Tanks and Saxophones

By George Stahl
Special to the Sun

It’s 1914, World War I is gaining momentum, and before too long will be in full force. The world of mankind is changing dramatically. People are shifting around, some trying to find a better life, others trying their hardest just to stay alive. Technology is expanding and inventions are turning out as fast as the minds behind them can dream them up. Sadly, most of these technical breakthroughs are ways and means of how one side or the other can kill more men of the enemies in one blow. ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ is a phrase many speakers have taken credit for, including President Woodrow Wilson in 1917 when the United States entered the war, however, it has been accurately traced back to the Greek Philosopher, Plato in a writing called The Republic. Wilson, however used the phrase to show the need for some of the technology of that war. Such things as Tanks, poison gas, gas masks, machine guns on airplanes and depth charges. Believe it or not, one of the breakthroughs in 1915 was something called, a ‘pilotless drone’. Really, look it up.

While men and women were working tirelessly on these types of inventions, another man in 1914 was working on a war effort contribution of his own. The man? Gus Buescher from Ohio, and later Elkhart, Indiana. Gus saw a need for a morale builder with the men in the field, and their families at home. One of the things that was happening in the United States during the war, was a movement to find a way to ease the soldier’s pains, emotionally. Several groups came together, the YMCA, Knights of Columbus, Salvation Army and others sent supplies and personnel overseas to let the men know they were not alone. Gus threw his hat into the ring. He was a musical instrument manufacturer, and he was working on a variation of an older instrument created in 1841 by Adolphe Sax in Paris. In 1914, Buescher patented his version of the saxophone, and by the time the U.S. was involved in 1917 he had perfected it.

Of all of the inventions brought on by necessity from that war, the saxophone is by far one of the most essential. While the others brought a gruesome end to life, the unique sound of the saxophone was capable of bringing out deep emotions of sorrow, joy, pride, inspiration and even laughter at times. On occasion, packing as much punch as a howitzer.

Each branch of the service featured a saxophone in their marching bands, and when those organizations we talked about earlier went over to the frontlines, to the men fighting there, they took with them a saxophone player, and one of Buescher’s saxophones. That was twenty-three years before the USO.

From that time on, Buescher’s design and modifications made the sax a must have instrument in any band, and stateside, it was introduced to jazz. The music world hasn’t been the same since. The world of jazz has definitely benefited greatly from the sax becoming a member, and just as much as the piano and the trumpet, the sax has contributed to the success of jazz. The sound of a sax is undeniable, and the treat to the senses is nothing, but extraordinary. There are times in history that are remembered for world-shaking events, and whatever else happened at the same time are often overshadowed by these events. In the case of the saxophone however, long after the dark shadow of the war was gone, this woodwind instrument has emerged the hero.

Today is Saxophone Day, 178 years after Adolphe Sax invented it, and 105 years after Gus Buescher redesigned it, we celebrate one of the most significant instruments to come from a time when the world was lost, chaotic and on the verge of death. George M. Cohan, an American songwriter used the sax to show the strength in his song, ‘Over There’ in 1917, and in the revival of another one called, ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag.’ They were such a hit during the war, that Cohan’s troupe was among the groups who went to the troops to show them that the rest of the country was with them. Accompanying Cohan on his tour was a saxophone player, with a Buescher sax.

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