Here is a bit of history about the C melody sax, adapted and enhanced from an excellent website article on the subject. But first a few 20’s adverts, just to set the scene…..
Now, before you doze off reading my mundane tale, you could do no better than to have a look at the excellent
A View of the C – The Fall and Rise of the C-melody Saxophone.
If you want more information, maybe considering buying a C-Melody, Click Here for Questions & Answers , that will probably tell you more than you ever wanted to know….
For a page that shows some of the Sax finishes (and prices) from the 1920’s era. Click Here – it may take a while to download the graphics if you are on a 56k (or less) dial-up line.
Click Here to hear examples of the sound of C-Melody saxes played (mostly by me) using different saxophones and mouthpieces, and I’m starting to put up pictures and sound-clips of modern and original players on the C-Melody saxophone players page.
So – During the 1920’s and 1930’s, home entertainment was very different than it is today. Electrical lighting was in most homes, but there were few electrical entertainment devices, except of course, the radio. Television was in its infancy, and still a curiosity rather than a part of everyone’s dreams.
In the 20’s and 30’s, when families and friends got together, they usually
gathered around a piano and sang songs. Piano and vocal sheet music was easily available. Many people played instruments such as the saxophone, following the big-band craze. However, saxophone music was not easy to come by, especially as an accompaniment to the piano, guitar and vocal music favoured at the parties of the day.
To meet this ‘home entertainment’ demand, the larger American saxophone
manufactures began building soprano and tenor saxophones in the key of C. These instruments could play the piano melody (hence the name C-Melody) without the problem of transposing. Vocal music could easily be played on these saxophones as well. So started the “play at home” craze of the 20’s and 30’s.
As times changed, the great depression meant reduced spending, and musical
instrument manufacturers ‘rationalised’ their range of instruments. Later on, in the 40’s and 50’s, electronic entertainments became commonplace in the home, and the ‘play at home’ craze pretty much died. The C-Melody saxophones did not easily join the existing bands or orchestras that were structured around the Eb and Bb instruments. The C-Melody sound was considered not different enough from the Eb Alto and the Bb Tenor to make any difference to a band, so they fell by the wayside. Many just got "mothballed", literally as a musical time capsule, in the attic or under the bed.
However they are starting to re-gain popularity for use today, because most music is written and published for piano, keboards, guitar and voice. All of these instruments are in the key of C – as are other instruments e.g. flute, piccolo, violin, banjo, bass, recorder, penny whistles etc.
Use a tenor or alto saxophone with any of these instruments and the old problem of transposing comes back, just like during the play at home craze of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Once again, the C-Melody saxophone solves the problem! Once again the C-Melody saxophone is regaining popularity!
It is also worth noting that several leading clarinet manufacturers are now offering a C-clarinet, as an alternative to the more normal (transposing) B-flat version.
As regards fingering and mouthpiece technique, the C-Melody saxophone is
identical to the the other members of the saxophone family. I play Soprano,
Alto, C-Melody and Tenor saxes and happily switch between them.
In fact, to be able to read over a keyboard or guitar players’ shoulder, without having to sight-transpose, makes the C-Melody worth it’s weight in gold.
And how often has the alto sax been just that little bit too ‘thin’ or high, and the tenor sax just a bit too low – C-melody is in between ! Great for jazz, and all modern music.
Most ‘re-born’ C-Melody saxes either use tenor sax mouthpieces or readily
available ‘specials’ which use tenor sax reeds, so there isn’t a reed problem
and the modern sound is considerably brighter and fuller.
Try your favourite tenor sax mouthpiece on it, you may be pleasantly
surprised. For an older ‘classic’ sound the original mouthpieces can still be
used, the old reeds are still available, and bass clarinet reeds fit & work
perfectly on the original mouthpieces.
In terms of value, the good news is that almost all C-Melodies were handmade by the "Big Five" saxophone manufacturers, Conn – Selmer – Buescher – Martin – King, from the same top-quality materials as the famous classic vintage alto’s and tenor’s from the 20’s and 30’s that still fetch and retain high prices today. Holton, York, and, in Europe, Buffet also manufactured some fine but lesser known instruments.
And now for some more advertisements, who could resist ….. ?
With the re-discovery of these instruments from attics and bedrooms all across America, they are becoming available again – mostly through ebay, although some major saxophone retailers are starting to stock the odd one. I think that they are not only a fine instrument to play, but can be considered an investment for the future as their price continues to rise. Good
examples now regularly fetch £300 ($500) and more on ebay, and a lot more in shops that specialize in classic saxophones.
There are excellent internet sources of information, and bulletin boards,
dedicated to C-Melody saxes - sax players are beginning to use them again. Even CD’s of jazz played by current young musicians on C-Melody saxes
have started to appear. There is even a new ‘2007’ C-Sax being made in China for a New Zealand company, Aquilasax – Click here for details !
Any questions, please do email me.
You may have guessed I’m on a mission to return the C-Melody to it’s
rightful place in the saxophone family. By the way, as mentioned above, there are also C-Soprano saxes around, and C-clarinets ……… All great if you have perfect pitch.