The Saxophone: Stephen Cottrell, Yale University Press, Hardback £25.00

This review was published on: December 16th 2013

Professor Cottrell has produced an extremely fine study of our beloved instrument – profusely illustrated (no less than 120 photos, diagrams and archive images plus 22 score excerpts), well annotated and replete with a very comprehensive bibliography. In his Preface the author indicates that his intention is “to lay out a scholarly and authoritative history of the saxophone” - in this task he succeeds with aplomb.

Not only is “The Saxophone” beautifully written, it is divided into eight chapters which segment the instrument's complete developmental, social, historical and cultural trajectory into most useful reviewable 'chunks'! The life and times of Adophe Sax (combined with an Appendix devoted to a facsimile of Adolphe's 1846 patent) comprehensively addresses both the man (actually christened 'Antoine-Joseph' and the first of eleven children), his family/business background and his career.

Chapter two, the saxophone family, gets to grips with M.Sax's inspirations and his invention's antecedents before recording various activities undertaken by competitors and imitators in Europe and elsewhere in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – all fascinating stuff. Next, the saxophone in the nineteenth century begins with a look at social/commercial transformations of this era in France and develops into the evolution of teaching methods and repertoire for the saxophone. Early soloists in Europe and the US are followed by an interesting evaluation of saxophones appearing in the military, wind and other bands.

In chapter four, Early twentieth century light and popular music an incredible variety of performers (vaudeville, circus, ensemble, virtuoso soloists etc.) parade before us in the form of photographic evidence indicating that the saxophone was now a musical/entertainment force to be reckoned with. This is much strengthened in chapter five – The saxophone in jazz – a truly masterful 45 page essay embracing most of the influential stylists from Sidney Bechet to Ornette Coleman.

The classical saxophone, chapter six, deals thoroughly with early symphonic repertoire development, soloists and the importance of Marcel Mule and others including the first chamber music groups/ensembles. Chapter seven, Modernism and postmodernism, considers saxophonic activity from the 1960's onwards covering instrument development, extended playing techniques, contemporary classical music, pedagogy and large ensembles, post bop jazz styles, rock and pop, and the saxophone in world music. Finally, another masterful essay the saxophone as a symbol and icon takes a novel and intriguing socio-politico-anthropological excursion into the instrument's presence on the human stage – extraordinary!

The author hints that his work took a long time to get into print. A number of issues appear to support this. There are very few World-Wide-Web addresses in the Notes, there is no reference to the work of Benedikt Epplesheim (soprillo/Tubax etc.) and little on the influence of World Saxophone Congresses which have taken place in the last 12 years. 'Crossover' success (Stan Getz with “Focus”, Christian Forshaw with “Sanctuary” and Branford Marsalis's work) is missing. But nothing can take away the over-riding fact: this is a fine contribution to literature on the saxophone.

Kenneth Morris


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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at Flat 51, Parkview Apartments, 122 Chrisp Street, London, E14 6ET. Email: membership(@) Tel: 01642 769 558

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