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106 THE INSTRUMENTS, THE SOUNDS, THE PERFORMERS
hardened of New Orleans jazz experts found it impossible to distinguish one from the other on records. Wilber later returned from soprano sax to clarinet, studied modern music and lost his Southern accent.
In the swing decade the best use was made of the soprano sax as the mellow senior voice in five-man saxophone sections. Charlie Barnet did some of his best work topping his reed team in this manner; the same technique was employed by Georgie Auld in his short-lived big band. The soprano was also featured by Herbie Fields, a sort of latter-day Ted Lewis who has grappled with several other reed instruments. An appraisal of the results is not within the scope of this book.
Johnny Hodges used the soprano in his early Ellington days, achieving a sound much like Bechet's; unfortunately he has rarely touched it in the past twenty years. The only new experiments have been conducted by Steve Lacy, a young and skilled modernist whose recordings have shown that there can be a future for the soprano sax in jazz.
In the saxophone family, the C Melody is the Ishmael among Aunt Hagar's children. So named because, unlike the other saxes, it calls for no transposition (i.e. middle C on the piano corresponds with middle C on the sax), it has a range and sound similar to that of the alto. The only exponent who ever concentrated on the C Melody was the late Frankie Trumbauer, whose light yet soulful quality inspired numberless musicians, not the least of whom was Lester Young. Lester recalls: "Trumbauer was my idol. When I had just started to play, I used to buy all his records. I imagine I can still play all those solos off the records ... I tried to get the sound of a C Melody sax on a tenor; that's why I don t sound like other people. Trumbauer always told a little story, and I liked the way he slurred the notes."
The E Flat baritone, pitched an octave lower than the alto, was for many years a saxophonic Suez Canal through which the right to move freely, in unchallenged solo passage, was restricted to the uniquely plangent sound of Harry Carney. A member of the Ellington band since 1926, Carney by the early 1930s had become the fundamental personality of the Duke's sax section.