10 facts about the saxophone and its players
By Maggie Belnap
The saxophone has long been a star instrument in jazz, big bands, and solo performances. But when exactly did this grand instrument come about? Who invented it? Not many people know that when the saxophone first appeared in jazz, many performers turned up their noses to it, much preferring the clarinet. But as the hardness began to wear off, the saxophone became a hit in itself.
1. Adolphe Sax moved to Paris in 1842 and invented the saxophone in 1846.
2. The saxophone has a metal body and is played with a single beating reed, which the player controls through his or her mouth tightness.
3. There are eight different saxophones in the sax family. The highest pitched ones are known as the Sopranino and Soprano sax. The more moderately middle toned saxes are the Alto and Tenor, while the lowest pitched saxs are Baritone Sax, Bass Sax, Contrabass Sax, and Sub-Contrabass Sax.
4. Only four members of the sax family are commonly used today: the Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass Saxophone. The most popular are the Alto and Tenor.
5. Although the saxophone is usually thought of as a jazz instrument, it has been used successfully with symphonic music such as Bizet, Massenet, and Berlioz.
6. Although the saxophone is closely related to the clarinet, the fingering of a saxophone is much easier. Because the higher and lower octaves of the sax have the same fingering, it is much easier to play than the clarinet, which over blows at 12ths, meaning a clarinet player must learn different fingers for higher and lower octaves.
7. When the saxophone was first introduced to jazz, the clarinet was much more popular and many musicians resisted the saxophone for a time.
8. However, the tenor, alto, and soprano saxs soon caught on and became very popular in music from New Orleans jazz to rock music.
9. Gene Ammons, founder of the Chicago school of Tenor Sax, recorded, “The Big Sound” and “Groove Blues” on a single day in 1958. The album includes many talented players, especially Gene Ammons talented saxophone playing.
10. John Douglas Surman was a remarkable play of the soprano and baritone saxophones (as well as many other instruments). He attended the London College of Music and was a member of the Jazz Workshop at Plymouth Arts Center. is solo album, The Amazing Adventures of Simon Simon, includes and features many different saxophone sounds.
Maggie Belnap is a Social Media intern at Oxford University Press. She attends Amherst College.
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