Sax Appeal

March 25, 2013

The saxophone: It’s one of the defining musical instruments of jazz and has been the weapon of choice for some of the genre’s most iconic figures.   These days, more variety – shapes, colors, materials, sizes – is available to sax players than ever before, to the point that it can be overwhelming, even.

To try and clear the air, JAZZed recently reached out to just under 500 of our subscribers to get the real skinny on what’s hot, what’s not, and what’s on the horizon in saxophone culture today…

In recent years have you noticed interest in saxophones…

“I’ve seen interest increase.  However, we start our students on clarinet first, which reduces the number [of players] because they have to commit to learning music first.”
Kathy McIntosch
Troy High School
Troy, Ohio

What types of horns/saxophones seem to be most popular these days?

What trends have you noticed in contemporary saxophone design?

“Contemporary saxophone design has made the execution and fingering easier than the older models. However, the metals alloy used are thinner and not as rich-sounding as the older models. The tone/timbre of the older horns are warmer and fuller in the sound, especially in the main body of the instrument.”
TK Blue
Brookville, N.Y.

“Bigger bells.  Lots of different types of plating and alloys.”
Tim Kochen
San Jacinto College
Pasadena, Texas

“I’m an owner of several vintage saxophones. I love everything about them from their sound to their smell. However, I must admit that this collection is for show only. The newer horns easily trump the vintage in intonation and technique. I play a brand new 400 Series Buffet saxophone. This horn is crafted in a way that makes my style of playing downright easier. And its looks are a sight for sore eyes.”
Russell Kirk
NYU, Peabody Conservatory, Friends School of Baltimore, BSO OrchKids, Beth Tfiloh Community School
Baltimore, Md.

“It’s harder to find a good deal on a a student/intermediate model instrument. The lower prices give you ‘iffy’ quality. The ‘standards’ [instrument makers] are getting softer and lower in quality while their prices have gone through the roof.”
John Salminen
American Community School – Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi, UAE

“[The] continuation of different finishes and colors.  More interest in aspects of neck design.”
David Kay
University School/Interlochen Arts Camp
Berea, Ohio

“I’ve noticed that the Cannonball series incorporates a big bore sound that does not compromise intonation or control.”
David Cress
Missouri University of Science and Technology
Rolla, Mo.

“Bigger bells, top line models (Selmer especially) are combining classic models with updated keys”
Stephen Lombardelli
Kenneth R. Olson Middle School
Tabrnacle, N.J.

“Lots of ‘flash’ finishes – [which offer] little to add, other than marketing value. However, I am impressed with the more consistent internal tuning on newer designs, across the board.”
Steve Eads
Adelaide, Australia

“[There is] a lot of experimentation with different finishes. I think designers are realizing all the unique timbres that are possible by tweaking the finish. Sure, some finishes look pretty, but others add a new dimension to the sound.  The market has been flooded by a variety of saxophone manufacturers that are sub-par, but try to sell themselves as a professional craftsman. These companies need to focus on their craft and get solid products into customer’s hands.”
Dr. Dieter Rice
Northwest University
Kirkland, Wash.

“Colors! My students think the red saxes are hot!”
Joel Peskin
Kokomo High School
Kokomo, Ind.

“The quality of the metal is decreasing as the years go by… There are student horns from the ‘30s that resonate better than professional models today. Also, the saxophone is a conical instrument. However models like Theo Wanne’s Mantra have used a wider bore which adds to the sound of the horn.”
Alfredo Colon
Fordham High School for the Arts
Bronx, N.Y.

“Cannonball horns… they look ‘cool’ and are and inexpensive alternative to higher end horns.”
Mark Young
Boise State University
Boise, Idaho

What type of jazz attracts most young sax players today?

“Younger players from groups like Kneebody or Snarky Puppy are becoming more accessible to younger players; jazz that is mixing elements of modern pop and rock music, and hip hop and R&B.”
Brian Rodesch
University of Northern Colorado
Greeley, Colo.

“Bebop – young players still like to play a lot of notes.”
Sandy MacKay
London, Ontario, Canada

“Although young players listen to fusion, they are most intrigued by the musical masters… Bird and Coltrane, Getz and Desmond.”
Stephen Goacher
Howard Payne University
Brownwood, Texas

“Many collegiate youth are coming to the table with less an awareness of classic jazz from the ‘20s-‘60s and much more of an interest in modern commercial music: pop, EDM, indie rock, etc. With these influences, they are certainly making some very compelling music! It jut doesn’t swing in the classic sense.”
Matt Zebley
University of California, Riverside
Riverside, Calif.

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