7 Reasons Why The Saxophone Remains The Coolest Instrument

7 Reasons Why The Saxophone Remains The Coolest Instrument

It’s fascinating how consistently the saxophone enriches the music scene. More than 170 years ago, Adolphe Sax wanted to build a warm sounding instrument because he lacked a strong sounding woodwind instrument in the low register. In 1929 a certain Henri Selmer took over the patents, including the workshop, made some adjustments and perfected the saxophone as we know it today. The saxophone’s worldwide triumphal march began with jazz at the forefront. The instrument got into some very good hands and the rest is history. Here are 7 reasons why the saxophone is such a timeless fascination and an undeniably cool piece of brass…


The sax is and remains a piece of soul

Anyone who listens to the sax player automatically has the feeling that what they hear is not only a nicely-shaped piece of sheet metal, that it MUST be an outward extension of the player’s soul. The melodies, phrases and tones it produces seem to come from deep within. When the saxophonist starts, first very gently and then – in the truest sense of the word – “full throttle“, he pulls everyone into his spell, even if the notes do not come with one hundred percent virtuosity. A subtle squeak, a touch too much air in the tube, a slightly overdrawn timbre? Not the slightest problem: This instrument is simply honest, perhaps even the wordless translation of the human voice.

← Selmer Selmer Bari Series III Gold SE-B3L

 

 

Multi-talented, in all musical styles

The good old “plumbing horn” is incomparably versatile; there is hardly a style of music it would not add brilliant moments to. From folk music to blues to rock’n’roll, funk and soul; from hard rock to punk, rap to nu-metal – not to mention jazz and swing. No single instrument is more present in all the genres mentioned. Not to mention it’s role in the songs: it’s rarely a sound that is ignored in a mix, it is simply unique and pleasantly characteristic.

 

A stable rock in an ever-changing sea

The truth is that music changes continuously over the decades and centuries – and this is a good phenomenon. Bands normally experiment against the background of their respective times, searching for their very own rebellion and find it again and again with new creative cross-over developments. There was never a standstill; just like the world itself, music changes as generations do. What about the saxophone? It has gone through all the currents and has remained more or less how it always was. Of course there are exceptions: think of combining newer technologies such as effect pedals, loopers and samplers with the sax, but the essential tones and methods of playing remain classic for many players. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Thomann Antique Tenor Sax

 

A rollercoaster ride of emotions

It can cry and laugh; sometimes it is melancholically dreamy and a moment later cheerful again and almost humorous. The sax can sound as smoky as the fifteenth whiskey and then suddenly bright, clear and powerful. No one wants to be sad or to grin all day long until the smile lines form. The secret of the sax is its effortless ability to float between crying the blues and sky-high cheering. The sax has a magical ability to take the listener through a varied emotional landscape and make them feel alive. Presumably, the immense dynamism is one of the saxophone’s most appealing features. But, of course, this also depends on the player’s abilities and sensibilities.

 

Pure nature; an instrument far from “trendy”

There are undoubtedly interesting and technically creative possibilities to supply the saxophone with other sounds than the known ones. But despite the possibilities, the saxophone’s sound is often preferred unaltered (some reverb excepted) and remains one of the last real natural instruments par excellence on rock and funk stages – and even in pop or crossover genres and in times of samples and sequencers. Have you ever heard the sax sound on a keyboard? It NEVER does this brass beauty any justice!

 

A leader, team player and a soloist

With its very special sound, the sax is the frequency link between the trumpets, trombones and the other floaters like the clarinet. Extremely harmonious, it knows how to fit into a composition, unobtrusively, phrase by phrase. And as soon as the band is ready to relax a bit, the sax can become the confident leader and lone wolf (solo time!). It sounds as good mixed into an ensemble as it does alone. Amongst the metallic Jericho sounds of the other protagonists it stands out with its warmth and is always ready to blow!

 

Sax solo as memory trigger

And let’s be honest: Isn’t it true that we remember some songs by the hooky sax solo rather than the vocal melody? Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” is now 40 years old, almost everyone can recognise the alto sax solo right away. But if asked to sing the vocal melody many people would be stumped. ? In  “Urgent” by Foreigner you intuitively wait for Junior Walker’s sax part (a first take, by the way). “Young Americans” by David Bowie would be inconceivable without the howling sax sounds, same with George Michael’s “Careless Whisper”. And so it goes through the entire history of music. This instrument has left an unforgettable mark and an end is very far from view. ?

↑ Thomann MK IV Handmade Tenor Sax 

 

 


Can you think of other reasons why the sax is so cool? ?

Let us know in the comments below! 

Author’s gravatar
Joe has been singing since he can remember and started playing guitar when he was 10. He's been using it as a songwriting tool ever since. He is passionate about melody and harmony and admires musicians who create these in unique ways. Check out his alternative / indie projects Best of Feelings and Zef Raček.

11 comments

    The saxophone played on Baker Street is an alto saxophone.

    > Thanks for the correction John! Much appreciated. //Joe

    As a kid one of the first saxophone souls I heard was the pink panther I was about three and four years old and wanted to play this instrument from the very beginning. I was four years old in 1978 my dad got me started music and I told him I wanted to play the instrument the pink panther played I think he knew what instrument I was talking about but he had an agenda he wanted me to play a trumpet. He loved a trumpet a lot more than the saxophone. Back then in the 70s and 80s radio stations were much different than they are now you were able to hear all varieties of music and just one radio station. The saxophone left an indelible mark on my music air. I’ve been playing trumpet now for almost 39 years. I had a severe lip injury and had reconstructive surgery in 2012 my trumpet playing was never the same I am able to do things now that I couldn’t before but my tone is not very fat and warm and I still have major problems with blood circulation and endurance etc. flexibility. I played in many bands with Grammy winning musicians Such as but not limited to Bernard Purdue, How are Levy, Corky Seagull, Clark Terry, Nicholas Payton, Haley Reinhart, Switchfoot, Skillet whom I toured with for two years. I was able to do all of us even with a severe injury so can you imagine how good I would’ve been had I not had an injury. But my point is is that the sound I hear in my head is not the trumpet anymore. Every time I do a gig which is every week even during this pandemic I play about three times a week in Memphis. About a plan is a legendary band that I won’t mention here but the saxophone gets all the solos I get some solos but even the audience comes up to the saxophonist During our break and after our gig and they told him how much they love the saxophone. I am not jealous over this at all I’m very happy for him because I love his playing too it just makes me want to play saxophone now. Most styles of music that includes horns mainly gives the solos to the saxophone player even when there is not a solo written in the music. I think I missed my calling on which instrument I am really supposed to play as a kid we have very good intuition and the sound of the saxophone was the sound that first touched my soul. It was either my very first or second experience hearing music but this time a live concert which was a saxophone solo we saw a cover band in 1979 cover Billy Joe’s I love you just the way you are and the saxophone solo was incredible at that moment which when I was about four years old transcendent me Into another world my eyes and soul and ears were fixated on that shiny instrument playing such an amazing sound it pierced my soul. Or what do I do now starting a new instrument LOL. I suppose I can transfer all my music knowledge to the saxophone however it is a completely different instrument than the trumpet and producing a tone. I must around on saxophone several times throughout the years decades that is and I actually took out all lessons for 3 to 4 months back in the late 1990s but I did not care for the sound of the alto sax plus it was on a cheap student level instrument. I want to play tenor sax not just because it is a loved instrument by everybody and it gets a ton of solos there is a reason why it’s love by most and gets a lot of solos. It is because the sound is so thick and has the perfect balance of frequencies his meds Lowe’s and it is a very resident sound that doesn’t take a lot of effort but it takes a lot of effort and persistence for several months perhaps years to get a really good sound. Since I hear the sound in my soul and my lips chops are pretty marred from injury and overdoing it on Trumpet I think I will delve into the tenor sax I cannot give up Trumpet yet because I depend on it for income and I haven’t made a name for myself on saxophone. I live one block over from a very famous saxophonist named Kirk Whalum and I’m hoping to take lessons from him lol. Yeah right, a beginner!?? ??. Well don’t tell my band leader I’m going to give us a trumpet that won’t happen anytime soon anyway plus I have to buy a tenor sax phone or borrow a good one from someone which I do know a man who has a couple summer mark six is lying around his house literally. Your blog really inspired me and help me understand why the saxophone gets the solos why the instrument is timeless and why my intuition as a child was true. Instead of fighting against it I want to join the saxophone family of players. The sound is so smooth and every saxophone player I’ve ever played with gets so much praise in many times their technical ability is nowhere near mine I am very good at high notes and playing solos in my tone is very good but nothing compares to the thick fat rich tone of the saxophone matter how good of a trumpet player you are even if you do play flugelhorn. One thing a trumpet does have over the saxophone is power and heroic lead sound. I trumpet is the hero of the band along with the lead guitarist of the saxophone just melts people’s hearts and souls. The visual of fact alone is mesmerizing all those curves and shiny brass pieces plus you see all the fingers moving and all the keys moving it is visually stimulating. Well no one has to convince me and I don’t have to convince anybody that the saxophone is superior to the trumpet in many ways not an all ways but in most ways. Maybe I can do both as several people do. But the universe is calling me to play saxophone I can feel it.

    Junior Walker did not do that solo in one take, it was assembled by the engineer from several takes.

    Geat post . Garrard had Selma alto saxand kept it wrapped in red velvet in it’s case and was displayed on it’s stand at his funeral went to his granddaughter. Cheers

    I love the song baker street i listen to it all the time and i am a full on alto sax I am 12 I am the best sax in my class

    That’s really nice post. I appreciate your skills. Thanks for sharing.

    The saxophone is the sound of the cobra.
    The mouthpiece is the mouth of the cobra.
    Then you have the neck. The saxophone
    curves into the body of the cobra. The
    widest part of the saxophone is the tail
    of the cobra. Blow into the cobra. Play
    on the body with your fingers. Women
    dance – in a slow – drugged – curvy motion.
    Play the blues – and hypnotize.

    As a saxophone player I can confirm my soul is shaped like an alto saxophone, and every time I play my saliva-flooded shaped instrument of metallic substance, a piece of my soul chips away and is released into the void, where it is judged by those with a discerning ear and is heard across the globe as the sign of the ever-impending Nirvana/Apocalypse.

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