Sax and the city

Jun 24, 2013, 00:05 IST | Ruchika Kher

Jazz has a special place in Mumbai's music history. The genre's most integral element is the saxophone � a woodwind musical instrument, which was patented by Antoine-Joseph Sax on June 23, 1846. As a tribute to an instrument that captured the imagination of the city over the decades, Ruchika Kher takes note of where it stands in today's musical milieu

Circa 1846: Belgian musical instrument designer Antoine-Joseph Sax wants to create an instrument that will become the most powerful of the woodwinds, and the most adaptive of the brass. The result of this wish was the conical-bore saxophone, which he patented on June 23 of that year. The instrument mainly created to be used in orchestras and bands; forged a strong association with Jazz, a genre that enjoyed great popularity in the earlier part of the 20th century and went on to create ripples on the global music scene, including India.

Key note of concern
167 years since it came into existence, this integral part of Mumbai’s musical history, is trying to hold onto the popularity it once enjoyed. “Saxophone is an instrument most identified with Jazz, and Mumbai has had a rich history of musicians who have played the sax. Rudy Cotton, Braz Gonsalves and Joe Pereira from the older generation are all Mumbai-based saxophonists,” says Farrahnaz Irani, Head-Programming (Western Music), NCPA.

Well-known Indian saxophonist Joe Pereir
Well-known Indian saxophonist Joe Pereira (Jazzy Joe), who passed away recently at the age of 86, popularised the instrument in the city and beyond. File Pic

While several saxophonists regaled city audiences in the past, music aficionados rue that its popularity has seen a fall with time. “Ideally, more musicians should learn to play this instrument but unfortunately, there is a dearth of saxophonists in the city now. I hope that the scenario changes as more Jazz outfits emerge and the relevance of the saxophone increases,” expresses Jazz musician Louis Banks, who sees a ray of hope with several new music schools opening up and; seeking to have saxophone teachers on their rolls.

Ryan Sadri
Mumbai’s young sax talent Ryan Sadri is a part of the band, Something Relevant

New hope
Banks’ concern can be considered legitimate, as the city has seen a decline in the number of people wanting to play the sax. In the recent past, only two young saxophonists from Mumbai -- Ryan Sadri and Rhys Sebastian -- have made people sit up and take notice. 29-year-old Sadri, who was trained under the great saxophonist Micky Correa and now plays with the band Something Relevant, brings up the issue of the absence of good teachers in the city, but is optimistic that the lack of teachers shouldn’t stop someone from attempting to learn.

“Passion and persistence must come from within. In today’s day and age, with the power of the Internet, everything is possible. Also, to help get started, budding young players can connect with the few saxophonists in the city,” he advices, stressing on the point that in a city where musicians mostly prefer to play drums or guitar, one will stick out by playing a powerful instrument like the sax.

Saxophone teacher Anand Vaity, who has been tutoring students for a decade, feels the pinch of the fading interest for the instrument: “The use of saxophone has fallen. Still, there are few people who are learning and playing it; I hope this number increases.” He suggests the promotion of live bands to bring back the demand. Kenny G must be smiling.

Cost constraints
Anthony Gomes of Furtados, Mumbai’s iconic music instrument store, explains that depending on quality, a saxophone can be purchased from R20,000 to a few lakhs. “Typically, it’s the imported models priced up to nearly Rs 1 lakh that are regularly purchased. Cheaper Indian models also exist in the price range of below Rs 10,000, but these aren’t of good quality, and their demand has been gradually diminishing,” he informs.

The Carnatic connect
Interestingly, the saxophone shares a Carnatic music connect as well: “It is considered as a Western instrument but is being used by prominent Classical musicians and accepted by lovers of Carnatic music for years now,” shares Kishore Das of Musee Musical (P) Ltd.

Sax appeal: Celebs play it too!

US President Bill Clinton

David Letterman
David Letterman

Actress Jennifer Garner
Actress Jennifer Garner

Comedian Bob Hope
Comedian Bob Hope

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