When it comes to Jazz music, one of the first instruments to come to mind is the saxophone (aka sax). This versatile instrument has an interesting history.

Invention

The sax was invented in 1840 by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian instrument maker. His goal was to create a group of instruments that would be the most powerful of woodwinds and the most adaptive of brass instruments. By crafting the sax from brass and using a single-reed mouth piece, Sax seems to have succeeded.

Adolphe Sax’s interest in creating such a vocal and nimble instrument came from his personal instrument choices. As a flautist (flute player) and clarinetist, he clearly had a love of both woodwinds and reeded instruments. He began by working to improve the fingering on a bass clarinet. Using those skills, he eventually developed the saxophone.

He created saxophones in several sizes and received a patent for 14 versions in the early 1840s. When the patent expired in 1866, instrument makers and players began experimenting with his original design and rearranging the fingering. The first of these of note was made by a French manufacturer who extended the bell and added an extra key. This modification had the effect of extending the downward range by one semitone.

In general, Sax’s original keys made for challenging fingering. Over the years, numerous modifications were made to combine some key and move others to make playing much easier. Of Sax’s original 14 designs, the most commonly used today are Alto, Tenor and Baritone.

Materials

Both at invention and today, saxophones are made of brass. However, because the tones are produced by a reed, they’re considered a woodwind rather than a brass instrument. In many cases, the brass is coated to prevent oxidation. There is considerable debate as to if/how this affects tone.

The reeds are traditionally made from a perennial cane, but since the 20th century fiberglass and other composite materials are also used. Mouth pieces are made from a wide variety of materials. Saxophonists choose which mouthpiece they prefer based on the style of music and desired tones.

When you come by Jazz Kitchen, be sure to ask the saxophonists about his choice of mouth piece.