“I saw the lineup 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 describes the moment that inspired him to be a musician. He watched Little Richard perform A Girl Can’t Help It when he was just nine years old. Jayne Mansfield may have been swinging seductively across the film set, but it was the saxophone section that really did it for David. Let’s try and relive that moment with a clip from the film with that title.Saxtastic: it wasn’t so much Jayne Mansfield but Little Richard and his swinging horn section that made David Jones couldn’t help but want to do the same
The saxophone has blown hot and cold in terms of being fashionable, but its attractions remain undeniable. Beloved of characters as diverse as Van Morrison to Bill Clinton and Lisa Simpson, it is seductively curvaceous, shiny and expressive. Gerry Mulligan described its versatility when he said “you can make a saxophone into an electric organ – you can do anything with it”. Charlie Parker, who did indeed do just about anything with the instrument, advised others: “Don’t play the saxophone, let it play you.”
Another jazz great, Stan Getz, expressed one key quality in saying “if you like an instrument that sings, play the saxophone. At its best it’s like the human voice.” The vocal quality is a really key point. The sax can sing, dance, cry and laugh, be smooth or guttural, but above all, it’s emotional. Let’s have a look at some of these qualities by watching a couple of players from an even earlier era – the 1920s – demonstrate. Gee, they sure are a couple of swell fellows.Rudy Wiedoeft and Benny Krueger. The fastest fingers around the keys. They can even make the saxophone laugh
So this week’s song nominations, learned RR listeners, must all feature the saxophone in a dominant role or having a key moment, or indeed any that are about the instrument itself. The topic is prompted by two events, the recent death of that great player Raphael Ravenscroft, who significantly boosted the saxophone’s profile with a famous solo, and because next week, on 6 November, when a final A-list of such songs will be published here, is the bicentenary of the instrument’s Belgian inventor, Adolphe Sax.
Looking to create a new instrument that combined the reed mouthpiece of the clarinet with the resonance of the French horn, Sax produced an unusual hybrid, music’s equivalent of the liger or zorse. It was a cousin of Sax’s other inventions, the ophicleide, saxtromba, saxhorn and saxtuba, but surpassed them all in time. In the 1840s it met the approval of composers including Hector Berlioz and a family range of nine versions eventually appeared, in increasing sizes: the sopranissimo, sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, bass, contrabass and subcontrabass.
So first let’s have a listen to one of Sax’s original instruments, sweeter and mellower perhaps than some modern models.Adolphe Sax’s original saxophone
How low can we go? I always like to push things to the max in RR, so let’s have a blast on the contrabass saxophone.Feel the vibe … the funky contrabass saxophone
And now, brace yourselves, for the biggest daddy of them all, the subcontrabass. Check out the size of those pad cups and holes. It looks like it could eat a person whole.The subcontrabass. Almost entering inaudible flatulence
The sax also has a few odd cousins, such as a bamboo model or the saxello, but they all count, and whether your suggestions appear in classical, jazz, funk, ska, military marching, pop, rock or any other genre, now is the time to blow your horn about it. This week’s resonant and resident expert is the omniscient Mnemonic, who will hear your suggestions placed in comments and optionally in the Spotify playlist up until last orders (11pm GMT on Monday 3 November) to create a finely tuned shortlist for Adolphe Sax’s bicentenary – Thursday 6 November. It’s going to be a blast.Spotify playlist for best saxophone songs
To increase the likelihood of your nomination being considered, please:
• Tell us why it’s a worthy contender.
• Quote lyrics if helpful, but for copyright reasons no more than a third of a song’s words.
• Provide a link to the song. We prefer Muzu or YouTube, but Spotify, SoundCloud or Grooveshark are fine.
• Listen to others people’s suggestions and add yours to a collaborative Spotify playlist.
• If you have a good theme for Readers recommend, or if you’d like to volunteer to compile a playlist, please email email@example.com
• There’s a wealth of data on RR, including the songs that are “zedded”, at the Marconium. It also tells you the meaning of “zedded”, “donds” and other strange words used by RR regulars.