One thousand saxophonists from throughout Europe will gather here Sunday to pay tribute to the instrument’s neglected inventor.
The golden horn that Adolphe Sax created 150 years ago revolutionized 20th-Century music, but he never heard the long, lonely flights of Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.
His life, however, played like a melancholy jazz solo. It was marred by nearly fatal accidents, the first at age 3 when he fell three floors. Surviving childhood, he then faced the envy of competitors, who even attempted murder to destroy him and his invention.
He went bankrupt three times and ruined his health trying to keep control of his invention, which French musician Eugene Bozza called “the most moving, the most heart-gripping, the most beautiful wind . . . instrument.”
The Belgian invented the saxophone in 1840 in Dinant and felt that it would change the musical world. But he feared it would be copied, and hid behind a curtain when he first presented it in a competition in Brussels.
It was “a unique instrument at the edge of silence,” said Hector Berlioz, the only one “expressing tenderness, restrained passion,” Georges Bizet said.
It was patented in 1846, and Sax had to fight countless court battles to defend the paternity of his instrument. His workshop was set afire once, and one time an assailant fired a shot at a co-worker, believing it was Sax. He died in 1894, less than 25 years before jazz brought his instrument into prominence.