Saxophones Are The Coolest!
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It was a dark time in the world of music. The planet was vacant of vital, life-giving saxophones and was filled with the rueful dirge of string and brass instruments. This plague swept mercilessly across the land and brought fourth havoc and destruction to many. Then, in 1844 this all changed. One of the world’s greatest inventions of all time was created. This is the tale of the saxophone.
Aldophe Sax was born in Dinant, Belgium in 1814. He perfected the bass clarinet when he was only twenty years old. By 1844, he had created a working, playable model of the saxophone. It was put into the Paris Industrial Exhibition. Within the same year it was exhibited, the saxophone was in its first orchestral performance, which was Georges Kastner’s opera, Last King of Judah.
The saxophone has the largest range of all the instruments in the woodwind family. So it was no surprise when in 1845, only a year after it was on exhibit, it replaced oboes, bassoons, and french horns in Military bands with Bb and Eb saxophones. The saxophone has not always been the same. Aldophe Sax bought a patent for fourteen variations of the saxophone in 1846 music It has evolved over time to the saxophone we know and love today.
In 1847, a saxophone school was set up at the military band school called “Gymnase Musical” in Paris . At the same time Aldophe was not earning enough money and was on the verge of bankruptcy. Luckily in 1848, an anonymous benefactor gave Aldophe the money to help pay his workers. Luck was short lived for in 1852 Aldophe’s anonymous benefactor died. Aldophe had some money but could not afford to pay his bills. As a result in 1856, he was forced into economic death for the first time.
Life however continued on. Exciting and interesting things were happening. In 1858, Aldophe got a job working as a Professor of Saxophone at the Paris Conservatory. Also in 1858, Jean-Baptiste Singelee wrote the very first Paris Conservatory contest solos for soprano and tenor saxophones. A year later, on September 29, 1859 Aldophe sax’s son named Aldophe Edouard was born. Wagner in 1861 at the premiere of his opera Tannhauser used saxophones in the orchestra pit.
In 1866 Adolph’s patent expired this then allowed the evolution of the sax to flourish. Millereau Co. patented saxophone-Millereau which featured a forked f# key. Grutrot, Pierre Louis & Co. in 1868, devised the “screw in pad system” and also a mechanism inside the pad cup in order to keep the outside of the pads flat. This helped the tone quality of the saxophone tremendously.
While the saxophone evolved and flourished as a result of Adolph’s expired patent, Sax suffered a major financial loss and was forced to declare financial failure for the second and ultimate time in 1873. This was the same year Patrick Gilmore, who was the American bandleader, used the saxophone in military bands in New York City for the first time.
A new type of saxophone, with a fingering system comparable to the Boehm system for the clarinet, was patented in 1875 by Goumas. This made it easier for other musicians that had played the clarinet, to learn to play the saxophone because they did not have to learn as many new fingerings.
In 1881 Aldophe was back in the game. He extended his original patent and he also lengthened the bell of the saxophone to include low Bb and A. In addition, Aldophe extended the saxophone's upward range to F# and G with the use of a fourth octave key. This extended the range of the saxophone and also improved the tone quality.
The first saxophone built in the United States, was built in 1885 by, Gus Buesher. He used Aldophe’s patented design. Buesher was successful and the Buesher Saxophone Company is still around today.
The saxophone continued to evolve. The Association Des Ouvriers invented a right hand C trill key and a half-hole system for the first fingers of the left and right hands in 1886. Then in 1887 they also invented the tuning ring and the predecessor of the articulated G# Evette and Schaeffer. They improved on the articulated G# so that the G# key can be held down while any finger of the right hand is being used. They also refined the forked F#, added a low Bb, and they invented the bis key.
The single octave key, invented by Lecomte in 1888, was handier to play than the others, because there was only one octave instead of many. Lecomte also added rollers to the low Eb and C keys. The rollers are very handy to use, they make it much easier to finger the notes.
Sadly in 1894 Aldophe Sax died. His son, Aldophe Edoaurd Sax however, continued his work and took over his father’s factory.
By 1914, the saxophone was starting to arise in jazz bands for the first time ever. A jazz band is a group of musicians who improvise together on varied musical themes, many follow a blues form but all of them have a blues feeling and are played in a swing rhythm. The woodwinds in a jazz band are clarinets and saxophones. Its’ brasses are trumpets trombones, and sometimes a tuba or another low instrument. The rhythm section of a jazz band contains double bass, drum set, and piano.
Just as this new sound was dawning, several soon to be famous musicians were just being born. On August 29 1920 in Kansas City, Kansas one of the greatest jazz alto players of all time Charlie "Bird" Parker was born. In Hamlet, North Carolina one of the greatest tenor players of all time John Coltrane was born on September 23 1926.
The saxophone was becoming more recognized in the music world. On January 31, 1926 there was the first performance of serious saxophone literature in New York City's Aeolian Hall by Jascha Gurewich . In 1927 Ravel used sopranisimo, soprano, and tenor saxophones in his Bolero. Henri Selmer Company purchased the Sax Factory in 1928. The Selmer Company today is recognized as one of the top three saxophone companies in the world.
As the saxophone became more widely used people developed opinions concerning the reeds, mouthpieces and playing techniques. The maker of Hemke Reeds, Frederick Hemke was born on July 11, 1935. Jamey Aebersold who was known as a jazz pedagogue and influential to jazz saxophone practice techniques, as well as other instruments was born on July 21, 1939. Arnold Brillhart, who was a well-known jazz saxophonist, began to produce and design mouthpieces in 1939.
Eighty-four years after Adolphe Sax, in 1942, Marcel Mule was appointed Professor of Saxophone at the Paris Conservatory. Ninety-eight years after Adolphe Sax was appointed, Frederick Hemke became the first saxophonist to win the Premier Prix de Saxophone at the Paris Conservatory. This was a stepping stone for the saxophone in the world of music.
The history of the saxophone seems to be filled with contrast. While it was a huge step forward for the first saxophonist to win the premier at the Paris Conservatory, it came one short year after the famous Charlie "Bird" Parker had preformed at Birdland in what was his last public performance on March 4, 1955. Several years later Jazz tenor saxophonist legend Lester Young died in New York on March 15, 1959. Another noteworthy tragedy struck on July 17, 1967 when John Coltrane died after suffering from severe abdominal pains.
The music world had accepted the saxophone into the mainstream. In December of 1969, the first World Saxophone Congress Meeting, which organized by Brodie and Rousseau, was held in Chicago, Illinois. The 2nd World Saxophone Congress Meeting took place in 1970 and was also in Chicago. The third WSC meeting is held in Toronto, Canada in 1972. The fourth WSC meeting is held in Brodeaux in 1973.
The saxophone continued to evolve as Selmer introduced its Mark VII with a standard High F# key in 1976. Also in 1976 Selmer started to market square-chamber mouthpieces . To counter the Selmer Mark VII Yamaha introduced its 62 series in 1980.
Now onto reeds... Reeds are one of the most important things when it comes to the tone quality of the saxophone. You need to take good care of your reed. If you start of with a poor quality reed, such as a Rico, you can’t take care of it all you want it won’t help the sound you get out of it. It is important that you buy a good quality reed, such as a Vandoren or La Voz, and take good care of it. A good quality reed will improve the tone quality of the saxophone by far.
The size or thickness of a reed is usually measured with numbers. The higher the number the harder the reed. Some companies, like La Voz, simply put soft, hard, etc. on them. The thickness of reed a musician should use depends on their instrument, mouthpiece, personal preference, and whether or not their mouths can handle a thick reed. Most beginners start off on a one and a half or a two. The thicker the reed the better the tone quality will be.
If you are getting a buzzing sound from your reed, and notes in the upper registers tend to be flat, the reed is probably to thin. If your playing a reed that is to thick or to stiff for you, it can cause your tone to become very stuffy. A thick or stiff reed will be difficult to play quietly, especially the lower notes. Also, your articulation will suffer.
The tone or sound of the instrument can be made brighter or darker in several different ways. Remember the more contact the reed has with the mouthpiece the darker the tone. If you slide the reed forward on the mouthpiece the reed has less contact which allows for more vibration which gives you a brighter tone. By sliding the reed backward it does just the opposite. It creates more contact, which means less vibration and a darker tone. Another way to adjust the tone is to loosen/tighten the front screw on the ligature. If you loosen the screw it allows for more vibration thus you get a brighter tone (Mouthpiece and Reed Positioning). The exact opposite happens if you tighten it. The reed cannot vibrate as much and it has a darker tone. If the ligature has only one screw, experiment with moving it back and fourth on the mouthpiece to darken/lighten the tone.
The saxophone has brought light and laughter into the once dark world of music. The age of the saxophone has come and with it joy and happiness that will last forever.
I would like to give a thank you to the Sax Appeal
page for some of the info.
Yet another thank you to Wynton Marsalis' Marsalis on Music Book first for jsut being a great music book and second for giving me some nice facts to better my report.
This is my favorite quote please read it:
"I'm really not that good. I have a long way to go, but I'm further than I was yesterday, and even further from the day before. I will never perfect any instrument. That's why music is so much fun." Anonymous