Saxophones! Who needs ‘em, eh? Well, that’s the problem. They kind of get into your blood and are pretty hard to give up. I got my saxophone in 1974 when I was a teenager, and I still have it today. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with it over these years, and I have, on occasion, even tried to sell it. It’s been the tool of my trade at times, and together we’ve earned a bit of a living back in the good old days. There have been times when I’ve not touched my saxophone for long stretches of time, but when we reunite it’s like greeting an old friend.
I’ve talked to it, shouted at it, begged it to make me play like Phil Woods (in my dreams!). In recent years we’ve kept each other company, but haven’t done any really hard yards. So why, you might well ask with some justification, would I want a new saxophone?
Well, that’s where the blood thing comes in, and with it a story. My saxophone is not just any old horn. It’s a 1956 Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone – the king of all saxophones. The prices that these old horns fetch make your eyes water (as an aside, mine cost my dear old dad $400 in 1974).
In recent years I’ve dropped to the bottom of the saxophone section where I can cause minimal damage and comfortably hold the bottom up without too much difficulty, with my major input being putting enough air through the horn (something many people say I’m never short of in the hot variety). I bought a clunky old American horn a few years back and joined a sax group with some friends, and played it here and there as asked. I can’t say that it was the finest horn in the world to blow, but then, it wasn’t being blown by the finest horn player either, but we did have fun, and I still have my standards!
About a year ago a couple of momentous things occurred. Firstly, it came to my attention that a now retired saxophone player was selling his horns, including a Selmer Mark VI baritone saxophone – also a peach of a horn. In tenor and alto terms, age-wise this makes the horn the same vintage as a Mark VII – early to mid 1970s. But Selmer never made the Mark VIIs as a bartitone, choosing instead to continue with the perfection of the Mark VI.
I contacted the seller, Mr N, and he agreed to bring the horn up to Auckland with him on his next visit in a couple of months.
The second momentous thing was that at around this time my husband was made redundant from his job, and suddenly disposable income dropped from “not much” to “zero”. I accepted with a serious pang of regret that I would not now be able to afford this new horn. I came in to work one morning and decided that the first thing I would do would be to contact Mr N and tell him the bad news. I logged on to my email to find a message from him telling me that he was on his way up the country and the horn was in the boot and what did I think it was worth.
I know darned well what it’s worth, and it’s a lot! At band rehearsal Mr N turned up and I got to meet the new love of my life. The horn was so beautiful, so amazingly cared for, and so, well … perfect. It hadn’t been played in over 25 years, so there wasn’t too much playing to be done that day, but I knew that there was no turning back. I had to have it, and Mr N and I negotiated a very reasonable price which allowed me to spend some dollars returning it to full blowing condition (bless you Mr N. I know you did me a good deal). I flogged the trusty old solid but clunky baritone immediately, borrowed the additional money from my dear, sweet son in exchange for an updated will naming him as owner of the horn in the event of my departure from this earth, got minimal tweaking done in a repair shop (thank you team at ABI ), the seal of approval from Mr S, and we were off.
Well, it’s like playing my old alto saxophone. The notes flow freely from top to bottom, everything sits perfectly under my hands, and we get along amazingly well. I will never be Gerry Mulligan, but for now I’m having a ball. I have bought a trolley to pull the enormous case around as the whole thing weighs a TON. And I now have two beautiful horns that I could never sell, a head and a heart full of memories of the good times that music has brought me, as well as a host of life-long friends. I have no regrets.
As an aside, Mr N also sold his Selmer alto and tenor to two good friends of mine, and between us all we will keep his years in music alive.
And so it seems fitting to conclude with a bit of a gag that all musos who have struggled to make ends meet will understand. What is the least used sentence in the English language? “Hey, isn’t that the saxophonist’s Porshe?”