It’s an interesting question which will never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction, as tastes differ: what is the most expressive and flexible musical instrument? Some hold out for the human voice, and I do admire the qualities of various voices. But I’m a fiddler, and I think that violinists and fiddlers of the past few centuries rule. I wish I could have heard Tartini play live!
And then there is the saxophone family, invented by the Belgian instrument-maker Adolph Sax late in the nineteenth century. American jazz musicians took to the saxes and before long were emoting musically with the instruments; the results are part of jazz history. Frankie Trumbauer (on the C-melody sax), tenor players Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins, alto players inspired by the genius Charlie Parker, then soprano players like John Coltrane and Paul Desmond… the list of wonderfully inventive players goes on and on. And to think that the saxophone family of instruments was originally intended to be used for martial music! It didn’t do the German people much good (trounced in two wars), but the instruments live on and we all can reap the benefits, can’t we?
Another family of instruments was originally designed for martial and marching band purposes: the trumpets and fluglehorns, both of which evolved as valved versions of the primitive bugle, (Adolph Sax might have been involved), the various trombones, and the tuba. As with the saxes, jazz players found ways to make these instruments supremely expressive. Embouchure was the key factor. Here’s a great example: Buck Clayton, the trumpet equivalent of Lester Young on the tenor sax, playing Honeysuckle Rose:
You should really hear this — it’s Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Biederbecke playing a song called “Singin’ The Blues”. It’s one of the classic early jazz tracks. Such sweet and soulful music!:
In the past century-and-a-half the electric guitar has risen to be a supremely expressive instrument. I’m sure that mechanic and innovator Leo Fender had no idea in the early 1950’s what guitarists would do with his crude but versatile mass-produced Telecasters and Stratocasters. Here’s an example — it’s suicide-doomed guitarist Roy Buchanan playing the hell out of a blues tune with his battered Telecaster:
Roy somehow became a Christian in his last years; inexplicable to me, but we all follow our own paths. This is a very touching rendition of a tune of his:
I was lucky enough to see Roy Buchanan play at a club in St. Louis a year or so before he killed himself; I was with occasional commenter Claire’s husband Jim.
I know I’ve posted this link before, but it won’t hurt you to hear this wonderful Buchanan performance again. It’s an interpretation of country singer Patsy Cline’s song “Sweet Dreams” — I play a fiddle version which I call “Sweet and Dreamy Waltz”:
One more; the man had an amazing control of guitar tone:
Okay, just one more; Roy’s buddy Danny Gatton playing just very impressive stuff with the aid of a beer bottle and a towel:
You don’t encounter or hear too many female electric bass players. Here is a wonderful one named Tal Wilkenfeld playing with Jeff Beck; the song is Jeff’s tribute to Roy Buchanan after his death:
And then there’s Roy Buchanan’s buddy Danny Gatton, another suicide victim. What was it about the Telecaster or the era which doomed these guys? Here’s “Sleepwalk”, a masterful interpretation of an early-sixties pop song:
Here’s a guitarist who hasn’t killed himself yet — he’s a younger player with his own interpretation of “Sleepwalk”:
I’m inspired by music like this, although I know I’ll never equal it. I do try!