Whilst originally conceived as an orchestral the saxophone is firmly linked to many of the key developments in . , the history of
In this article we’re going to take a look at the ‘s early days, it’s different uses, its design and set-up, and some of the key players and manufacturers that played their part in its rise to fame.
From Sidney ’s wailing in the early days of New Orleans , to the spiritually charged modal of John Coltrane’s -led quartet, via Charlie Parker’s bebop and Ornette Coleman’s revolutionary free : many of ’s biggest characters have been saxophonists, and the is deeply associated with the genre.
However, that hasn’t always been the case.
In fact, the was originally conceived of as an orchestral .
And, of course, saxes have also been used in classical chamber pop, funk, Motown and ska bands., military bands,
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some and how these hugely versatile and expressive instruments developed from their origins in 19th Century France, to their massive role in the most of the major movements in .
and the Invention of the
The was invented by in the early 1840s.
that he stumbled across a prototype version of the . sought to create an that combined the technical dexterity of the flute and , with the -like sound of the family; it was whilst experimenting with modifications to the
This early goal explains a common confusion around the
“It’s a , but it’s made from ?!”
That may be true but in terms of sound production (which, let’s face it, is a pretty important part of any a wooden reed which is most comparable to a . !) it has
Originally, the the and, initially, a number of major classical composers lent their support by writing orchestral pieces to feature the . was conceived as a revolutionary new member of
Hector Berlioz, in particular, was an early advocate.
Although the never became a standard part of the orchestral lineup, orchestras will often draft in specialists in order to play pieces like Maurice Ravel’s Boléro or Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story, which utilise the amongst the ensemble.
A school of classical playing was established which still exists today.
As with any , the players that popularise it only tell half the story.
The , improving and refining the technical side things, often play an important role in the advancing techniques and sound quality.
Compared to today, the early was extremely cumbersome, tuning was tricky and the sound was inconsistent across the range of the .
Listen to a handful of the most famous albums of all time and chances are you’ll hear a .
Today, the most commonly played saxophones are the baritone saxophones. , , and
They are all transposing instruments, pitched in either E flat (meaning that a C played on the , for example, sounds as an E flat on the piano) or B flat (meaning that a C on the , for instance, sounds as a B flat on the piano).
However, ’s original patents conceived of 14 members of the family, including some pitched in C (concert pitch, like the piano, flute or violin) and some in F.
It was the E flat and B flat saxes that caught on, though: those are the ones that are scored for by composers and arrangers writing for all the major types of ensemble that include saxophones, and it is these that are sold by all of the well known manufacturers.
One exception, at least for a time, was the C melody
Their slightly subdued tone meant that they could be played at home with less chance of disturbing the neighbours, and the fact that they were pitched in C meant that they could share sheet with the piano without needing to transpose.
However, sales dropped off as the 1929 Wall Street Crash hit, and the start of the big craze in the early ‘30s meant that altos and tenors were now the order of the day, so C melodies are now rarely seen.
In the early days of the and then Chicago, the ’s epicentre was first New Orleans ’s role was not as prominent as it would later become. , when
Trumpets tended to lead the , typically flanked by and trombone on the frontline, and there are no saxes in sight on Louis Armstrong’s seminal Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings, which are perhaps the greatest achievement in 1920s .
There were, however, some exceptions to this.
The trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke played a lot with Frankie Trumbauer, a fabulous C melody ., and Beiderbecke’s bands also sometimes featured the (now rarely-seen)
Things changed when Coleman Hawkins turned the into a during the 1920s, as he emerged as a star soloist with Fletcher Henderson’s .
Johnny Hodges and Ben Webster, two longtime Duke Ellington sidemen, and Lester Young, who first appeared with Count Basie’s , were just some of the great players to come to prominence during the swing and big era of the 1930s.
Since then, the has been at the forefront of most movements and innovations within .
Charlie Parker’s mercurial playing ushered in the bebop era in the 1940s, spawning waves of imitators.
Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley and Hank Mobley continued Parker’s legacy as bebop morphed into hard bop and later became blues-soaked soul .
Meanwhile, players associated with the Cool scene – Stan Getz, Lee Konitz and Gerry Mulligan amongst them – improvised in a relaxed fashion that was inspired with the swing stylings of Lester Young.
The ’s ability to blow up an ultra-expressive storm was put on display in the late 1950s and ‘60s.
John Coltrane’s classic quartet, fronted by the leader on and sometimes , made some of the most spiritually-charged and impassioned ever recorded on albums like A Love Supreme and Impressions.
Around the same time, Ornette Coleman’s free , influencing fellow avant garde pioneers like Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, Pharaoh Sanders and Albert Ayler. was abandoning previously strict rules surrounding harmony and form in birthing
In the late 1960s Miles Davis helped usher in the rock era by introducing electric keyboards, synthesizers and bass guitars to his bands.
player Wayne Shorter, previously a member of Art Blakey’s acoustic hard bop groups, was one of Davis’ key collaborators, and would soon go on to form the pioneering fusion group Weather Report. and
Michael Brecker, another forward-thinking player with straight ahead credibility, fronted the funky fusion group the Brecker Brothers along with his brother, the trumpeter Randy Brecker.
During the 1960s and ‘70s some non-American players began to embrace improvising in ways that celebrated their own respective national identities.
For example, the Norwegian Jan Garbarek, like many Scandanavian players, is influenced by Nordic folk .
The Sidney ’s wildly contrasting sounds.’s versatility and the stylistic breadth of is made clear when we hear the stark difference between his and
The in Other Genres
Although the didn’t take off as an orchestral , it was quickly adopted by the bands of the French military, and it remains a staple of military and concert bands across the world.
It is also used in Motown, funk and ska Michael Brecker was particularly renowned for contributing these to hundreds of songs). sections, and there was a time during the 1980s when every pop song seemed to have a short interlude in the form of a (
It also features in contemporary and, as already mentioned, saxophones still appear in orchestras from time to time, when required for specific pieces.
Many of today’s most recognisable musicians are saxophonists.
Most players play either the – Kenny Garrett, Miguel Zenon and Tia Fuller, for example – or – such as Joshua Redman, Chris Potter and Melissa Aldana.
But a few notable names make prominent use of the (Lisa Parrott, for example) or (such as Dave Liebman, who also plays ).
It is now possible to study either classical or at many of the world’s top conservatories (high level, specialist colleges), so there is no shortage of talented young saxophonists appearing on the scene to continue the ’s rich legacy.
The label ‘Discover Jazz’ is attached to articles which have been edited and published by Jazzfuel host Matt Fripp, but have been written in collaboration with various different jazz musicians and industry contributors. When appropriate, these musicians are quoted and name-checked inside the article itself!