The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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In the jazz age (a period during which the term had hysterical rather than musical overtones) the phrase that seemed to sym­bolize the Zeitgeist was "a moaning saxophone," or some other ululant adjective applied to the same noun. The saxophone, indeed, could have been a part of F. Scott Fitzgerald's coat of arms: two altos rampant on a field of cocktail-shakers. Yet ironi­cally the saxophone was a late starter in jazz. For at least two decades while this music was crystallizing it played a negligible role. Not until the late 1920s, some 85 years after its invention by Adolphe Sax, did it cross the line successfully after decades of identification principally with brass bands.
Despite its brass construction the saxophone is not known among jazzmen as a brass instrument; it is classified as a member of the reed family. Like the clarinet and other reed instruments its sound varies according to the quality, thickness and pliability of the reed in use, and the manner in which the musician blows into the thin channel of air between the reed and the mouth­piece. (Some saxophonists spend all their lives looking for the perfect reed; its ultimate discovery usually is a prelude to the moment when a bystander brushes against it, causing irreparable harm both to the reed and the saxophonist's nervous system.)
The E Flat alto saxophone (so called because a piano E Flat makes the same sound as the alto's C) has a normal range far narrower than that of the clarinet, starting at E Flat below middle C on the piano and rising to G, a little over two octaves higher. It has a round, gentle and lilting quality that made it