About the Saxophone

Invention and History

Saxophone in Music

Playing the Saxophone




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Styles on the Saxophone


The saxophone may have gained international exposure through the military bands of the world, but it was through jazz that it became the iconic instrument it is today. The saxophone made its way into jazz simply by being a part of the military bands stationed in New Orleans. Early jazz bands drew from the military band instruments to form their various ensembles. This is why we have trumpets and trombones and saxophones in Jazz today rather than orchestral instruments like the oboe and French horn. This alone wouldn't insure its place in history, however. At first the saxophone was merely a part of the ensemble, blending in, not standing out in any way other than its unique shape. It would take individual players such as Sidney Bechet, Frankie Trumbauer, and Coleman Hawkins to show how captivating the saxophone voice could be. Today many people say that the saxophone is the closet instrument to the human voice, and it is because of these pioneers and others like them that this has become the case. These players and many others would later elevate the saxophone from a member of the ensemble to featured soloist to the lead instrument in a jazz combo. At the time other horns in the jazz band could not compete with the speed saxophone players could play and with the unique sounds and tones they were able to produce. This would lay the foundation for the saxophone to seep into all other genres of music. The soulfulness of the saxophone attracted it to early blues bands, which would in turn lead into Rhythm and Blues, Doo Wop, Motown, and eventually Rock and Pop music. The punchy and powerful side of the saxophone would attract it to early mambo and salsa and pave the way for all forms of Latin music today from Cumbia to Merengue to Latin Jazz, even Reggaeton.

Despite never becoming a permanent member of the orchestra, the saxophone has been successful in the world of chamber music and other small classical ensembles, especially in contemporary classical music. In India, musicians have been drawn to its ability to mimic the traditional singing there. In Japan, they have been in love with the saxophone ever since Cannonball Adderley first recorded there in the 1960s. In Europe today there is an ever-growing scene of free improvised music that relies strongly on the saxophone to add new colors and sounds. In America today, the saxophone is becoming a very popular voice in the soundtracks of films, probably due to its ability to tell a variety of stories.

Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet, a clarinetist who took up the saxophone and was one of the first to show the world its tonal, expressive, and virtuosic capabilities