The saxophone was conceived and first assembled by19th century Belgian clarinetist Adolphe Sax. Seeking to strike a balance between woodwind and brass instruments, Sax fused a brass body, bow and bell with a single-reed mouthpiece. While the new instrument was well received by composers such as Hector Berlioz, it was given limited participation in the symphonic literature of the time. It is most often featured in concert band compositions and jazz arrangements.
Symphonic and Chamber Works
Although many symphonic composers were unable to fit the saxophone into their musical scores, several were successful. Alexander Glazunov, the Russian composer whose musical career spanned the 19th and 20th centuries, began writing quartets for saxophones. Later, he followed up with his Concerto for Saxophone and String Orchestra, which premiered in 1934. Other admiring composers included Darius Milhaud from France, who wrote a suite for saxophone and orchestra called "Scaramouche" in 1937, shortly after Glazunov's death. Another Parisian, Claude Debussy, penned his Rhapsodie for Saxophone and Orchestra in the first years of the 20th century.
Pieces for Concert and Military Band
Paul Hindemith, a German 20th century composer, wrote works for ensembles diverse in size and scoring. His Symphony in B Flat is unique for a European composer in that it is scored for four saxophones, more typical of American band music. Moreover, the saxophone section is given prominence throughout the work, which was debuted by the U.S. Army Band in 1951. Hindemith is also credited with writing a Sonata for Saxophone. Also fond of prominent saxophone passages was Gustav Holst, a British contemporary of Glazunov. His first and second Suites for Military Band showcase the alto saxophone's tone and agility.
No other instrument so symbolizes jazz and swing music as does the saxophone. Charlie Parker is best known as an early pioneer of jazz saxophone. His "April in Paris" and "I Get a Kick Out of You" are familiar to many growing up in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. John Coltrane followed close behind Parker in breaking new ground for jazz saxophone. A standout among his work, "A Love Supreme," is a highly emotive piece reflecting Coltrane's religious faith. Combo jazz is forever indebted to Paul Desmond for his solo in Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." Among the big band leaders that featured tight saxophone harmonies were Glenn Miller with "In the Mood," Duke Ellington with "Take the A Train" and Woody Herman with "Four Brothers."
Movies and TV
The saxophone is featured prominently in the motion picture and television media. Henry Mancini's score for the 1963 crime comedy, "The Pink Panther," is one of the most recognizable pieces of music in the world. With a sonorous and breathy tone, the instrument captures both the intrigue and the wit of this picture. Television's "Benny Hill Show" opened each episode with a somewhat frantic 1963 tune called "Yakkety Sax" by Boots Randolph. Long a backup musician for both Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison, Randolph became known by this signature piece, which has often since been used on other TV programs when hilarious antics ensue.
- The-Saxophone.com; History of the Saxophone
- "Saxophone Journal," Sept./Oct., 1997; Letters from Glazunov, "The Saxophone Concerto Years"
- ArkivMusic, LLC; The Art of the Saxophone
- Naxos,com; Trendsetters: Music for Wind Band
- Sax on the Web; Classical Band Pieces with Saxophone Features
- Estate of Charlie Parker; About Charlie "Yardbird" Parker: Music
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images
Instruments Used in Jazz Music
Jazz music originated in New Orleans just after the start of the 20th century, and it has been wildly popular ever since....