Since When Is the Saxophone Not a Rock and Roll Instrument?
Thank you for proving that the saxophone is a rock and roll instrument! This a comment I received recently after someone watched one of my sax videos. Two friends were arguing whether the sax was even considered to be a valid instrument in rock and roll.
For me, this is such a preposterous question to even ask but then when I think about the state of today’s commercial music, radio, video etc it really is a valid one.
By now I suppose there are many, many young people who would not even consider that the sax belongs or even has a place in any type of modern rock-based commercial music… mostly because it doesn’t!
This was true to some extent even when I discovered the great tone of the saxophone in rock and roll back in the early 70’s. Sure, you’d hear it in some mainstream groups like Springsteen’s, Supertramp, and Billy Joel to name just a few but the list doesn’t get too long.
If you were like me, a big fan of rock-based music you had to do some digging for yourself because the mainstream broadcasters weren’t going to let you hear any of that.
Interestingly enough, the further back I dug the more I found. Meaning that the further back you go the more sax was used on rock and roll music. In fact, when rock and roll started sax was king. Not many groups went without one and many had more than one sax in the line-up.
When most people hear someone talk about the beginning of rock and roll they immediately think about the mid 50’s with Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis and on from there. The truth is that by that time rock and roll was almost 10 years old.
The late 40’s had some wild blues based R & B music that was so new and crazy sounding people started calling it rock and roll, not the media though, just people in the music business like musicians, producers and some in-the-know fans. Musicians were singing about rock and roll too, it’s meaning being of the sexual nature.
Anyway, the sax sound that was being produced by some of these young up-and-coming players not only fit into this new sound but was a big part of it. One of the early wild screamers on the sax was Illinois Jacquet, who as part of Lionel Hampton’s group recorder a live solo way back in May of 1942. That sax solo is considered to be the first recorded solo that inspired the players who would come up through the 40’s and be part of the new music that would be called rock and roll. Illinois Jacquet was 19 years old at the time.
The recording was “Flying Home” and it signified the end of the big band swing era and the beginning of the wild R & B era which would turn into rock and roll by the end of the 40’s.
Fast forward to the late 40’s, that’s when rock and roll started to be. It evolved over the next few years and became so popular that eventually hit mainstream in the mid 50’s. It’s around this time that the guitar overshadowed the sax in these groups because guitar became a big part of the rhythm and eventually started taking over the solo’s too.
This was just a natural progression which was dictated by the music. The sax never left completely and other elements came in like the piano and so it continues.
The saxophone, with it’s unique sound capabilities to go from the mellowest tone to the wildest screaming instrument makes it one of the most versatile instruments we have.