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Getting Started: The Saxophone
John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker… if these names mean nothing to you, then let us just say ~ quite dramatically ~ that you’re living an incomplete life. These are just a few of the greats who have brought the saxophone alive. Listen to their glorious work for long enough and you will feel inspired to pick up a sax yourself. Be prepared for that eventuality with our humble introduction to one of the most-loved instruments in music.

The saxophone was invented by Belgian Adolphe Sax in the mid-nineteenth century. Sax, himself a flute and clarinet player, learned his basic techniques from his father, a manufacturer who built a factory for woodwind and brass instruments. When Adolph Sax was developing the saxophone he was keen to build an instrument that could blend with both the woodwind and brass sections in an orchestra. Thus he designed the saxophone out of brass, and gave it a mouthpiece and body with properties similar to that of a clarinet and an oboe.
The saxophone was first exhibited at the Paris Industrial Exhibition in 1844 and a year later was adopted into the French military band. In 1914 it made its first appearance in American jazz bands. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Soprano
This sax is found in the music of artists like John Coltrane, Steve Lacy, Wayne Shorter and of course, Kenny G, to name a few. This saxophone is more difficult to learn so beginners don’t usually start playing on a soprano sax.
Famous players: Sidney Bechet, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Jane Ira Bloom.

The Alto
This is the most popular saxophone for beginners for several reasons: it can be played by adults and children; being slightly smaller than the tenor and baritone it is also slightly cheaper, and the alto is very common in jazz bands and symphonic bands as well.
Famous players: Charlie Parker, Benny Carter, Cannonball Adderly, Johnny Hodges, David Sanborn.

The Tenor
This sax is widely used not just in jazz but in rock and pop as well. Some adult beginners do start playing on a tenor. Like the alto it is also used in jazz and symphonic bands.
Famous players: Lester Young, Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Michael Brecker.

The Baritone
This sax is very large and therefore not usually a beginner’s instrument. Like the alto and tenor it is used in both symphonic and jazz bands.
Famous players: Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Lars Gullin, Gary Smulyan, Gerry Mulligan.

If you’re feeling the sudden impulse to buy a musical instrument, get a toy keyboard! Don’t go looking for a saxophone without the right information and guidance or you will just end up wasting a significant amount of money. Several factors need to be taken into consideration while buying a sax:
~ Should you buy a brand new sax or a second-hand one? It might sound odd to be buying an old instrument, but a lot of musicians prefer them for their feel, the history attached to them and their exceptional craftsmanship.

~ Budget is a big consideration when choosing your sax. Saxophonists advise budgeting about Rs. 18,000-25,000 for a good piece. Says saxophonist Ashton Colaço, “Wind instruments are very quirky and it is not so much about brands but about getting the piece that works for you. Don’t buy Indian brands though, they are very poor quality. A lot of students want a gleaming new sax, but you have to check the quality of piece before you get it. I would advise students to get in touch with a good teacher first, put the word out that they are looking to buy a saxophone and then thoroughly check the piece out before buying it.”

~ You cannot buy a saxophone without testing it first. Some of the things you must check are the intonation of the instrumentation, the metal quality, the design, the mouthpiece and the structure of the sax. It is therefore highly advisable to have someone who knows about the saxophone with you when you go to buy one.

~ Instead of spending on a professional model right away (this can cost thousands of dollars), try a student model instead. Says saxophonist Kirandip Swani, “Do not buy an expensive sax right away. Get a student model. Brands that make good student models are Jupiter, Yamaha, Armstrong and Yanagisawa. Don’t buy the European models just yet as they are quite expensive. I used a student model for 6 years before switching to professional model.”


TR: How did you begin playing the saxophone?
“I have been playing for the last ten years now. I was about 45 when I started. I was always very interested in jazz but after a while, just listening to jazz wasn’t doing enough for me. I wanted to get more involved so I decided to learn how to play the sax. ‘Jazzy Joe’ Pereira is my guru and he still kicks my butt if I don’t play correctly. [Laughs]”

TR: How did you begin playing the saxophone?
“I began in July 1994. I used to watch the Jazz Yatra on TV each year and I just loved how the saxophonists played, I really liked how they sounded. I used to play a clarinet in school - they wouldn’t give me a saxophone then. [Laughs] But eventually I got a sax as my 21st birthday gift. I began learning from Jazzy Joe and I would practice a lot on my own and listen to a lot of music as well.”

You can read the rest of our special feature Getting Started in the May 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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