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The Devil's Horn The Story of the Saxophone, from Noisy Novelty to King of Cool

Michael Segell

Picador

0312425570

9780312425579

Trade Paperback

352 Pages

$17.00

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In The Devil's Horn, Michael Segell traces the 160-year history of the saxophone—a horn that created a sound never before heard in nature, and that from the moment it debuted has aroused both positive and negative passions among all who hear it. The saxophone has insinuated itself into virtually every musical idiom that has come along since its birth as well as into music with traditions thousands of years old. But it has also been controversial, viewed as a symbol of decadence, immorality and lasciviousness: it was banned in Japan, saxophonists have been sent to Siberian lockdown by Communist officials, and a pope even indicted it.

Segell outlines the saxophone's fascinating history while he highlights many of its legendary players, including Benny Carter, Illinois Jacquet, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Branford Marsalis, and Michael Brecker. The Devil's Horn explores the saxophone's intersections with social movement and change, the innovative acoustical science behind the instrument, its struggles in the world of "legit" music, and the mystical properties that seduce all who fall under its influence.

REVIEWS

Praise for The Devil's Horn

"Based on the exuberance that is everywhere to be found in The Devil's Horn, it's clear [Segell] grasps the jazzman's dictum that it's the journey, not the destination."—The New York Times Book Review
 
"[A] historical and deeply personal tribute to the saxophone . . . [The Devil's Horn] will reward and surprise readers who may have thought they knew something about the horn simply because they've spent a lifetime listening."—Baltimore Sun
 
"Segell has produced a minor miracle: a book on jazz that does not rely on largely unrevealing anecdotal tidbits, hip talk, one-upmanship . . . and dazzling (but superfluous) adjectives . . . It is humorous, enlightening, instructive, and revealing to a degree that it may forever change your attitude toward the sax."—The Roanoke Times
 
"An excellent short course on the saxophone in jazz . . . [A] beguiling story."—Chicago Sun-Times
 
"The diabolical charm of the saxophone is caught in all its contentious glory by Segell, an editor at the New York Daily News and a newly baptized saxman. In the mid-1800s, Adolphe Sax , an anarchistic soul living in Belgian with his instrument-maker family, fashioned a new horn. His curvaceous brass instrument had a remarkable versatility, able to mimic an English horn or an oboe or a clarinet, and beautifully express the player's mood-happiness, sorrow, dread. Segell is under the saxophone's spell, though he is also a clear-eyed student, both a player and a historian. He squires readers through the early years, when the saxophone took its place in military bands, then through its break-out period as a bulwark of dance bands, swing, blues, funk and, pivotally, jazz. Segell has great fun describing the malleability of the horn, the way each player finds a voice, the rebellious, subversive, Dionysian expression of Parker and Bird, Coltrane and Rollins, Mingus and Young, Jacquet and Mulligan, Getz and Sims and Coleman—characters so renowned you don't even need to bother with first names. Segell revels in the various styles: bebop's frenetic rhythmic framework; Paul Desmond wanting to 'sound like a dry martini'; Bobby Keyes lending an improvisational vamp to the Rolling Stone's 'Can't You Hear Me Knocking.' There is more—of the physiology of the sax, of crazed collectors, the neoclassical sax and quotes from players that are too good to miss, as when Sonny Rollins says of his playing that he feels almost an observer: 'I'm just a conduit. I can't tell where it's coming from . . . some kind of definite higher power without trying to get too ecclesiastical about it.' A story as much fun to read as listening to a sax master."—Kirkus Reviews
 
"As Segell recounts the saxophone's history, he simultaneously illuminates many of its renowned players, namely jazz greats Benny Carter, Sonny Rollins, Lee Konitz and Branford Marsalis. An amateur musician himself, Segell has a personal relationship with the horn, which adds a stirring sense of immediacy to the narrative."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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Michael Segell is an amateur percussionist and saxophone player and a professional music lover. He is the author of Standup Guy, and his writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Esquire, where he wrote the popular column "The Male Mind." He has received two National Magazine Award nominations for his work. He lives with his wife and children in New York City and Long Eddy, New York.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Michael Segell

  • Michael Segell is an editor at the Daily News, an amateur percussionist and saxophone player, and a professional music lover. He lives with his wife and children in New York City and Long Eddy, New York.

    Michael Segell's writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Esquire, where he wrote the popular column "The Male Mind" for three years. He has received two National Magazine Award nominations for his work.
  • Michael Segell Nancy Crampton
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