So why am I discussing the merits and qualities of the saxophone? Because today is National Saxophone Day. The saxophone family was invented by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax in 1840. "Sax wanted to create a group or series of instruments that would be the most powerful and vocal of the woodwinds, and the most adaptive of the brass instruments, that would fill the vacant middle ground between the two sections. Sax patented the saxophone on June 28, 1846, in two groups of seven instruments each."
Prior to his work on the saxophone, he had made several improvements to the bass clarinet by improving its keywork and acoustics and extending its lower range. Sax was also a maker of the then-popular ophicleide, a large conical brass instrument in the bass register with keys similar to a woodwind instrument. His experience with these two instruments allowed him to develop the skills and technologies needed to make the first saxophones. But enough about the history of this versatile instrument. Let's get on with some fun facts about the sax, shall we?
Fact 1. We know that Adolphe Sax invented the saxophone but here's something you might not have known. Sax was not the luckiest child. Numerous accidents during his youth almost ended his life! These include falling from a third story window, being burned from a gunpowder accident, swallowing a pin, nearly drowning, and being poisoned three times. I, for one, am very glad he made it and was able to bring us this versatile and soulful instrument.
Fact 2. There were once 14 different types of saxophones. However, of the fourteen instruments that Sax invented, only four are still used today: Soprano Sax, Alto Sax, Tenor Sax, and the Baritone Sax. each of these saxophones has a musical range of two and a half octaves.
Fact 3. From its earliest days, the saxophone was always made of brass. However, because it generates sound with a single reed, it is classified as a woodwind. The only other metallic woodwind is the flute, which was made entirely of wood at first — something that’s sometimes seen even today.
Fact 4. Because the saxophone was designed to bridge the gap between brass and woodwinds, it plays an important role in creating tonal balance. Not only does it serve to blend the divergent tones of these two groups, but it can also help support both high and low woodwinds. Due to this degree of versatility, it plays an important role as a middle voice in a large ensemble.
Fact 5. The sax has a big personality. The dynamic range of the saxophone is the widest of all the woodwinds. The saxophone can produce a sound that is surprisingly similar to the human voice. This gives it a wide range of emotional expression and makes it ideal as a solo instrument, so it should come as no surprise that the saxophone features prominently in the history of jazz music. Less well known is the fact that the sax often plays an important role in classical music too (particularly in the works of French composers), and is used in a wide range of instrumental groupings, including chamber groups, orchestra, and wind ensembles.
November 6th of each year is designated as National Saxophone Day, the birthday of Adolphe Sax. If you're ever in Paris, stop by the Montmartre Cemetery. Way in the back, up on the knoll near the grave of Edgar Degas, the famous Impressionist painter, you'll find the simple marker for Adolphe Sax and his family. Tell him Irwin says "Hi and thanks."
Tomorrow is Wednesday and that can only mean one thing; a visit from my wise friend and teacher, the Dharma Frog himself. Whatever lesson he has in store for me, I'm sure it'll be interesting and helpful. Until then, I wish you