Sax at 200

Time for another bicentennial post. First Wagner and now today’s honoree: Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone. I briefly considered some long-winded ode to the instrument but 1) I don’t have the time for something so comprehensive and 2) how can I sum that up in one blog post? I’ve written a fair amount about the sax over this blog’s last five years (more on that below) and will continue to do so. Instead, for the time being, just a gripe…

NPR’s All Songs Considered put together a saxophone listening quiz for today’s birthday boy: eleven examples from a variety of styles. (I scored 10/11, btw — I actually knew the missed answer but overshot with my mouse. Oh well; I don’t think that’ll keep me from any future job interviews.) Some of the examples were impressive surprises, but the string of pop selections left me wanting. For an outlet that seemingly prides itself on being hip and clever, the Pink Floyd, Lou Reed, and Lady Gaga (feat. Clarence Clemons) triumvirate couldn’t have been more cliché. All they do is perpetuate the saxophone-as-honky-rhythm-and-blues-novelty-cameo stereotype, which is of course alive and well without NPR’s help. I concede that this is a sizable and personal crusade that I carry with me at all times, but it was present nonetheless. (This is surely amplified by my focusing on styles that don’t normally include sax…) And no mention of Dave Matthews Band, the attendance, airplay, and financial titan of the last two decades that features a saxophone (and violin) instead of lead guitar? (Again, yes, I’m a DMB fanboy, but still. I have a point here.) I guess that doesn’t drive the click-throughs as much on NPR. But you don’t have to go the DMB route. The folks at All Songs Considered LOVE (and rightly so) Bon Iver, so why not include a little Colin Stetson? Curious. No, instead they touch on jazz and classical (of course) and non-Western styles. Shorter’s solo on Steely Dan’s “Aja” was a good inclusion, but that’s of course more jazz than rock in that instance. Why not throw in a wild card like Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, or Mats Gustafsson? To its credit, All Songs‘s Borbetomagus feature did go in that territory, but it seemed partitioned (e.g., “sorry, birthday boy…“).

[Is All Songs Considered now officially a nuisance for me? Earlier complaints here and here.]

It just annoys me because the saxophone is such a versatile instrument, and yet even on a noteworthy date its given a relatively narrow presentation. Bummer. So, to counter this in my humble corner of cyberspace, below are links to various sax-centric posts from over the last few years.

• Saxophone and style: here, here, here, here
• Why I’m not a gear-head here
• Dave Liebman archive here
• Reviews of PRISM Quartet’s Antiphony and The Singing Gobi Desert
• Reviews of albums by Chris Potter, Dave Liebman (here and here), Tore Brunborg, and Stan Getz
• Posts on saxophonists LeRoi Moore (here and here), Jeff Coffin, Michael Brecker, James Carter, Bob Berg, Evan Parker, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Mats Gustafsson (with The Thing), and Jan Garbarek
• Some good-to-great sax solos alongside Miles, Fagen, Jack, Joni, Warren, Elwood, Tord, Manu, and more Miles
• Shameless plug: I talk a *little* sax and style on the Jan. 9, 2014 episode of the PRI: Echoes Interviews podcast

Thank you, Mr. Sax. I’m still trying to figure out your invention…

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