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The Saxophone

Stephen Cottrell

ISBN 978-0-300-10041-9

Yale University Press, ££25.00 ($40.00)

390 pp. 120 illustrations. 22 Music examples, six tables.

The Saxophone

Well presented and substantial, The Saxophone will be a widely appreciated addition to the Yale Musical instrument series. That the ‘lip out’ embouchure is given prominence and illustrated is pleasing, as is the generous coverage of the life and times of Adolphe Sax. The chapter dealing with the saxophone family covers such exotica as the Conn-O-Sax, the Saxello, the slide saxophone, the Grafton acrylic and the Selmer padless, as well as the sarrusophones and the ophicleide. Early soloists such as Bessie Mecklem and Elise Boyer Hall receive generous mention as do, of course, pioneers Marcel Mule, Sigurd Rascher and Cecil Leeson. The chapter headed 'The Classical Saxophone' offers a useful overview of the repertoire, both for solo saxophone and for quartet, as does the chapter 'Modernism and Postmodernism', which covers the Varitone, the EWI, the Metasaxophone, and even the ensemble Urban Sax.

The flyleaf blurb of The Saxophone claims it to be the first fully comprehensive study of the saxophone. Presumably that ‘fully comprehensive’ definition enables Cottrell to justify his overlooking Clarinet and Saxophone Experience, by Stanley Richmond (1972), The Saxophone is my Voice, by Ernest Ferron (1997), and The Cambridge Companion to the Saxophone, edited by Richard Ingham (1998), to which I contributed pencil drawings. Ironically, this latter book made the same ‘comprehensive’ claim, in that case to be ‘the first comprehensive guide to the saxophone, its history, technical development and repertoire’.

The names of Richmond, Ferron and Ingham are even absent from the index of Cottrell’s book (though Ingham does merit two footnotes in chapter seven, and an entry in the bibliography), rendering The Saxophone less inclusive than it could have been. Also absent - apart from a footnote - is the name of Paul Harvey, the British pioneer who wrote Saxophone (1995) and founded the London Saxophone Quartet. No mention, either, of the concise Adolphe Sax and His Saxophone by Leon Kochnitzky, with notes by Sigurd Rascher (1985), or of The Art of Saxophone Playing by Larry Teal (1963), a pioneering book, or of The Devil's Horn (2005), an excellent book on the saxophone in jazz, which includes interviews with Lee Konitz, Dave Liebman and Phil Woods. Given the number of pages at his disposal Stephen Cottrell would have been prudent to show greater awareness of these earlier publications.

Within his jazz commentary Cottrell writes of Charlie Parker having a public slanging match with ‘pianist Bud Johnson’. One suspects that Cottrell refers to the famous argument that Parker had with bebop pianist Bud Powell (1924-1966), not with swing tenor player Budd Johnson (1910-1984).

Some inclusions and omissions are puzzling. Tubby Hayes (perhaps Britain's most impressive jazz saxophonist ever) goes unmentioned, as does Ronnie Scott. There is no mention of Art Pepper or of Scott Robinson, a saxophonist who could - and should - write an impressive book about the saxophone.

Nevertheless, a welcome publication.

John Robert Brown

First published in Jazz Journal, February 2013. Used by permission, reproduction forbidden.

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