Adolphe Sax, born on November 6, 1814, was a Belgian instrument maker, flautist, and clarinetist. But most importantly for this day, he was the inventor of the saxophone. The saxophone is part of the family of woodwind instruments. Saxophones are usually made of brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece similar to that of the clarinet. Sax’s goal was to create the most powerful and adaptable brass woodwind instrument to fill the perceived gap between their respective sections, brass and woodwinds. Saxes come in nine varieties, Sopranissimo, the highest, Sopranino, Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Baritone, Bass, Contrabass, and Subcontrabass, the lowest. However, most saxophonists use one of the four most popular types – tenor, baritone, alto, and soprano.
Sax didn’t do as well as he could from his invention. His patent was only for fifteen years, and once that ran out, he had to fight lawsuits from competitors. He died in 1894, a poor man, and is buried in the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris.
The saxophone, patented in 1846, was originally intended for the military. However, it soon expanded to other types of ensembles, from classical to rock. Once the sax made its way to America, it was adopted by jazz players and is today most often thought of as a jazz instrument. It seems particularly suited for that improvisational style. If you look at a listing of great sax players, most are jazz musicians.
The sax has a lovely warm sound. Days of the Year, puts it like this: “That sultry wail on a mist-ridden street, the seductive tones of Kenny G, and the rich warm sound of a jazzy riff. These sounds truly capture the heart and imagination of their listeners…” If you want to celebrate this day by listening to some saxophone music (and you should) you will find many lovely pieces on YouTube.
Quotes about saxophones
Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you.–Charlie Parker
The saxophone is so human. Its tendency is to be rowdy, edgy, talk too loud, bump into people, say the wrong words at the wrong time, but then, you take a breath all the way from the center of the earth and blow. All that heartache is forgiven. All that love we humans carry makes a sweet, deep sound and we fly a little.–Joy Harjo
If you like an instrument that sings, play the saxophone. At its best it’s like the human voice.–Stan Getz
That’s the beautiful thing about the saxophone. It can peacefully coexist with just about anything – whether it’s hip-hop, rap, rock music, pop, R&B or jazz, there’s a place for the saxophone in all of those styles.–Dave Koz
I’d loved the clarinet, but there’s something about the saxophone that just grabs you.–Matana Roberts
The potential for the saxophone is unlimited.–Steve Lacy
As a horn player, the greatest compliment one can get is when a person comes to you and says, ‘I heard this saxophone on the radio the other day and I knew it was you. I don’t know the song, but I know it was you on sax.’–Clarence Clemons
I like what Oliver Lakes does on the saxophone. The saxophone comes pretty close to the sound of the human voice and when Oliver plays with other sax players, it’s like a dialogue.–Yusef Komunyakaa
And I saw the sax line-up that he had behind him and I thought, I’m going to learn the saxophone. When I grow up, I’m going to play in his band. So I sort of persuaded my dad to get me a kind of a plastic saxophone on the hire purchase plan.–David Bowie
I practice my saxophone three hours a day. I’m not saying I’m particularly special, but if you do something three hours a day for forty years, you get pretty good at it.–Kenny G
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