Monday June 28, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Saxophone
On this Day:
In 1846, the Saxophone was patented by Antoine-Joseph “Adolfe” Sax.
The saxophone is a type of single-reed woodwind instrument with a conical body, usually made of brass. As with all single-reed instruments, sound is produced when a reed on a mouthpiece vibrates to produce a sound wave inside the instrument’s body. The pitch is controlled by opening and closing holes in the body to change the effective length of the tube. The holes are closed by leather pads attached to keys operated by the player. Saxophones are made in various sizes and are almost always treated as transposing instruments. Saxophone players are called saxophonists.
The saxophone is used in a wide range of musical styles including classical music (such as concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, and occasionally orchestras), military bands, marching bands, jazz (such as big bands and jazz combos), and contemporary music. The saxophone is also used as a solo and melody instrument or as a member of a horn section in some styles of rock and roll and popular music.
The saxophone was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in the early 1840s and was patented on 28 June 1846. Sax invented two groups of seven instruments each—one group contained instruments in C and F, and the other group contained instruments in B♭ and E♭. The B♭ and E♭ instruments soon became dominant and most saxophones encountered today are from this series. Instruments from the series pitched in C and F never gained a foothold and constituted only a small percentage of instruments made by Sax. High Pitch (also marked “H” or “HP”) saxophones tuned sharper than the (concert) A = 440 Hz standard were produced into the early twentieth century for sonic qualities suited for outdoor use, but are not playable to modern tuning and are considered obsolete. Low Pitch (also marked “L” or “LP”) saxophones are equivalent in tuning to modern instruments. C soprano and C melody saxophones were produced for the casual market as parlor instruments during the early twentieth century, and saxophones in F were introduced during the late 1920s but never gained acceptance. The modern saxophone family consists entirely of B♭ and E♭ instruments. The saxophones in widest use are the B♭ soprano, E♭ alto, B♭ tenor, and E♭ baritone.
The saxophone first gained popularity in military bands. Although the instrument was initially ignored in Germany, French and Belgian military bands were quick to include the instrument in their ensembles. Most French and Belgian military bands incorporate at least a quartet of saxophones, comprising an E♭ baritone, B♭ tenor, E♭ alto and B♭ soprano. These four instruments have proved the most popular of all of Sax’s creations, with the E♭ contrabass and B♭ bass usually considered impractically large and the E♭ sopranino insufficiently powerful. British military bands tend to include at minimum two saxophonists, on the alto and tenor.
The saxophone was introduced into the concert band, which usually calls for an E♭ alto saxophone, a B♭ tenor saxophone, and an E♭ baritone saxophone. A concert band may include two altos, one tenor, and one baritone. A B♭ soprano saxophone is also used, in which case it is played by the first alto saxophonist. A bass saxophone in B♭ is used in some concert band music (especially music by Percy Grainger).
Saxophones are used in chamber music, such as saxophone quartets and other chamber combinations of instruments. The classical saxophone quartet consists of a B♭ soprano saxophone, E♭ alto saxophone, B♭ tenor saxophone, and E♭ baritone saxophone (SATB). On occasion, the soprano is replaced with a second alto sax (AATB); a few professional saxophone quartets have featured non-standard instrumentation, such as James Fei’s Alto Quartet (four altos).
There is a repertoire of classical compositions and arrangements for the SATB instrumentation dating back to the nineteenth century, particularly by French composers who knew Sax. However, the largest body of chamber works for saxophone are from the modern era of classical saxophone initiated by Marcel Mule in 1928. Sigurd Raschèr followed as a soloist in orchestral works, starting in 1931, and also figured prominently in development of modern classical saxophone repertoire. The Mule quartet is often considered the prototype for quartets due to the level of virtuosity demonstrated by its members and its central role in the development of modern quartet repertoire. However, organized quartets existed before Mule’s ensemble, the prime example being the quartet headed by Edward A. Lefebre (1834–1911), which was a subset of Patrick Gilmore’s 22nd Regiment band between 1873 and 1893.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, the saxophone found increased popularity in symphony orchestras. The instrument has also been used in opera and choral music. Musical theatre scores also can include parts for saxophone, sometimes doubling another woodwind or brass instrument.
Coincident with the more widespread availability of saxophones in the US around the turn of the century was the rise of ragtime music. The bands featuring the syncopated Latin- and African-American rhythmic influences of ragtime were an exciting new feature of the American cultural landscape and provided the groundwork for new styles of dancing. Two of the best known ragtime-playing brass bands with saxophones were those led by W. C. Handy and James R. Europe. Europe’s 369th Infantry Regiment Band popularized ragtime in France during its 1918 tour. The rise of dance bands into the 1920s followed from the popularity of ragtime. The saxophone was also used in Vaudeville entertainment during the same period. Ragtime, Vaudeville, and dance bands introduced much of the American public to the saxophone. Rudy Wiedoeft became the best known individual saxophone stylist and virtuoso during this period leading into the “saxophone craze” of the 1920s. Following it, the saxophone became featured in music as diverse as the “sweet” music of Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo, jazz, swing, and large stage show bands.
The rise of the saxophone as a jazz instrument followed its widespread adoption in dance bands during the early 1920s. The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, formed in 1923, featured arrangements to back up improvisation, bringing the first elements of jazz to the large dance band format. Following the innovations of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the Duke Ellington Orchestra and Jean Goldkette’s Victor Recording Orchestra featured jazz solos with saxophones and other instruments. The association of dance bands with jazz would reach its peak with the swing music of the 1930s. The large show band format, influenced by the 1930s swing bands, would be used as backing for popular vocalists and stage shows in the post World War II era, and provided a foundation for big band jazz. Show bands with saxophone sections became a staple of television talk shows (such as the Tonight Show that featured bands led by Doc Severinsen and Branford Marsalis) and Las Vegas stage shows. The swing era fostered the later saxophone styles that permeated bebop and rhythm and blues in the early postwar era.
Coleman Hawkins established the tenor saxophone as a jazz solo instrument during his stint with Fletcher Henderson from 1923 to 1934. Hawkins’ arpeggiated, rich-toned, vibrato-laden style was the main influence on swing era tenor players before Lester Young, and his influence continued with other big-toned tenor players into the era of modern jazz. Among the tenor players directly influenced by him were Chu Berry, Charlie Barnet, Tex Beneke, Ben Webster, Vido Musso, Herschel Evans, Buddy Tate, and Don Byas. Hawkins’ bandmate Benny Carter and Duke Ellington’s alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges became influential on swing era alto styles, while Harry Carney brought the baritone saxophone to prominence with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. The New Orleans player Sidney Bechet gained recognition for playing the soprano saxophone during the 1920s, but the instrument did not come into wide use until the modern era of jazz.
As Chicago style jazz evolved from New Orleans jazz in the 1920s, one of its defining features was the addition of saxophones to the ensemble. The small Chicago ensembles offered more improvisational freedom than did the New Orleans or large band formats, fostering the innovations of saxophonists Jimmy Dorsey (alto), Frankie Trumbauer (c-melody), Bud Freeman (tenor) and Stump Evans (baritone). Dorsey and Trumbauer became important influences on tenor saxophonist Lester Young.
Lester Young’s approach on tenor saxophone differed from Hawkins’, emphasizing more melodic “linear” playing that wove in and out of the chordal structure and longer phrases that differed from those suggested by the tune. He used vibrato less, fitting it to the passage he was playing. His tone was smoother and darker than that of his 1930s contemporaries. Young’s playing was a major influence on the modern jazz saxophonists Al Cohn, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Lee Konitz, Warne Marsh, Charlie Parker, and Art Pepper.
The influence of Lester Young with the Count Basie Orchestra in the late 1930s and the popularity of Hawkins’ 1939 recording of “Body and Soul” marked the saxophone as an influence on jazz equal to the trumpet, which had been the defining instrument of jazz since its beginnings in New Orleans. But the greatest influence of the saxophone on jazz was to occur a few years later when alto saxophonist Charlie Parker became an icon of the bebop revolution that influenced generations of jazz musicians. The small-group format of bebop and post-bebop jazz ensembles gained ascendancy in the 1940s as musicians used the harmonic and melodic freedom pioneered by Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell in extended jazz solos.
During the 1950s, prominent alto players included Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Criss and Paul Desmond, while prominent tenor players included Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Lucky Thompson, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, and Paul Gonsalves. Serge Chaloff, Gerry Mulligan, Pepper Adams and Leo Parker brought the baritone saxophone to prominence as a solo instrument. Steve Lacy renewed attention to the soprano saxophone in the context of modern jazz and John Coltrane boosted the instrument’s popularity during the 1960s. Smooth jazz musician Kenny G also uses the soprano sax as his principal instrument.
Saxophonists such as John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, and Pharoah Sanders defined the forefront of creative exploration with the avant-garde movement of the 1960s. The new realms offered with Modal, harmolodic, and free jazz were explored with every device that saxophonists could conceive of. Sheets of sound, tonal exploration, upper harmonics, and multiphonics were hallmarks of the creative possibilities that saxophones offered. One lasting influence of the avant-garde movement is the exploration of non-Western ethnic sounds on the saxophone, for example, the African-influenced sounds used by Sanders and the Indian-influenced sounds used by Coltrane. The devices of the avant-garde movement have continued to be influential in music that challenges the boundaries between avant-garde and other categories of jazz, such as that of alto saxophonists Steve Coleman and Greg Osby.
Some ensembles such as the World Saxophone Quartet use the soprano-alto-tenor-baritone (SATB) format of the classical saxophone quartet for jazz. In the 1990s, World Saxophone Quartet founder Hamiet Bluiett formed the quartet Baritone Nation (four baritones).
The “jump swing” bands of the 1940s gave rise to rhythm and blues, featuring horn sections and exuberant, strong-toned, heavily rhythmic styles of saxophone playing with a melodic sense based on blues tonalities. Illinois Jacquet, Sam Butera, Arnett Cobb, and Jimmy Forrest were major influences on R&B tenor styles and Louis Jordan, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Earl Bostic, and Bull Moose Jackson were major influences on alto. The R&B saxophone players influenced later genres including rock and roll, ska, soul, and funk. Horn section work continued with Johnny Otis and Ray Charles featuring horn sections and the Memphis Horns, the Phenix Horns, and Tower of Power achieving distinction for their section playing. Horn sections were added to the Chicago and West Coast blues bands of Lowell Fulson, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, and Guitar Slim. Rock and soul fusion bands such as Chicago, The Electric Flag, and Blood, Sweat, and Tears featured horn sections. Bobby Keys and Clarence Clemons became influential rock and roll saxophone stylists. Junior Walker, King Curtis and Maceo Parker became influential soul and funk saxophone stylists, influencing the more technical jazz-fusion sounds of Michael Brecker and Bob Mintzer and pop-jazz players such as Candy Dulfer (from Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
I listened to a jazz ensemble while I was at the ocean shore for vacation…
Nothing beats sax on the beach!
Second, a Song:
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” is a song recorded by American singer Elvis Presley for the album Blue Hawaii (1961). It was written by Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss and published by Gladys Music, Inc. The melody is based on “Plaisir d’amour”, a popular French love song composed in 1784 by Jean-Paul-Égide Martini. The song was initially written from the perspective of a woman as “Can’t Help Falling in Love with Him”, which explains the first and third line ending on “in” and “sin” rather than words rhyming with “you”.
“Can’t Help Falling in Love” was featured in Presley’s 1961 film Blue Hawaii. During the following four decades, it has been recorded by numerous other artists, including Bob Dylan on his 1973 album Dylan, Tom Smothers, Swedish pop group A-Teens, and the British reggae group UB40, whose 1993 version topped the U.S. and UK charts. It has also been regarded as one of the greatest songs of all time by Rolling Stone, ranking #403 in the list’s 2012 edition (per Wikipedia).
Alexandra Ilieva is a saxophonist.
From Alexandra Ilieva on YouTube.com:
“Hello everyone! 🙂
I’m 25 years old and I have graduated in classical music for saxophone at the Academy of Music and Arts in Skopje, Macedonia.”
I am afraid I can’t seem to find much more about her on the web. However, her music speaks for her.
So here is Alexandra Ilieva performing “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on her saxophone. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.” – Charlie Parker
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky