When you think of jazz music , maybe you think of the chasing brushed drums, maybe it’s a frantically plucked double bass, but if you hear a song start playing you know you are listening to jazz when the saxophone comes in. Though jazz is created without this instrument often, as it can be subbed out for a flute or left out altogether, the sax has a place in jazz that just sits right. From its ability to instantly add a smooth tone to a steady romantic track or its lively way of bringing some elated chaos to a song with its incredible range, saxophone and jazz go hand in hand. But what is it about this instrument in particular that makes it so iconically jazz-like?
Obviously, a huge part of jazz is the ability to apply variation, especially when creating improv songs or riffing over a cover to give it some extra flair. What the saxophone does is it allows for musicians to have some freedom in their playing, thanks to the many pitches available; jazz sax players can unleash some incredible sounds into the crowd that other instruments just can’t handle. Take the double bass for example, this instrument is created to make very low noises, if you want to make high pitched sounds here, you are going to hit a wall very quickly. The sax however can reach high squeals, low moans and anything in between.
Smooth Rich Sounds
The sound of a sax has a somewhat calming effect, thanks to the vibrations that hit our ears when we hear it, smooth jazz players can lull us into a calm quicker than many other players. When you hear the soft dulcet tones of a sax you instantly feel its nature whether relaxed, flirtatious or curious, the feelings behind the sax come through with ease without compromising. This makes soft jazz easy to unwind to and lively jazz sound so chirpy when compared to its soulful alternative.
In contrast to its deep, rich side, the sax can be used to add some higher pitched madness. Some rapid fingering on the saxophone is an instant indicator that you are listening to jazz music, the overlapping and wild sounds that can be made from this unique woodwind instrument can really put your head in a spin, which is exactly the effect the musicians want. When played like this our brains are busy trying to recognise the pattern in the notes which is often very complex or not even there. This is different to other instruments where if played fast enough we struggle to detect the separate notes, on a sax however we pick up on so much more which is why it can quickly sound so maddening, but perfect for masterful improv jazz players.
Another reasons the saxophone sounds so good to us is because the way in which it provides sound is very similar to the human voice. This vocal simulation is no doubt part of why the sax is used for soulful songs so often and why its emotion is so tangible. It also means that the sax can be swapped out for vocals in songs often, and you will notice that the melodies played by slower jazz tracks could easily be sung instead, once again showing their comparison.