The Invention of the Saxophone (2003)
(on a poem by Billy Collins)
Instrumentation: alto saxophone, piano, and narrator
Duration: 12 minutes
When Fredda Hyman first approached me about writing a work for saxophone based on the Billy Collins poem The Invention of the Saxophone, I was immediately struck by the imagery created in Collins’ poem. Words and phrases like “very late at night”, “nocturnal”, “waiting for the invention of jazz”, “the smoky voice of longing and loss”, and “an angel playing the world’s last song” all conjured up musical ideas for me. The piece begins with the narrator speaking the first stanza without any music. The solo saxophone remarks on the words with music marked “freely, with a blues feel.” The narrator and saxophone continue to trade off, with the saxophone commenting on the text. The music becomes more and more animated, and when the narrator speaks the line “afloat on pools of memory and desire”, the saxophone and piano begin a more animated, jazzinflected, extensive middle section. The conclusion returns to the procedure of the opening with the saxophone commenting on the narrator’s words. And after the line, “let the music do the ascending”, that is exactly what happens in the saxophone, while the piano is left to do the opposite while waiting for that “shrill trumpet solo” which never sounds.
--- Pierre Jalbert
© 2016 Pierre Jalbert, The Invention of the Saxophone
Photo: Julia Jalbert