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

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Overview

The 160-year history of the saxophone comes to brilliant life in Michael Segell's wonderfully researched, beautifully told The Devil's Horn. Beginning with "a sound never heard before," Segell's portrait follows the iconographic instrument as it is lauded for its sensuality, then outlawed for its influence, and finally credited with changing the face of popular culture. A deeply personal story of one man's love for music-making, a universal story of artistic and political revolution, and a trenchant critique of ...

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

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Overview

The 160-year history of the saxophone comes to brilliant life in Michael Segell's wonderfully researched, beautifully told The Devil's Horn. Beginning with "a sound never heard before," Segell's portrait follows the iconographic instrument as it is lauded for its sensuality, then outlawed for its influence, and finally credited with changing the face of popular culture. A deeply personal story of one man's love for music-making, a universal story of artistic and political revolution, and a trenchant critique of the global forces that stand in art's way, The Devil's Horn is music writing at its very finest.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Would someone please forward Segell the memo that states that books about jazz are supposed to be academic and soporific? . . . [A] freewheeling tribute . . . [with] exuberance that is everywhere to be found."—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

"[Segell is] adept at spreading the contagion of his own curiosities."—The News & Observer

Publishers Weekly
The saxophone has come to be synonymous with 20th-century music, not to mention all things cool: jazz, cocktail lounges, hip cats and the like. Segell (Standup Guy: Manhood After Feminism) traces the instrument back to its eccentric Belgian creator, Adolphe Sax, an acoustical craftsman who survived disease, accidents and even assassination attempts from his instrument-making competitors. Just 10 years after Sax completed the first prototype of the saxophone in 1843, the shining horn had traveled all over the U.S. and throughout Europe. Music would never be the same again. Like its creator, the sax was revolutionary, an instrument whose very sound--which has been described as "carnal" and "voluptuous"--caused it to be banned by Nazis and Communists; religious leaders--including the Vatican--deemed the instrument "profane." 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. Agent, Kris Dahl. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
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 readas listening to a sax master.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312425579
  • Publisher: Picador
  • Publication date: 8/22/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 317,586
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

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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Customer Reviews

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