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Terror in G-Sharp

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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Young expounded upon Trambauer's buoyant, breathy sound and created a virtual blueprint of the relaxed sounds of players like Dexter Gordon. Hawkins' big sound and aggressive approach set the stage for later masters like the great John Coltrane and the great John Coltrane, who was so great he deserves to be mentioned twice.
Welcome to Cap'n Genius' Jazz Funhouse, kids, for another month of thrills, chills, an authoritative history of the saxophone and those who have made the instrument the representative voice of jazz, and then some more chills. Followed by a light supper, a little TV, and then straight to bed with you.

But then.

The history of the saxophone can be traced back over 150 years with a common lead, or graphite, pencil (actually, it takes several. One pencil is only good for tracing about 32 years). It was invented by and named for Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax, who invented the instrument to distract attention away from the fact that his name was Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax. And that name is even funnier if you pronounce the punctuation. Try it. Antoine hyphen Joseph parenthesis Adolphe end parenthesis Sax. Now, try singing it.

Sax took the instrument to famed composer Hector "Boom Boom" Berlioz, who immediately recognized the new horn's magical ability to separate women from their undergarments. Berlioz encouraged Sax to move to Paris where he could use the new instrument to, in his words, "get his freak on." And thus was born the modern era of consensual sodomy laws.

In any event.

Once in Paris, Sax proceeded to introduce his instrument to the rest of the world (and there is absolutely no double entendre there, regardless of the preceding paragraph). Soon, there was entire family of saxophones and an accompanying family portrait by Olan Mills. There were E flat sopranino, F sopranino, B flat soprano, C soprano, E flat alto, F alto, B flat tenor, C tenor, E flat baritone, B flat bass, C bass, E flat contrabass, and F contrabass saxophones. There was also the extremely rare and valuable M sharp saxophone, only one of which exists because immediately after the prototype was made, someone explained to the instrument maker that not only was there was no such key as M sharp, but a saxophone wasn't supposed to be square.

Such as that is.

The saxophone came into its own in 1845. This was the year that Sax took a group of his own forming into competition against the French Army Band. Sax's smaller group overwhelmed the more established group, which was still using traditional instrumentation. Some music historians feel that the victory was due to Sax's use of his new instrument to bring a fuller, more balanced sound to the standard ensemble; others feel that the French mistook Sax, who was Belgian, for German and surrendered to him unconditionally. Either way, a win's a win.

With the instrument firmly established, Sax was able to retire and eventually become the patron saint of every guy who got some leg solely because he played the saxophone. However, Sax will not be recognized as an official saint because of the absence of an otherwise inexplicable miracle. And I know what you're thinking. Dave Koz achieved his popularity because of an unrelated pact with Satan, not because of intervention from St. Antoine hyphen Joseph. Boots Randolph, on the other hand...

Moving along.

Frankie Trambauer For almost 75 years, the saxophone was considered too "sweet" for dance music. After a few modifications, the horn took on the throatier, more humanesque phrasing now associated with it and took its place in popular music. Among the first and most influential practitioners of the saxophone in popular music was Frankie Trambauer (also spelled Trumbauer, and Traumbauer. Your choice of any two).

An exceptionally large raccoon raised by the Trambauer family in Carbondale, Illinois, he exhibited an early aptitude for the C-melody saxophone. Soon recording with the Jean Goldkette Orchestra, his light, intellectual style proved to be an inspiration for later, equally influential players like Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins.

Speaking of whom.

It could be said that much of the body of jazz saxophone since the thirties is an amalgam of different concentrations of Young and Hawkins. Young expounded upon Trambauer's buoyant, breathy sound and created a virtual blueprint of the relaxed sounds of players like Dexter Gordon. Hawkins' big sound and aggressive approach set the stage for later masters like the great John Coltrane and the great John Coltrane, who was so great he deserves to be mentioned twice.

Charlie Parker On these foundations came the revolutionary sound of Charlie "Bird" Parker (so nicknamed because it was believed he could actually fly. This was not the case. He could only glide for short distances, much like a so-called flying squirrel. But Charlie "Flying Squirrel" Parker just didn't have the same ring to it). Parker combined both blazing technical ability with an innovative sense of tonal relationships. Using arpeggios of the underlying chords in his solos, not merely confining himself to the notes in and around the melodic theme, Parker seriously increased the syllable count of the paragraphs describing his playing.

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