Seven Surprising Secrets of the Saxophone
Don’t we all love the caressing, smooth sounds of the saxophone? Whether played as part of an orchestra in an academic piece from the beginnings of the 20th Century, or as an unforgettable solo in a Kenny G song that reminds you of the first kiss you and your significant other shared, the saxophone is unique in many ways. Here is a list of interesting facts perhaps you didn’t know about this instrument!
#1: It was created by a single man!
Unlike other musical instruments, such as the violin which has been around for centuries, the saxophone is pretty much new among musical instruments. And like the piano, which is said to evolve from previous instruments such as the clavichord or the harpsichord –we already discussed its interesting history in a previous article-; the saxophone also has a birthday and a father!
That’s right. The saxophone is even named after his inventor, Belgian musician Adolphe Sax, who created back in 1846. According to Constance Meyer, from the Los Angeles Times, “Sax was an ambitious, brilliant man who had a knack for making friends and enemies alike. He improved a number of instruments, in particular the clarinet, and made the formerly unreliable bass clarinet into a standard component of the orchestra’s woodwind section”. He didn’t constraint to creating new musical instruments, but he also obtained patents for a fumigation box and –oh, dear- a weapon called the Saxocannon!
#2: It took years for the saxophone to stick
It is said that nobody really liked Sax’s invention at first. But then came Hector Berlioz, a famous composer, and created his Chant Sacré, the first musical piece composed specifically for the instrument. Sax continued to fight for his creative integrity and being mocked at, and fighting lawsuits that he ended up winning, but in any case, he died in poverty by the age of eighty.
Later, in 1929, Henri Selmer perfected the instrument and the sax found its rightful place in the history of music, with jazz as its main field. Now it is hard to imagine concert bands, chamber music, military bands, marching bands, or rock and roll, without the saxophone!
#3: It comes in different sizes and pitches
Did you know that there are 14 different kinds of saxophones? The lowest pitch belongs to the tubax, while the highest to the soprillo. Nevertheless, the most common are only four: the baritone, tenor, alto, and soprano. The alto sax is the favorite among beginners, because of its small size. But the most commonly used is the tenor sax.
If you already play a specific size of sax, because all of them use the same key arrangement, you may find it quite easy to switch from one size to the other.
#4: The sax is a woodwind instrument
When you look at it, many would believe that the saxophone belongs to the brass family. But, like the tuba, it is actually a woodwind instrument because the way the sound is produced on this instrument: by vibrating a reed.
And anyway, saxophones aren’t always made of brass, as you can find instruments made of copper, bronze, sterling silver, and even materials such as acrylic, plastic, and polycarbonate! There are even cheap versions of the saxophone made of bamboo that appeared in exotic locations such as Ethiopia, Hawaii, Jamaica, Argentina, or Indonesia. Last but not least, synthesiser wind controllers are played and fingered the same way as the sax.
#5: There is a World Saxophone Day
Each November 6th, musicians all around the globe celebrate the date, honoring the birthday of its creator. Adolphe Sax was born on November 6th, 1814. Whether you wish to enjoy special playlists of classic and contemporary pieces the sax embellishes, or if you want to sign up for saxophone lessons and finally learn how to play those Huey Lewis and the News’s solos, November 6th is the perfect day to celebrate the sounds of the sax!
#6: Many compare the sax sounds to the human voice
Sax solos leave an unforgettable mark that turns many songs memorable. Some saxophone solos are even more recognizable than the lyrics! Just to name a few, “Careless Whisper” by George Michael; “Walk on the wild side”, by Lou Reed; “Young Americans” or “Modern Love”, by David Bowie; “Us and them”, by Pink Floyd; “The logical song”, by Supertramp, “Who can it be now?”, by Men at Work; “Baker Street”, by Jerry Rafferty; “Never tear us apart”, by INXS; “The edge of glory”, by Lady GaGa…
They say it was Puccini who said that the saxophone was the closest of any instruments to the human voice. In any case, its sounds trigger all kinds of emotional responses, don’t you agree?
#7: Famous saxophone players
When it comes to classical music, most people remember Marcel Mule as a virtuous saxophonist. However, it wasn’t until the jazz adopted the saxophone that the instrument gained its popularity. Charlie Parker is considered by many the greatest saxophonist of all time, while John Coltrane also marked the 60’s generation. Sidney Bechet, Stan Getz, Ornette Coleman… among them, hundreds of musicians have left their mark in the history of music.
Curiously, there are other figures in the popular culture associated with the saxophone. We can’t forget about former American President Bill Clinton, of course, but also actors such as Hugh Laurie or Jennifer Garner. And in fiction, Zoot from The Muppets, and our beloved talented yellow-skin 8-year-old Lisa Simpson certainly deserve a mention, right? After all, they all helped to put the saxophone under the attention of young musicians, some of whom are shining on stages today!