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Where Have All the Saxophones Gone?

CliveMA

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The article, which this thread is about, correctly states that sax is becoming rare in recordings and as a popular instrument in the sphere of professional music.

As the article speculates, and I agree with, a main reason is simply financial. Costs are reduced by using electronically-generated sounds where ever possible: drums, beats, etc even cleaned up bad singing voices. More Avicii, less people.

That's 99% of the reason. Arguing over the 1% won't make saxophones or singers more employable in a digitally-generated age of cost-cutting.

If a sax player today wants future commercial success they must be a salesperson more than a musician. They must have their own Instagram/Youtube account and work incredibly hard to entertain and attract new followers. Their follow on dream then involves publishing their own records on their own label that are streamed on Spotify etc. No modern artist wants to be a slave to the traditional recording labels, earning pennies.
 

CliveMA

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Check out Instagram accounts of weare2saxy, gkellymusic, leopfollowme, chadlbsax, jazzlessonvideos, saxomusic, and bettersax. And that's just from my morning feed.

All these people are publishing music now and making money now. They are their own record label, marketing their music through new channels. The article itself is mired in the past, missing the path to the future offered by social media. Meanwhile new saxophonist artists are breaking out right now in these new channels!
 

Wade Cornell

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As the article speculates, and I agree with, a main reason is simply financial. Costs are reduced by using electronically-generated sounds where ever possible: drums, beats, etc even cleaned up bad singing voices. More Avicii, less people.

That's 99% of the reason. Arguing over the 1% won't make saxophones or singers more employable in a digitally-generated age of cost-cutting.

If a sax player today wants future commercial success they must be a salesperson more than a musician. They must have their own Instagram/Youtube account and work incredibly hard to entertain and attract new followers. Their follow on dream then involves publishing their own records on their own label that are streamed on Spotify etc. No modern artist wants to be a slave to the traditional recording labels, earning pennies.

The quote is I'm sure accurate, but it's limited to discussing recording. Many (most?) bands today don't make as much money out of recordings anyway. They make their money from live shows and touring . There are heaps of bands that make a good living. Very few of these feature a sax.
The fact that a sax, or any other instrument can be aped by a computer for recording purposes hasn't put every guitarist, bass player, drummer, etc. out of work.

Pulling out selective quotations that ignore the essence of what the article is saying is either a defeatist attitude or not recognizing that there may be alternatives. How and what we play can make the difference. It's up to us to be relevant (or not, and face the consequences).

Another instrument that was wildly popular in the 1920s and 30s was the accordion. It's popularity waned very quickly, but it continued to be a popular instrument to learn at home even though it had little/no potential to come back to life as a professional popular instrument. It gained a geeky reputation which wasn't helped by people like Laurence Welk on American TV.

The article has also pointed out the 1980s sax macho male cringe factor that might be another sax prejudice. How do you counter this? I don't have any pat answer, but I'm sure it's not going to be via hiding out in a mid 20th century style or through "smooth jazz".

The first step in correcting a problem is to recognize there is a problem. those of you who just like playing whatever you play obviously don't have a problem, and you'll continue to do what you do, and hopefully enjoy it.

Once again, this is about teaching and encouraging talent to be creative and keep the instrument we love relevant. To move forward and stop looking more than half a century backwards.
 

Wade Cornell

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Check out Instagram accounts of weare2saxy, gkellymusic, leopfollowme, chadlbsax, jazzlessonvideos, saxomusic, and bettersax. And that's just from my morning feed.

All these people are publishing music now and making money now. They are their own record label, marketing their music through new channels. The article itself is mired in the past, missing the path to the future offered by social media. Meanwhile new saxophonist artists are breaking out right now in these new channels!

I get what you're saying here, and you're right. Anyone who can market themselves and get a following might make $$ through the ads that can (sometimes?) pay producers of videos. Note thatt hey aren't playing "standards". They look, act and play for a "today" market. Hopefully they will have a positive influence. I don't think we are crossing swords here. It's all about being relevant today, through whatever means you can reach an audience.
 

CliveMA

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The irony of this article is that I may well ask, "Where have all the journalists gone?

Many journalists have been fired and replaced by computer-generated articles. Main reason: cost reduction. Same reason as the demise of recorded music and its session musicians.
 

CliveMA

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ignore the essence of what the article is saying is either a defeatist attitude

I'm not being defeatist. I see the article itself as irrelevant for failing to have sufficient scope to realise that records themselves are dead. Live bands are dead, too or at the very least not cost-effective. In the current crisis, there are quite a few jokes doing the rounds along the lines of, "All my gigs are cancelled. So I'm up $500."

Social media channels are the future right now. Not just for performance but also for teaching. I can't find an in-person teacher locally who is competent let alone current. I think teaching in person to be creative rather than traditional is largely pointless because of how little impact it would have. The online teaching channels are already teaching creatively now. Jay at BetterSax has 177K YouTube subscribers. He has over 5000 subscribers to his paid formal courses, including me. I doubt any sax teacher has ever had a wider impact. What Jay does so well is take all the years of formal training he's had and explain why we students don't need it!

I'd rather watch a youtube video of Jan Garbarek or listen to Californiahoneydrops on Spotify then see a local pub band, not that I ever go to a pub for any reason. And I'd rather see a 30 second Instagram post from weare2saxy than waste 2 hours at some boring concert.

And I'm 62, an old fuddy, duddy. The young people I mingle with have already moved on to TikTok etc.
 

7201

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All, including the host, looked like loser nerds: skinny as if they've never exercised a day in their life, poor posture, unfashionable clothes, anti-social demeanor, unkempt hair and general appearance
I thought that was all Australians? ;)
 

7201

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As the article speculates, and I agree with, a main reason is simply financial. Costs are reduced by using electronically-generated sounds where ever possible: drums, beats, etc even cleaned up bad singing voices. More Avicii, less people.

That's 99% of the reason. Arguing over the 1% won't make saxophones or singers more employable in a digitally-generated age of cost-cutting.

If a sax player today wants future commercial success they must be a salesperson more than a musician. They must have their own Instagram/Youtube account and work incredibly hard to entertain and attract new followers. Their follow on dream then involves publishing their own records on their own label that are streamed on Spotify etc. No modern artist wants to be a slave to the traditional recording labels, earning pennies.
The biz has pretty much been like this for a long time. There are still lots of gigs around that are 'throw back', just not enough to go round. That's normal though with all the media available in public places - Sky Sports, piped music etc - I'm sure that the Juke Box must've cut down a few gigs in its day.

As we've discussed on here before quite a few sax players are beating the DJs at their own game now and going out with a PA and backing tracks, or along with the DJ. That's just gigging though, playing the same old stuff just without a band, bar the one on the backing. It's Smooth Jazz really, playing the tunes that the DJ would play.

In some ways this does make the instrument more popular again, as it's visible. The cost of one musician at a venue means that gigs can take place in restaurants, hair salons, shopping malls - anywhere.

All my mates and I have had a career largely being re-creators, like classical musicians. The ones that played in current pop acts (at the top of their popularity) - Shakin' Stevens, Katrina and the Waves, Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai - well that was throw-back music anyway.

I agree to an extent with @Wade Cornell but believe it will naturally evolve, the pupils develop their own theories. I agree with @CliveMA that music is fragmented like never before. I agree most with @tenorviol about the classical music argument.
 

nigeld

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My rant simply states that if you wish to change this (and I'm sure many of you don't give a fig), then it starts with teaching students to play in a contemporary style and moving forward. This is what has kept those other instruments relevant. Is there anybody who doubts this?

I agree with you as far as conservatory-level teaching is concerned, but not with regard to teaching amateurs, which is what the vast majority of music teaching is about.

If we take, for example, violin teaching, then I would expect a conservatory education to include techniques that allow the student to play difficult contemporary music, but most amateurs will not have the skill to do some of this, and most amateurs will only want to play classical music.

Similarly on the saxophone, I would expect a conservatory education to include, for example, multiphonics, but that doesn’t mean that saxophone teachers should teach multiphonics to all their amateur students.

On bassoon, I mostly play classical music up to about 1970, on saxophone I mostly play standards. I expect my teachers to help me meet my goals, not theirs (or yours).
 

Wade Cornell

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I agree with you as far as conservatory-level teaching is concerned, but not with regard to teaching amateurs, which is what the vast majority of music teaching is about.

If we take, for example, violin teaching, then I would expect a conservatory education to include techniques that allow the student to play difficult contemporary music, but most amateurs will not have the skill to do some of this, and most amateurs will only want to play classical music.

Similarly on the saxophone, I would expect a conservatory education to include, for example, multiphonics, but that doesn’t mean that saxophone teachers should teach multiphonics to all their amateur students.

On bassoon, I mostly play classical music up to about 1970, on saxophone I mostly play standards. I expect my teachers to help me meet my goals, not theirs (or yours).

With respect Nigel, my rants are not about anyone who has a style, period, or genre that they wish to pursue, especially if they have no ambition to be a professional. They are all about (and hopefully prefaced) in stating that we are stymieing the talented and creative individuals who may wish to have a career in music. I seriously doubt that the typical 13 year old who may be starting on sax knows anything about players from the 1950s much less have heard their music. So why are we imprinting these young people with the notion that they must learn that vocabulary and copy players of that time?

You are an adult, and can make your own choices about everything. We should be careful in our teaching and the influences we carry along with us to ensure that we don't stymie other's potential. This site, its discussions, it advice, and the music that it projects is a part of that. There should be room for other genres and points of view.

At 73 I'm as old or older than most of you, but not interested in perpetuating a music style of the past. The players of the past deserve reverence as a part of the continuum, It's our shared history, but it's not taking us into the future.
 

Vetinari

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I think that the saxophone has a problem, it's a saxophone. From the young starters position, it is heavy, cumbersome, delicate, unreliable, expensive to maintain. etc. Currently there does not appear to be any new the music written or performed by the 'stars' that appear on tv. This means that there is no exposure to the general public of the saxophone. If one or more of the Beatles or the Stones had played sax on stage it would possibly be more popular than the guitar. We need some up front performers on stage with music and performances the current teenagers like.
 

7201

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Also, the sax, like many instruments requires a lot of work to even sound passable. A lot of pop music is made by people with a home studio and a lower amount of work in order to achieve it. Some might argue that it’s more creative - it is I guess, compared to “copyists” or re-creators like me.
 

Pete Thomas

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If one or more of the Beatles or the Stones had played sax on stage it would possibly be more popular than the guitar. We need some up front performers on stage with music and performances the current teenagers like.
If they had played the saxophone on stage, maybe they wouldn't have become the "stars" they did. By that era (60s) the saxophone was mostly seen as something from the old days played by old folk.
 
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David Roach

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I found this article an interesting read. I'm not sure I agree with all of what it says, but I thought it might be of some interest to the members here. It seems as if it could be an effective way to start a discussion. It is obvious the writer has never gone to Sax On The Web that has had as many as 85,734 users online at one time. (Granted Cafe Saxophone doesn't get as many participants, but they are certainly a higher class of people. He he he.)

Where Have All the Saxophones Gone
Referring back to the start of this thread, the article mentioned by @jbtsax actually encapsulates what I have felt for at least 25 years, that the saxophone has little or no place in contemporary pop music. In my twenties (during the 70s and 80s) I did quite a bit of studio and live work on other people's pop tracks (Billy Ocean, Catherine Howe, Sally Oldfield, Talk Talk, Ali Thomson, Nick Heyward etc etc) and made two albums of my own. As I gradually moved away from commercial music to classical, due to my association with John Harle and Michael Nyman,
I had time to think about this change within music and I've come to my own conclusions.

Firstly, every generation rejects the previous one to some extent, especially as regards pop music which is by definition 'style' orientated. We sax players didn't have to do anything but grow older and have kids for our tastes and ways to become passé and to be rejected. What was raw and gutsy and cool in the 70s became 'cheesy' (very hurtful ;))

Secondly, as producers moved to using sample based music via the Fairlight, Acorn. Akai samplers etc etc. the musical and technical problems of using a sax on a track started to stand out. By this I mean the humanity of the instrument became a problem. I was told by a producer that he would never use a saxophone if he could avoid it - why would he have an instrument that almost nobody could play as well in tune as a sample messing up his perfect track?
And to add to this my own experiments at blending a live sax performance with computerised tracks has proved frustrating - I no longer like to make a very bright sound on the instrument and IMO this makes things more difficult because you have to carve out a space for a complex acoustic sound amidst all that shallowness. And play spot on in tune.

But also, there was a backlash from both Jazz & Classical players during the mid 80s. Players were frustrated with the shallowness of pop sax and turned to the greats of the mid 20C as their role models, and finally the sax became viable as a classical instrument. When I went to Music College in 1974, the sax was not available as a 'first study' ('major' in USA) and only became so in around 1976 so I studied the Oboe for 4 years with sax as 'second study'. At last a player could find a viable official (grant assisted) course on which to follow his or her particular calling. This has made an enormous difference to our world. Players going through a 3 or 4 year college course emerge with the conviction that it should be possible to find employment either as a Jazz player or a Classical player - unfortunately not often realistic.

And of course there's the reality of financial considerations.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been a musician at a time when live work was still abundant - West End, National Theatre, TV, Orchestras, Tours, Film Scores and Commercial Sessions etc. etc. were all regular and viable gainful employment when I joined the profession after college. I even make some money in a Saxophone Quartet.

So, things have changed very radically and for a number of reasons. That's life. I'm OK with it because there was a huge amount of rubbish music made for the sake of creating product that we are better off without. But it's REALLY tough for players who want to play live though. I have a good friend who makes most of his living playing Jazz and writes his own music which was an inconceivably tough route to take before the present health situation, and on the face of it, it's certainly not going to be easier when all this is over.
 

CliveMA

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I think that the saxophone has a problem, it's a saxophone. From the young starters position, it is heavy, cumbersome, delicate, unreliable, expensive to maintain. etc. Currently there does not appear to be any new the music written or performed by the 'stars' that appear on tv. This means that there is no exposure to the general public of the saxophone. If one or more of the Beatles or the Stones had played sax on stage it would possibly be more popular than the guitar. We need some up front performers on stage with music and performances the current teenagers like.

Young people don't watch TV or own a TV. They haven't for at least a decade. For example, my son is 35 and hasn't watched TV since he was at least 18. He's never seen the need to buy a TV. He thinks anyone who buys a TV is wasting their money and must be technologically illiterate.

Instagram/YouTube/TikTok and probably many new platforms I've never heard of are the stage for the young.
 

CliveMA

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I seriously doubt that the typical 13 year old who may be starting on sax knows anything about players from the 1950s much less have heard their music. So why are we imprinting these young people with the notion that they must learn that vocabulary and copy players of that time?

Internet teachers aren't imprinting young players with the 50's! Maybe you are making a great case for avoiding real world teachers. I don't know. But your comments do not apply to Internet-based teachers I'm familiar with. Rather, they are about enjoyment and creativity and playing by ear.

Secondly, a formal music education (degree) is not seen as required by today's young people (nor in fields other than music). It is seen as a relic of a bygone era. For example, Billie Eilish and her brother were home-schooled by musician parents, becoming world idols in their teens via YouTube. This is a path young people seek to emulate today. Those with talent are on YouTube etc. They don't have time for a formal musical education.
 

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