I don’t have much personal experience with wind instruments, and I’m no jazz connoisseur, but saxophones sound great and I’m going to talk a bit about them.
Saxophones are a family of woodwind instruments, fashioned from brass and played with a single-reed mouthpiece made out of wood. If you ever tried to play a sax or a clarinet in grade-eight band, you’d know what that is.
A Belgian instrument maker made the first saxophone in the late 1800s, and since then four different kinds have been produced: Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Baritone. The bigger they get, the lower the note they play… I think.
Saxophones are commonly played in orchestras and jazz bands, but they have made their mark in pop music as well. There are some really famous songs that are defined by sax riffs.
George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” is the song with the passionate sax hook we’ve all heard. If you skipped the link, just go back and listen for a second. It’s worth it.
Another great sax riff is in “Baker Street” by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty. I first heard it when Lisa Simpson played it in season 9– that one will stick in your head. After listening to the original, I realized how well Lisa played it on the show.
Trumpets (and Paul Simon’s Penny Whistle)
I’m running out of space to talk, but trumpets!
Trumpets date back pretty far, some think at least to 1500 BC. They have the highest register in the brass family – that is, the highest range of notes. It isn’t as warm of a sound as the sax, but it can be quite nice.
Once again, trumpets have made their mark in pop music, too.
In “Manifest”, by Winnipeg’s The Weakerthans, a great trumpet solo carries out the short opening track on their album Reconstruction Site. This one’s a personal favourite of mine. Don’t fast forward to the brass. Listen through!
Also, watch Louis Armstrong wipe sweat off his face, play a trumpet solo and sing “Hello, Dolly.” What a voice.
And finally one of the catchiest trumpet – and other brass too – riffs of all time: “You can call me Al” off of Paul Simon’s Graceland – a super-catchy song from a great album.
But the most skilful wind instrument playing out of all of this is easily Simon’s penny whistle solo at 1:45.
Take it away, Paul.