All of the wonderful Christmas instrumentals being played by various music ensembles brings to mind an instrument that greatly helped popularize the saxophone almost a century ago.

By Gwen Shroyer and Robert Lindquist

In the days before TV, or even radio, many families made their own music right in their living room with a piano and various other, usually stringed, instruments. Then, along came sound recordings and people became acquainted with jazz and blues—and the sound of the saxophone. The problem, of course, is that saxophones have traditionally been pitched either E flat or B flat, so the player needed to transpose piano music for saxophone. Sax makers of the time saw that market potential for a saxophone pitched in the same key as piano and C Melody saxophones (know also as the C Tenor) found a place in many homes across America.

While large scale production of C Melody saxes ceased in the 1930s, many are still available on eBay. There is also some small scale production of new C melodies in China. As you can see by the photo, the C melody (silver) is slightly larger than the alto (gold). It’s also slightly smaller than a tenor. The one in this picture was produced in 1914 by Conn instruments and still plays (after complete professional overhaul) quite well. The neck is a bit longer than the altos. Some C Melodies used basically an alto body with a curved Tenor, however this design by Conn is arguably accepted as the best.

This particular C Melody was purchased by a band leader / piano player and enjoyed very little use. It spent virtually 50 years in a locked case so it was in exceptional condition when discovered on Ebay. Still, there are enough C Melodies around that, even in exceptional condish, they do not demand a huge price. This one was purchased for around $500 in 2005. If you decide to go shopping for one, make sure you check it out carefully as many C Melodys online are simply C Moldys that aren’t even in tune with themselves.

C Melody Saxophones were played quite often in the Salvation Army Bands as well as in churches by various players that would typically agree that it is the best version of all of the many varieties of saxophones. One such gentleman, who played in both a Salvation Army Band as well as at his local church, carried himself very well as he loved to play a lot of fake book jazz charts along with piano accompaniment. He was well known for playing in a local hotel lobby during the summer months and was often seen in that element of his playing more than any other. He could read the fake book over the shoulder of the pianist and didn’t have to sight transpose as non-C players did. Then came the ever popular “Real Book” and other fake books in E-flat and B-flat greatly simplifying the paying piano charts.

So, “What is the general opinion of the C Melody and its viability in this day and age?” While many sax players have great memories of listening to others playing a C Melody, most would still rather play Alto or Tenor. On the other hand, with the growing popularity of saxophonists playing on Praise and Worship teams, which are led by C instruments—it appears that a C Melody renaissance may be in the not to distant future.

For more information on C Melody Saxophones:

Gwen Shroyer is the owner of Cool Reed Pipes and Saxophone Robert Lindquist is Minister of Operations for the L2P Network –

Originally posted 2009-12-11 14:06:20.