The Saxophone Day at the RNCM in Manchester is the UK’s largest sax gathering. This year’s event, the 22nd edition, will be on Sunday 6 November. Feature by Sebastian Scotney.
Saxophonists have their places of pilgrimage. Just as violinists might become obsessive about Cremona, there are destinations which can start to inhabit the dreams of those in love with their single-reed brass instruments. First and most obviously there is Dinant in the Belgian province of Namur, where Adolphe Sax was born. Then there is the 18th arrondissement of Paris – rue Myrha where Sax had his workshop and factory, or Place Dancourt, where manufacturing of saxophones moved to, once the Selmer company had bought out the Sax family in the 1920s. And moving further afield and getting more obscure, (non-nerds, look away now) there’s Elkhart, Indiana…or Mantes-La-Ville…or Houli in Taiwan… or Quarna Sotto in the Italian lakes… And also, for just one day every year since 2001, there is…Manchester.
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Rob Buckland and Andy Scott – respectively Senior Tutor of Saxophone and Tutor of Saxophone at RNCM – started the Manchester Saxophone Day the year after the millennium and are co-artistic directors of the event. They have both been running it ever since. This year’s event is the 22nd edition, and the whole enterprise has continued to grow in both scale and confidence. As the college states: “One of the most popular events we stage here during the year, RNCM Saxophone Day is the UK’s largest annual sax gathering.”
Each year, 200-300 sax players of all ages and abilities gather for the event. There is a major trade exhibition, with all of the main instrument manufacturers present, plus music publishers and mouthpiece and accessory makers.
The college is, incidentally, the place where the UK’s highest-profile performer on the saxophone, Jess Gillam, started to develop her craft. She first arrived and learnt the instrument on Saturday mornings in the Junior Department from the age of 11, and stayed right through to the undergraduate programme.
Every Saxophone Day opens with a session where everyone is welcome to play. The Massed Saxophone Orchestra sets a tone of inclusiveness: saxophone players of all ages and ability have the chance to participate, and each annual edition has new compositions and arrangements specially commissioned from the RNCM saxophone tutors. Rob Buckland, Andy Scott and Carl Raven.
RNCM’s association with the instrument runs deep, and Andy Scott notes how the saxophone scene has evolved during the time that RNCM Saxophone Day has been running: “There seems to be less of a divide between saxophonists who study classical, contemporary music and jazz over the years. For me there is a more open-minded approach, which is also reflected in a lot of pieces that are written for our instrument, and many creative and collaborative projects involving the saxophone.” The RNCM philosophy also encourages players to be adaptable and to be “doublers” and as versatile as they want. The CV of saxophone player and RNCM graduate Gillian Blair, originally from the Wirral, shows that her growing international reputation is not just based on her flair as a soloist, but also the range of ensembles she has participated in and also instigated since leaving the college with a Masters degree (and all of the college’s main instrumental prizes) in 2016. She is now back at the college as a teacher at Junior RNCM. She has a “spotlight recital” at RNCM Saxophone Day.
The Arts Desk has referred to the “joyous energy of saxophone quartet Marici Saxes” and the “ limpid beauty” with which Sarah Field’s soprano sax soars over the textures produced by the rest of the ensemble. They are featured in the lunchtime concert.
For the main evening event, saxophonist Baptiste Herbin, born in Chartres and now living in Romainville just outside Paris, will lead a quartet: pianist Paul Kilvington, plus bassist Matt Owens and Manchester’s very own legend of drums and latin percussion Dave Hassell.
Baptiste Herbin won France’s top jazz prize, the Django Reinhardt Prize as musician of the year from the French Académie du Jazz in 2018, having previously been nominated for it in 2013. A Selmer and Vandoren endorsed artist, he has recently been part of the team at Selmer developing the new “Supreme” alto saxophone . He has often played in London at various locations including the Vandojam at the Spice of Life, and has taught extensively at Leeds Conservatoire, but this will be his Manchester debut.
Baptiste Herbin’s most recent album was a Brazilian project featuring a legend of the music Ed Motta (video above). Herbin’s fascination for Brazil stems from a time he represented Selmer at a saxophone congress in Brazil where he met Idriss Boudrioua, a French-born alto saxophonist who is on record as saying that as a young player he became so obsessed with the soundtrack of the film “Black Orpheus”… that he moved to Brazil and has lived there ever since, notably appearing on an album as one of Kenny Barron’s “Brazilian Knights”. Herbin’s next album project is with a new quartet with Hammond specialist Laurent Coulondre, drummer Yoann Serra and trumpeter Nicolas Gardel.
FULL PROGRAMME FOR RNCM SAXOPHONE DAY 2022 /
10am – 11.30am Massed Saxophone Orchestra
12pm – 1.15pm Workshop Sessions I
2.15pm – 3.15pm Lunchtime Concert: ‘Origin’ with Marici Saxes
3.45pm – 5pm Workshop Sessions II
6pm – 6.30pm Spotlight recital with Gillian Blair
7pm – 8.30pm Baptiste Herbin
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