Why Are Saxophones So Popular In Jazz (Explained)

Why Are Saxophones So Popular
Written by Corey Morgan

Saxophones have been around for well over a century and continue to be one of the most popular instruments today. From jazz to rock, pop to classical, the saxophone is known for its versatility and unique sound. It’s become a staple in many genres of music, making it a favorite among both amateur and professional musicians alike.

Saxophones are popular in jazz for a variety of reasons, including the following:

1. Original Purpose

Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone, created it with the goal of it serving as a transitional instrument between the woodwinds and brass.

Saxophones are classified as woodwind instruments due to their structure, but their sound is more comparable to that of brass instruments.

The saxophone was designed with these characteristics in mind so that it could take full advantage of them when playing classical music.

It wasn’t until the 1840s that Sax actually came up with the idea for the instrument.

It took some time before musicians began to devote time to the instrument. When it finally reached the point where it could be considered a standard instrument, most orchestras simply did not have the space to accommodate it.

There are a few classical solos written for the saxophone, but outside of a few specific works, you won’t be able to hear them performed by an orchestra.

2. The History of Music

Along with what was intended to be accomplished, the history of music had an impact on what the saxophone would eventually play.

To begin, the instrument is not even close to being 200 years old, making it a fairly recent invention.

Contrast this with orchestral instruments such as the trumpet or the flute, both of which have been around since the 1600s in some form or another. In order for the saxophone to become widely used, there was a long road ahead of it.

Although it did not become a typical member of orchestras, it was very popular in marching bands and military bands.

These bands served as an indirect precursor to jazz in the United States.

Because the saxophone held a place in bands, it was possible for it to make a seamless transition between different ensembles.

3. Reputation in the Country of France

Saxophones eventually became popular in bands all over the world, but they were first used in France. The saxophone became an essential component of many marching bands across the nation’s ensembles.

Given that Sax was originally from Belgium and moved to Paris in the late 20s, this makes perfect sense.

It wasn’t difficult for him to make the French his first target audience for marketing his invention.

The majority of those musicians eventually settled in New Orleans, a city that was founded on French colonial culture and was destined to become a center for jazz. The musicians brought along the instruments that they were already familiar with.

In the years that followed, elements of French culture mingled with those of the United States as well as the cultures of current and former slaves.

The new musical genre of jazz was informed by the combination of all of these different musical styles.

4. Available Instruments

In the beginning of jazz’s history, musicians would play on whatever instruments they could get their hands on.

As a result of its widespread use in French bands, the saxophone eventually became a standard instrument in jazz ensembles.

Naturally, it takes more than simply being accessible for a jazz instrument to gain notoriety among fans of the genre. Other early instruments included the banjo and the tuba, neither of which is considered a popular jazz instrument today.

Additionally, the clarinet was an early mainstay instrument in jazz. Even though you might catch a jazz clarinet solo now and then, the instrument’s use in the genre is not nearly as widespread as it was in the past.

The saxophone eventually surpassed some of the other early instruments, like the clarinet, and became more popular. Today, jazz bands and smaller combos are more likely to use it than they were in the past.

5. Technical Infrastructure

The construction of the saxophone makes it relatively simple to play both slow phrases with lyrical content and fast passages with technical complexities.

You are able to produce a quality sound across the entirety of the instrument’s dynamic range.

Beginners have an easier time learning to play multiple octaves on the saxophone because the instrument does not rely on the harmonic series like brass instruments do. Because of the way the instrument is constructed, it is also simple to play more lyrical melodies when playing slower ballads.

The saxophone is a versatile instrument that can be used in any jazz ensemble thanks to its ability to play in both traditional and contemporary styles.

Some other instruments are unable to switch between playing slowly and quickly, or at least they cannot do so as easily. Of course, saxophone players must practice, but the instrument sets them up for more success.

6. Capacity to Make Projections

Both fast and slow music can be played on the saxophone, and the instrument’s design enables the player to project their sound.

Due to the loud nature of trumpets and trombones, this is an extremely important consideration whenever either instrument is being played.

Other types of woodwinds have fingering systems that are very similar to those described above, but they are not as easily projected. Wooden instruments like the clarinet, oboe, and bassoon produce a sound that is more subdued and gentle.

Although the flute is made of metal, brass saxophones can project sound farther than silver can. It is possible to produce a pleasing sound in a large jazz band even if you play a soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone instrument.

Nevertheless, the sound is also appropriate for use by more compact ensembles, such as trios and quartets. It is not necessary to exert undue effort in order for your sound to be heard clearly over an ensemble.

7. Emotional Tone

You can play the saxophone in such a way that the tone takes on a pleasant and expressive quality. This enables you to play with a great deal of expression, which is especially beneficial when you are performing a solo.

However, even when playing in a group, the expressiveness of the saxophone is still able to come through. When performing a ballad, you can choose to play in a manner that has a solemn tone.

If you play something that has more of a beat, you’ll be able to adjust your tone so that it comes across as happier and more upbeat. Because jazz covers such a wide range of musical styles, versatility is an asset in this music genre.

There are a number of other instruments that are capable of expression, but the saxophone has its own special quality.

8. A Wide Range of Sizes

There are four different types of saxes in the saxophone family: the soprano, the alto, the tenor, and the baritone. That translates to the fact that you can use a variety of sizes for a variety of parts or roles within the same piece.

One excellent option for the bass line is the bari sax, which is the lowest of the four most popular saxophones. Due to the fact that it also has a low range, the tenor saxophone is frequently used to play a counter melody.

In many jazz band compositions, the melody will most likely be played on either the alto or soprano sax.

On the other hand, a solo can be played on any one of the many different kinds of saxophones.

Solos in the tenor and alto registers are probably the most common, but the soprano and baritone registers, respectively, can also be nice choices for solos that have higher or lower ranges.

9. Measurements of the Horn Sections

It is important to take into consideration the size of each individual horn section.

In a typical big band, you’ll find four people playing the trumpet and four people playing the trombone.

In spite of this, the group typically requires the participation of five saxophone players. The section is further subdivided, consisting of two altos, two tenors, and one baritone.

You could argue that this reason is more of a chicken-or-egg question, trying to determine which came first: the chicken or the egg.

It’s possible that the saxophone’s popularity is what led to big bands having five different parts for the instrument.

However, in comparison to trumpets and trombones, the additional saxophone part may also contribute to the instrument’s growing popularity.

10. The Prophecy That Fulfills Itself

It wasn’t until fairly recently that the saxophone was accepted as a fundamental component of jazz music.

Jazz saxophone players, on the other hand, have been a consistent source of motivation for subsequent generations of musicians to take up the instrument.

Many jazz musicians who began their careers in the latter half of the 20th century and the early 21st century cite the 20th century jazz musicians as a major source of inspiration. Strangely enough, the players of today will most likely do the same for players in the future.

The vast majority of jazz sax players have incredible sound, which inspires listeners to aspire to play like the musicians they admire. It is likely that this will assist in maintaining the saxophone’s position as a prominent instrument in jazz music.

The world of jazz saxophone players has become more diverse as a result of the increasing number of women who are playing the style.

If this diversity is maintained over time, it may inspire even greater diversity in subsequent generations.

11. Versatility

The saxophone has grown in popularity due to its versatility and portability. It is an easy instrument to learn and can be used in a variety of styles, from classical to jazz to blues and country.

It is small enough to fit in the smallest of bands, but powerful enough to blow through any size audience. Its range of tones and ability to blend with other instruments makes it the perfect choice for a wide range of genres

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, saxophones has become one of the most popular instruments in modern music due to its versatility and ability to bridge genres. It has become a mainstay in many genres, from jazz to rock and pop, and is associated with some of the greatest soloists of all time.

The instrument continues to be a favorite among novice and professional musicians alike, proving that the saxophone’s popularity will continue for years to come.