Jazz Professional               


The Saxofoons

by Ron Simmonds

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud,’ muttered William feverishly under laboured breathing as he hurried up the steps. He’d heard it somewhere, probably at school in the English classes. He wasn’t fit, running to fat. No sport, was Bill’s motto, especially in this place. He was climbing right up to the top, to the seats high up at the back of the football stadium where he’d have the best view, and making heavy weather of it.

‘That floats on high o’er dales and hills,’ he panted on, not bothering about punctuation. He rushed up the stairs, taking two at a time.

‘When all at once I saw a crowd...’ He had now reached the top and stood still, eyes closed, savouring the moment. This was it! His crowning ambition, the most important day of his life.

He stepped forward, took a deep breath, looked down from on high—and all at once he saw a crowd, a host of golden saxofoons. Big ones, small ones, some as big as yer ‘ed. Played, manhandled, being tootled, adjusted, reeds sucked, mouthpieces licked, by men, boys, young girls, old girls, bald men, bearded men, bearded women. The place was packed. He looked down proudly. They were his creation! No need to count, there were exactly one thousand of them in there. That’s what he thought, anyway: in reality only 900 had turned up as the others had a gig, but no one was counting.

He was in Holland, of course, which is why they were called Saxofoons. Over there a phone is a foon. Dutch earphones are called Hooftelfoons, because you dial the telefoons with your hoof. William’s name was really Wim van der Moment, and he was that, all right, oh yes! Who else, I ask you, could have even found one thousand players of that noble instrument and gathered them all together in one place? Who else would have wanted to? And so well behaved! True, there had been a scuffle earlier on when they’d thrown out a bunch of thuggish trumpet players who had come along to jeer and throw mutes and things, but otherwise it had gone quite well.

The logistics had been enormous. There were 125 sopranos, 256 altos, 193 baritones and one old bass saxophone which had been rescued from E.O.Pogson’s garage, where it had been functioning as a heavy duty part of the hot water system. All the rest were tenor saxophonists, 425 of them, and every one a potential bandleader. Oh yes! they do fancy themselves, some of them, with that big flashy instrument and all that sexy, breathy foo-foo-foo nonsense when they play Tenderly right into the soup while you’re trying to eat. Talk about pushy!

Wim had them all dressed in different coloured T-shirts, to identify the instruments. Sopranos were in yellow, altos shocking pink, rather unfortunate choice, that, too late to change now, though; tenors in white, of course, bandleader colour. Baritones bore a nice shade of eggshell blue.  He’d obtained the shirts through a local warehouse dealer, who was also main dealer to the street markets in Benidorm, so most of the shirts bore emblems such as I’M THE SAUCY ONE; KISS ME QUICK; I’LL SHOW YOU MY BARNACLES IF YOU’LL SHOW ME YOURS, and so on. The identification scheme had been useful during rehearsals. My Goodness, that had been a hassle! Never mind 1000 saxophones, where does one get hold of that many music stands? Well they found them somewhere, don’t ask me how. The saxes had been grouped in bunches of fifty, and were spread out all over the place, each guarding its territory jealously.

Wim had written some pretty sensational bits of music for the occasion. He’d copied the parts himself. If you want to do something right, you have to do it yourself, he’d always thought. The local copyists had thrown up their hands in horror at the idea anyway. He’d had to mortgage his house to pay for the paper.

The tunes he’d composed were right up to date, and up to the mark. Saxofobia, get the spelling, Sax For the Memory, and Sax–o–Whoah, rather neat that last one. Rehearsing had been a strain. He’d had to use a megaphone, and stand up on a very draughty pedestal so they could all see him. Still there had been a time lag. The low dozens had gotten so far ahead at one point that they’d finished and gone for coffee while the high nine hundreds were still ploughing on. He hadn’t managed to sort that out until a local electronics freak had suggested earphones, sorry, Hooftelefoons. Have to get that right. The man had come along with a handful of radio headsets tuned in to Bill’s tapping foot, and Bill had chosen one of the tenor players from each group to wear them. The squabbling started at once. Possession of the headset conferred unlimited power upon the holder, and it was Animal Farm right from the start. They never sorted that out, but now the time lag was bearable.

Everyone was now busily engaged in playing hot licks, and from where he stood it was like being in a stadium filled with infuriated geese. The occasion had attracted horse traders from far and wide, and the perimeter was crowded with hot dog and burger stands mixed with all kinds of musical spin–offs. Doktor Sax was there, with his white–coated attendants, and they already had a hapless soprano stretched out on the operating table, with masked and gowned technicians poking at its innards. Touts patrolled the area selling reeds at greatly inflated prices. The whole affair had the pleasant atmosphere of a Bank Holiday Monday. There had even been a fairground set up outside, just like at the 24‑Hour Le Mans.

Wim looked at the sky and said, ‘Don’t rain. Don’t rain. Don’t rain.’ He believed in the Rule of Three, which stated that if you said something three times it was bound to happen. The fact that he had not yet lost weight by this method did not deter him. Wim was also painfully aware of Murphy’s Law, which stated that if anything was liable to go wrong it would. Still, the sky was clear.

Wim’s principle soloist was the tenor saxofoonist Joop de Loop. He was by no means the best player there, being in fact one of the worst, but he and Wim had been friends from the moment they had clapped eyes upon one another, so much so that they now appeared to be joined at the hip. Joop was an excellent handyman, and instead of practising he had spent all of his time recently in the construction of a wonderful music stand, with which he hoped to flood the market, and thereby make his fortune. The stand was telescopic, and was raised and lowered by air pressure. When a player was about to take a solo he began pressing a foot pump, which caused the upper part of the stand to elevate itself gracefully as the player stood. The raising allowed a banner attached to the underside of the stand to unfold. When it was fully visible the banner said SOLO in large letters. A touch of a button at solo’s end allowed the stand to sink again with a loud wheezing sound. Joop hadn’t managed to correct that yet, but he was working on it. With this wonderful music stand the soloist no longer needed to bend myopically down with his nose on the music like a drinking duck. Unfortunately, when it was up one could no longer see who was playing, so Joop was now working on his second idea of doughnut–shaped sheet music.

People were demonstrating outside, and Wim had had a bit of a struggle to get in the place. A group of demonstrators waved signs saying DOWN WITH THE SAXOFOON! When questioned one of the young protesters admitted that he had no idea what a saxofoon was—he just demonstrated against everything on principle. The largest crowd, being kept back by mounted police, had swum across the North Sea during the night, and were holding aloft a huge banner which read NO SAX PLEASE, WE’RE BRITISH.

People were trickling in and Wim waited until the stadium had filled up. As most of the players had brought their families and friends along for free this was not going to take very long. A strong wind blew up suddenly, and Wim had to send someone out to buy a thousand clothes pegs. The place settled down finally and Wim mounted the podium to begin, carrying his trusty, rusty C Melody saxofoon. His father had placed it in his crib the moment he had been born and it had never left his side to this day. That the family had been desperately poor, and that he had, in fact, been born in his dad’s sax case had never entered his mind.

One thousand saxes make a glorious sound. Does anyone remember the George and Les Evans ten sax band? Well imagine a hundred of them all sitting in a field. They had tried to tune up on the rehearsal, but it was a seven hour job and by now they were right up the creek. The first note of Saxofobia was a unison A, which should have given them all a chance to start twisting at the mouthpiece. The tuning, give or take quite a lot of trembling vibrato, got dangerously out of synch, and the sound began to throb and pulsate. Several ex–members of the Dover Observer Corps rushed into their houses, grabbed their telefoons and reported another wave of heavy bombers approaching.

Meanwhile Joop was running around in a blind panic, looking for his saxofoon sling. He couldn’t find it anywhere, so he played with the tenor down on its stand. When it came to his solo he picked up the tenor and managed to lift the tenor stand up with it. He then attempted to play, using both hands, while trying to push the stand back down on to the floor with his left foot. This caused him to bend over like a hunchback, rather like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein, with a lot of jerking about and struggling. Eventually he had to stop playing to wrestle the things apart. It was a remarkable performance because he was at the same time attempting to pump up the music stand. This had decided, at this crucial moment, to jam, but after he’d banged his foot down frantically several times the top shot out suddenly like a rocket under the enormous pressure and scaled over the arena, wheezing like an escaped balloon and fluttering its vital message.

Having finally managed to separate tenor from tenor stand Joop went into his solo, which contained very many syrupy notes down in the low end of the instrument. His sling, which had been tucked into the bell all the time, had, by now, worked itself around until the hook was half hanging out of the big hole down at bottom right of the horn, big as a porthole, that one is. The pad could no longer close, and when Joop played this note he managed to imitate the sound of a castrated moose. Although this was a definite improvement over his usual sound he stopped playing at once and strode over to Doktor Sax to complain, because that gentleman had only recently given him a very expensive overhaul.

Meanwhile a small dog had entered the stadium undetected. Threading his way through the honking mass he made unerringly for the bass saxofoon, the tallest object in sight. The player of that noble instrument, extremely dignified, suitably bearded, and wearing a mint green T–shirt bearing the legend Fish and Chips Twice, tried to fend the dog off for the next ten minutes, gave it up as a bad job, and left for home, taking the bass sax and the dog, who was rather cute, with him. As he had been providing the only rhythm available, thumping out a bass part in the true and approved style of dear old Oscar Rabin, the band collapsed at once, never mind Wim’s foot. The radio Hooftelefoons had been long discarded. At first no one had heard anything, then, when turned up, they had produced a shrieking feedback that had given all the lucky wearers the screaming abdabs. Still the band plodded on.

Wim didn’t really care about this, and neither did it worry him that at least 450 of the guys were playing (not together) at a completely different (wrong) place in a completely different number, and were trying to find their way back again (they didn’t). He was waiting for the finale, which was, for him, the whole point of the concert.

The players, and the audience, were by now thoroughly exhausted, but the moment finally arrived—Wim’s piece de resistance, in all its glory. He'd waited all his life for this. He stood forward, right at the front of his pedestal, bathed in the radiance of all three hundred spotlights.

Wim closed his eyes. A breathless hush descended over the stadium.

He played the first two bars of Moanin' ...and cowered back, just like in the old joke.

Nothing happened.

When he opened his eyes he saw that the whole 900 of them were standing around discussing mouthpieces.

Copyright © 2001, Ron Simmonds. All Rights Reserved