manhattan is as much a visual flight of fancy as a jazz solo is an auditory one.

The shop — in the heart of the Diamond District, on West 47th Street — is crowded with used instruments and the whimsical sculptures that Mr. Ritter creates during his downtime from spare saxophone parts.

Mr. Ritter, 59, has been repairing saxophones in Midtown for more than 40 years and is the go-to technician for some of the biggest jazz players in New York.

His workbench is nestled in one of the densest commercial hives in the city, in a building largely occupied by jewelry merchants.

Working on these valuable horns, usually vintage Selmers favored by jazz artists, can be tedious — replacing or adjusting delicate keys, rods, pins, springs, cork, and leather pads — so Mr. Ritter often takes breaks to work on his figurative creations.

His output has turned the shop into a menagerie of skeletal dragons and swooping prehistoric birds, as well as quirky figurines and decorative items.

Mobiles hang from the ceiling; movable figures sit on shelves. There is a jazz drummer who plays with the turn of a tiny crank. There is a mobile in the style of the artist Alexander Calder made with saxophone rods and key cups.

A bony reptile lay across Mr. Ritter’s toolbox as he worked on a saxophone by the soft light that filtered in from the air shaft through sooty windows.

A huge gong hangs on the inside of the door, signaling each customer’s arrival with a loud clatter. It announced the entrance of Jonathon Haffner, a saxophonist seeking a tuneup of his horn before heading off to record with the trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and the drummer Jack DeJohnette.

The next customer was Michael Johnson, who played saxophone in the house band for B.B. King’s club in Times Square before the place closed in April. Mr. Johnson also needed a once-over on his horn and, like Mr. Haffner, he needed it done immediately.