Introduction to the Saxophone
What attracted you to the saxophone? I’ve been asked this question many times. Well, the sound of course. Next to the human voice it’s the most expressive instrument and the one that closest resembles the human voice.
Like our voices the sax, or should I say the saxophonist is capable of producing an extreme range of sounds from sad, haunting dark tones to uplifting screams of laughter.
I don’t think anyone played the tenor more expressively than Ben Webster, and the way he played those beautiful, low, breathy notes… listen;
Makin’ Whoppee from the recording “Soulville”
Screams; Let’s Rock Tonite from the recording "Rock & Roll Saxophonist"
Laughing; Chompin’ At The Bit from the recording "Rock & Roll Saxophonist"
You can’t get a better laugh out of another instrument. This is one of my favorite gimmicks… hey, the kids love it. On this example the sax is going through a wah-wah pedal.
Part 1) From the beginning
Part 2) Classical
Part 3) Swing... the other beginning
Part 4) Rhythm and Blues / Rock and Roll
Part 1 - It Came from Belgium…
Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone in 1842 making it one of the newest instruments. I’ve heard some people call it a brass instrument but although it’s made from a certain type of brass, it uses a single reed on the mouthpiece to make the sound which puts it in the woodwind family, like the clarinet. Other woodwinds are the oboe, bassoon, and bagpipes, these use double reeds. The recorder and flute are woodwinds as well.
Appearantly Sax drew up plans for 14 different types of saxophones.
I don’t know how far he got building them all but I’ve heard of 10 and seen 8. The 6 pictured below from left to right are; sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass. The other 4 I know of that aren’t pictured here are the sopranissimo, even smaller than the sopranino, C melody, which would fit between the alto and tenor, the contrabass, and subcontrabass which are bigger than the bass! Some of these come in different shapes like the curved soprano and the straight tenor. The most popular ones are soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone and these are the voices that make up a saxophone quartet.
Hard to imagine now but the saxophone didn’t gain instant popularity... quite the opposite.
Mr. Sax apparently worked hard to get his new invention to composers and band leaders but the instrumentation of the orchestra had been established for many years and nobody wanted to add a sax section, imagine that... I know a lot of sax fans that wished it would have happened differently, myself included!
Sax became the first professor of saxophone at the Paris Conservatory in 1858.
Method books were written and a few more composers were writing for the instrument and finally in 1885 the first one was made in the United States.
Part 2 - Rudy Wiedoeft: America’s first sax star?
There was a bit of a sax craze in America in the early 1900’s and a man who was partly responsible for it was the virtuoso Rudy Wiedoeft. Although not widely known today he was very popular in his time. He was an excellent saxophonist with classical training but recorded his own pop style, vaudville, and novelty songs. Stylistically he was rooted in ragtime and classical, pre-jazz era. His saxes of choice were the alto and the C melody, which has been out of production since the early 1930's.
Rudy's own Valse Vanite
Now into the 1930’s the classical saxophone had some well known players;
Marcel Mule, from France, Sigurd Rascher, German/American, and later the American Eugene Rousseau. These guys were performing, recording and having music composed for them.
For most “legit” saxophonists the alto was by far the most popular choice.
Eugene Rousseau sonata for alto sax and piano
The saxophone didn’t make it into the classical orchestra as a section but that didn’t stop people from writing and arranging for saxophone quartets... from Bach to Bartok to Ellington.
The sax quartet... it's a beautiful thing!
World Saxophone Quartet plays Ellington
Speaking of Ellington, it's time for... Part 3… Swing... a new voice speaks