Jazz has the unique ability to relax the body and mind with its smooth and rhythmic sounds and also invigorate and energise with its fast and upbeat tempos. No instrument is more synonymous with the sound of jazz than the rich, raspy tenor of the Saxophone. Thanks to figures such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Sidney Bechet who helped to popularise and refine this instrument, the saxophone is now the undeniable staple of jazz as a genre. But what is it about the sound of the saxophone that makes it perfect for jazz?
Jazz is a genre where perfection is not the focus, the essence of jazz is spontaneity and physical and musical freedom, recorded jazz performance will never be the same as live. This is part of why people will go out of their way to see jazz live is so can capture the sense of freedom and vivacity that jazz can encourage. The reason why saxophones are so popular reflects the reason why people like jazz in the first place. The sound of a saxophone is deep, brassy and at times inconsistent, no two performances or even notes are going to sound exactly the same. It can be argued that the saxophone took over from instruments like the clarinet which filled a similar role in jazz bands during the initial years of jazz.
It can be hard to find saxophones in other genres of music what made them so well suited for jazz can be a shortcoming in other genres such as classical where a unanimous and precise sound is favoured over the individual flair found in jazz. Additionally, part of the reason saxophones aren’t as common in classical orchestra as clarinets, for example, is because of the need for perfection, although there are mouthpieces designed specifically for classic music, part of what made saxophone popular was the raspy imperfect sound that jazz mouthpieces allow.
The Saxophone was created by Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax in 1841 which caught the eye of Lieutenant-General Count de Rumigny to wanted Adolphe to move to Paris in order to create better instruments for the French Military. It was during this time that Adolphe expanded the range of saxophones and his invention started to gain recognition in the music industry.
Lladró’s Jazz Saxophonist Figurine, featuring Lladró’s signature gold lustre.
However, it would not be until the early 1920s that the Saxophone really took off and found its niche. Sidney Bechet was one of the first jazz musicians to incorporate the sound of the saxophone into his music. The sound was so unique and fit with the brassy tones of jazz music that it quickly took off and replaced the clarinet as the lead woodwind instrument. It also gave rise to the dominant ‘sax section’ that would be a staple of dance bands like Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and the sound of the Jazz and Swing Era of the next few decades. Even the staunch traditionalist jazz lovers and musicians of New Orleans saw the benefit of the saxophone in addition to the typical three-horn front line which would give a deeper dimension and richer sound a further distinguish jazz as a genre.
Lladró’s Jazz Saxophonist Figurine draws inspiration from saxophone masters of the Jazz Era. Dress in the classic sharp suit and suave fedora that radiate 20’s and 30’s glamour, the simple colour pallet allows for the saxophone to be front and centre decorated in Lladró’s eyecatching 24k gold lustre.
Of course, we cannot talk about saxophones without mentioning John Coltrane and the jazz revival he inspired in the 1950s and 60s. Coltrane not only revived but revolutionised jazz theory with his compositions that showcased the capabilities of saxophone like never before. Coltrane's ‘Giant Steps’ changed the face of jazz with its fast chord progressions in three keys, it is a notoriously difficult piece to improvise over and yet it demonstrated the fundamentals and possibilities of jazz. Coltrane showed how seamlessly these fast and frantic chord progressions could be achieved on the saxophone with its keys that allow for ease of movement and quick changes between keys. His life work exploring the limits of jazz cemented saxophones as the quintessential instrument of jazz.
The saxophone is an instrument unlike any other. It is the signature sound of Jazz, it speaks to the vibrant, rich and dynamic sound of the genre as a whole that can both ease and invigorate the mind.