History of the Saxophone
Invented by Adolphe Sax, the saxophone has been used in a variety of musical genres ranging from classical to jazz music. Although the instrument is made of brass, it is considered a woodwind instrument due to the use of a reed. The current saxophone family today currently claims kinship to six varieties despite the inventor’s original line up of fourteen. These relatives include soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass.
Adolphe Sax was a Belgium born instrument maker who lived between 1791 and 1865. The son of Charles-Joseph Sax, he studied at the Royal School of Music in Brussels and later went on to own a wind instrument factory in the same city. He developed the saxophone in an attempt to bridge the tones between brass and woodwind instruments and first introduced his invention, at an Industrial Exposition in 1841. The instrument was later patented in 1846.
Made of brass, the saxophone is comprised of mainly cooper and zinc although some may have a gold or silver plating. The instrument itself is categorized into four parts, the neck, body, bow, and the bell. Yet despite its simplistic form, the instrument holds roughly 600 parts including 25 tone holes, keys and levers, and pads to cover the tone holes.
Since the genres of jazz and classical music have different goals in terms of sound and tone, the saxophone offers varying designs to cater to the musicians needs. Jazz players will prefer an instrument with a higher taper in the neck. The increased angle will result in a raspier tone better suited to the improvisation and individual flairs associated with jazz music. Classical musicians on the other hand prefer a less graduated angle in the taper for a cleaner, and finely controlled sound better suited to technically proficient performance. (Yamaha Corporation)
Famous saxophone players include Charlie Parker, aka Yardbird, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Stan Getz. Other notable celebrities, but not musicians per say, include the likes of Bill Clinton, Hugh Lorie, and Bob Hope. The instrument can also be heard on hit songs such as Lady’ Gaga’s “Edge of Glory,” Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey,” and George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.”
References Yamaha Corporation. The Structure of the Saxophone: Jazz Saxophones and Classical Saxophones. n.d. https://www.yamaha.com/en/musical_instrument_guide/saxophone/mechanism/mechanism004.html. 17 February 2021.
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