National Public Radio recently did a feature entitled on the instrument entitled Soprano Sax: The Story of a Skinny Horn. They mentioned the main practitioners of the instrument, Sidney Bechet and John Coltrane. But the soprano sax was not unrepresented in the swing era, the time between the heydays of Bechet and Coltrane. I’d like to add Johnny Hodges and Charlie Barnet.
Johnny Hodges was a Bechet protege . He can be seen playing soprano sax in this clip from “Check and Double Check”, a truly horrible Amos and Andy movie. In 1940, Hodges decided he should be paid extra to double on soprano. Ellington refused and Hodges abandoned the instrument.
Charlie Barnet was a big band leader who had a few big hits in the Swing Era, but is unfairly neglected these days.
A man walks down the beach and finds a bottle on the shore. He picks it up and rubs it. A Genie appears and grants him one wish. Since the man is a humanitarian, he asks the Genie to solve the conflicts in the Middle East. The Genie asks for a map and studies it for a while. The Genie apologizes and says that he can’t grant the wish because the problems are too complicated and started even before he was put in the bottle….
So, the man is granted another wish. Well, since the man is a musician as well as a humanitarian, he asks for a soprano sax that plays in tune. The Genie pauses for a minute and asks….”Uh, can I see that map again???”