Lower Largo to celebrate the father of the saxophone

It seems appropriate that a project celebrating the bicentenary of Adolphe Sax, inventor of that most cosmopolitan instrument, the saxophone, should be based in the Fife village of Lower Largo, famously the home of Alexander Selkirk, seafaring model for Daniel Defoe’s fictional Robinson Crusoe.

Richard Ingham. Picture: Contributed

Unlike Selkirk, however, the saxophone has never found itself marooned, but has circumnavigated and successfully colonised the globe, powering jazz, dance and military bands in particular but also bringing new timbres to classical and even folk music. It’s an eclecticism celebrated by the Lower Largo-based saxophonist, composer and musician in residence at St Andrews University, Richard Ingham, in the album he released earlier this year, Adolphe Sax at 200: A Genius Who Invents a Noise (Largo Music). He’ll be performing material from the album at the 17th World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg later in the summer, as well as during Aberdeenshire’s sound festival in the autumn.

Further material from the album, as well as other compositions for sax by Ingham, continue to be aired as far afield as the Netherlands, Japan and Australia.

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The album’s title is drawn from An Address to Adolphe Sax in Heaven, by the eminent poet, jazz fan and long-standing professor of English at St Andrews, Douglas Dunn. The poem, which can be found in full on Ingham’s website (www.largo-music.co.uk/agenius), refers to “A genius who invents a noise / Adds to the store of sonic toys”, and goes on to declare …

Adolphe Sax. Picture: Contributed

Now look at you! From Aberdeen

To hamlets in the Argentine,

In Reykjavik and Dar es Salaam.

High-stepping bands with majorettes

Play saxophones like martinets…

The album may have been launched at a concert in the distinctly East Neuk environment of the Cardy Net House, a converted fishing net factory (which once had connections with Selkirk’s family), but its eclecticism is wide-ranging. Ingham commissioned pieces for saxophone from Scottish composer-performers as diverse as Sally Beamish, Gaelic singer Mary Ann Kennedy, jazz musicians Martin Kershaw and Richard Michael and electronica exponents Fraser Burke and Pete Stollery.

“Sax changed the musical landscape,” says Ingham, “both in the invention of the saxophone and in the redesign of virtually the whole range of brass instruments, making instruments easy to manufacture, and at prices which enabled many musicians to learn, a vital factor in the development of jazz, dance and military bands.”

The sax bicentenary was actually last year, when Ingham got the project underway (thanks to funding from Creative Scotland): “I gathered my wish list of composers who I wanted to add to the saxophone repertoire and to represent current Scottish music. They’re all people I have worked with along the way. I play in the classical, jazz and traditional fields, and I wanted the music to reflect that.”

The opening Caliban, by Beamish, who plays piano along with Ingham’s soprano sax, is an edgy piece which will find its way into a new ballet work which Birmingham Royal Ballet will premiere next year. In contrast, the call and response sequences between sax and Mary Ann Kennedy’s singing strongly reflect the singer’s background in Gaelic music. There’s a lovely folk lyricism, too, in pianist James Ross’s Upper Inverroy.

Ingham duets on alto sax with Kershaw in the latter’s thoughtful trio of pieces, Différance, while pianist Richard Michael celebrates traditional jazz in The Ill-Tricket Tooteroo. Pete Stollery’s From Aberdeen to Hamlets in the Argentine, again taking its title from Dunn’s lines, has Ingham playing against a digital storm of sampled sounds – including another saxophonist – from Argentina.

Ingham also includes a trio of his own solo pieces, including the anachronistically titled but energetically delivered Adolphe Sax, His Jig, and a brief but lovely air, William Meikle of Strathaven, recognising the unsung inventor who during the 1820s came up with the alto fagotto and the caledonica, both short-lived predecessors of Sax’s ubiquitous horn.

“It’s going to be a long project overall,” he says. “My aim is to get the repertoire out and played around the world. “I’ll be doing Sally’s piece, Martin Kershaw’s and my own at the World Saxophone Congress in Strasbourg. The Tsukuba Quartet of Japan will be playing my Mrs Malcolm, Her Reel and Funky Freuchie there as well.”

Certainly the new music is taking on a life of its own. “A young euphonium student contacted me this week to say he was playing Adolphe Sax, His Jig for a competition. There’s a neat circularity to that one, as Adolphe Sax also played a major part in the development of the euphonium.”