The joy of sax: why the saxophone deserves to be loved
On National Saxophone day, an ode to an unfairly-maligned instrument
When I was seven years old, I was sold a lie.
Newly into junior school, we were given the option of learning a musical instrument, and the choice was overwhelming. Would it be the trumpet? That looked shiny and you could play it loud. Would it be the violin? That looked rather beautiful, but probably a bit shrieky. Would it be the euphonium? No, don't be ridiculous, do you know how much that thing weighs?
No, I wanted to play the saxophone.
I knew what was up. My favourite song in the world was Spandau Ballet's True, and we all know that the best bit of that is the sax solo. I was aware of the work of George Michael, his guilty feet, and the greatest introduction to a piece of popular music in history. It was shiny, it was cool, and I wanted to learn it.
But they didn't have any saxophones.
They brought out a clarinet and told me: "this is what you want, it's virtually the same". "It's just as cool", I was assured. "It sounds just as nice", they claimed. I took it home and begun to learn it.
Oh the lies. Lie upon lie.
Over the ensuing years, as I mastered the instrument (to a degree) it slowly dawned on me that I had been sold a dud. How many great clarinet solos can you name? That's right, none. How many images have you seen of sunglass-wearing clarinet-playing adonises being surrounded by beautiful women? Yep, zero. By the time I was twelve, my interest had moved on to other exciting instruments like guitars and switching over to the saxophone seemed like too much effort. My sax window had closed and I never did get to blast out the riff from Careless Whisper.
So, as National Saxophone Day comes around, it's time to give this often-maligned instrument the love it deserves. Derided for so long as an eighties cliche, it's finally come back into fashion as people have realised that, um, the eighties really was the pinnacle of popular music and that, perhaps, their 'cliches' were actually just bloody good musical ideas. Massive synths? Unashamed pop hooks? Big production? Yeah, turns out all of those things were really good, weren't they?
And, of course, the sax solos. Just when you thought the song had peaked, in comes a luxurious brassy rasp to take the song to a higher level. Low and smooth? Or high and honky? Whatever you want guys: it's got you covered.
The Zutons unapologetically brought saxy back in the mid-noughties with Abi Harding's brilliant playing and chicken leg dancing, the none-more-cool Mystery Jets stuck a massive solo in on the end of Two Doors Down in 2008. Then M83 took it bigger with the euphoric ending to the slightly-ruined-by-its-use-on-Made-In-Chelsea banger Midnight City before Jason Derulo took it truly mainstream with the riff to Talk Dirty. Now X Factor runner-up Fleur East's long-awaited 'proper' single is simply called Sax. The saxophone is finally an accepted instrument in pop again.
Naturally, the sax has always had an undisputed place at the forefront of great jazz, but never again should it be sidelined in the world of pop. Put on the playlist below and raise a toast to Mr Adolphe Sax, who gave the world the saxophone way back in 1840 and gifted it a truly glorious instrument.
Everybody get saxy. Right now.Spotify