Since the invertor of the saxophone was from Belgium, how did the saxophone become so popular in jazz music? I mean, it was created by a European in the 1840's, it wasn't created by Americans at the end of the 19th century...

  • The saxophone is also popular in pop and rock (particularly in the 80s), as well as funk and R&B. I think it might just be a very popular instrument. At the same time, I can name several great jazz musicians who play various instruments, including Bela Fleck, the jazz banjo player, but I don't know any famous jazz sax players. I'm sure there are many, just using myself as one data point in that they are not as famous to me as other jazz greats. Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 23:30
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    One of the most famous Jazz musicians is John Coltrane, who played saxophone. There are many other giants of Jazz who played sax. Trumpet and sax are essential Jazz instruments. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 5:45
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    It may be relevant that the sax was not invented as a single instrument, but as a family with a total of 9 different sizes and a pitch range of about 8 octaves, a consistent (and relatively simple) playing technique, and a consistent sound timbre across the whole range. With its loud volume and tolerance of rough handling, it would have been an obvious choice when jazz moved into the big band era. The only comparable wind instrument family are clarinets, but the timbre of the clarinet is very different in its high and low registers, and the larger sizes have always been rare instruments.
    – user19146
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 15:06
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    I'd like to add Charlie Parker, Paul Desmond, and Tom Scott to the list. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 3:51
  • @ToddWilcox - particularly in the 80s - the tenor sax was integral to the sound of the earliest rock n' roll - a raunchy sounding tenor sax was almost synonymous with rock n' roll: Rock-A-Beatin' Boogie -Bill Haley and the Comets ; Little Richard Long Tall Sally - Tutti Frutti ; The Champs "Tequila" .... and on and on and on...
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 4:35

2 Answers 2


Why does any instrument exist in any style of music? Because musicians at the time have access to those instruments and want to use them.

Jazz began in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States of America, roughly around the year 1900. I cannot find any reference to saxophones being involved in jazz in New Orleans during the first decade of jazz. However, the clarinet was involved in jazz from the start. As you know, the saxophone family of instruments were designed to be a more modern and easier-to-play substitute for the older clarinet family of instruments. So wherever a clarinet-family instrument is used, saxophones may be substituted.

The earliest jazz made use of various instruments including the tuba, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, cornet, piano, upright bass, drum kit, and the banjo. Of those instruments only the banjo and the drum kit (practically speaking) were invented in the USA. All of the rest of those instruments as we now know them were invented or developed in Europe in earlier centuries, just as the saxophone was. So you might ask why jazz includes any of those other instruments as well. The answer is "because they do."

The first uses of the saxophones in jazz seems to have been around the year 1912 and might have taken place outside of New Orleans, such as in Ohio or Kansas City. As this was already 75 years after the invention of the saxophones, they were already commonplace throughout the USA. Saxophones were already in use and quite popular in symphony orchestras and wind bands, notably in the work of the great American composer John Philip Sousa and his military band music, going back to 1893.

Saxophones were an instrument in the polka bands all across the USA. Polka first appeared in the USA around the 1840s, the same time as the invention of the saxophone in Belgium. Polka was brought to the USA by immigrants from places including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Polka bands could be found in places as diverse as northern Mexico, southern Texas and up to Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin and many places inbetween.

In summary, before jazz was invented, the United States of America had symphony orchestras, wind orchestras, military bands, and polka bands, and saxophones were commonplace. When jazz appeared, it used the instruments that were already there, and the saxophones were among them.

My brief and over-simplified definition of jazz is this: Jazz is what resulted when people in the USA who were descended from slaves imported from Africa became free in New Orleans, and obtained access to not only Western European musical instruments but also exposure to the Western European musical tradition and the White musicians who played it. Jazz is unique to the USA; it is neither African nor European, but something that evolved out of the musical traditions and the materials of the two. It could only have happened in the USA at a particular place and time.

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    yes. I'll just add that the saxophone was originally conceived by Adolphe Sax as a marching band instrument, and that this music (for instance, Sousa, as you mention) was very influential on the beginnings of jazz, for instance on Scott Joplin. Commented Mar 16, 2016 at 10:32

Saxophones can be effectively expressive of emotion in music, express anger, joy, confusion, melancholy, a wide spectrum of sound effects and more. It was a natural fit for just about any kind of jazz.

  • +1 , but (not entirely a contradiction) the sax was not the dominant instrument in early jazz. Trumpet, clarinet, trombone and piano were just as prominent if not more so, AFAIK. Sax really didn't get that big until the big band era started to fade and it emerged as the prime solo instrument due to artists like Lester Young, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and then Charlie Parker, who arguably cemented the saxophone in its #1 slot.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 4:22
  • I think sometimes it takes us awhile to understand the potential in an instrument or an artist, and it takes time for art to change and grow. Thankfully it did, and now we have it. Commented Feb 18, 2018 at 17:36

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