Mr. Sax's instrument and Ms. Perry's Quartet

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The saxophone—whose flashing serpentine figure is now virtually synonymous with jazz clubs and wind bands—was the brainchild of woodwind craftsman Adolphe Sax, born in Belgium on this date in 1814, to a family of prominent instrument makers. Sax moved to Paris in his late 20’s, where he proved himself a restless and prolific inventor of new instruments.

Yet only a few of these lived on, of which the saxophone is by far the most popular. John Philip Sousa’s band gave many audiences in this country their first taste of the saxophone, and its important role in jazz can hardly be overestimated—that’s a development that neither Sax nor Sousa could have foreseen.

In the symphonic repertory, saxophones are still just occasional visitors to the concert hall, but in the world of chamber music, saxophone quartets have become quite popular. In America alone there are dozens of professional saxophone quartets who commission and perform new works.

Take, for example, the “Quartet for Saxophones” by the Canadian composer Anita “A.D.” Perry, a work written for the Amherst Saxophone Quartet of Buffalo, New York. The Amherst Quartet has a 20-year history of commissioning and performing new music, and has recorded a number of compact discs, include one of Perry’s quartet.