Back in the early 1920′s, Vaudeville shows were the hot ticket and the saxophone was king. Over 100,000 saxophones were being sold each year and instrument manufacturers were conjuring up some extraordinary variations on Adolphe Sax’s 1847 invention. Saxophobia offers a rare glimpse at some of the most unusual saxophones ever made and pays tribute to the great jazz legends who popularized the instrument.
Over 150 years after its birth, the saxophone remains a strong force in many styles of music. Saxophobia presents an entertaining, rich and riveting historical history of the saxophone and the players who gave the sax its many voices.
The saxophone was invented by Adolphe Sax, whose father was an instrument maker in Brussels, Belgium. Adolphe began toying with the idea for an instrument that could project sound like a brass instrument but had the flexibility of a woodwind. Finally in 1846,he received a patent for an entire family of instruments — 14 versions, from the high sopranino to the low contrabass.
At that time, they were the most expensive instruments of their day.
When Sax’s patent expired in 1866, other manufacturers began to modify the instrument to make it easier to play or to improve tone.
The simplest of the instruments is the small soprano and soprano saxophones.
Most instruments are B♭ and E♭.
The fiddle was still new and exciting when Europeans first brought it to North America during the late seventeenth century. At that time, it was replacing the hornpipe, tabor and harp at country dances and rural social gatherings in the Old World.
When the Hudson’s Bay Company moved into Canada in the late 1700s, their Scottish employees brought their fiddles and their repertoire of dance music. The fur traders spread throughout the Northwest and Rocky Mountains, carrying their fiddles and their music with them.
Most tunes were based on Scottish reels, jigs and hornpipes, with a touch of French, Native American and American influence thrown in. Among the most popular tunes: The Red River Gig for step-dancing; and Drops of Brandy for Scottish line dancing. Both were probably originally Scottish hornpipes, such as the sailors on board ships played. On the American prairies where many German families settled, the ‘Seven-Step’ (German Schottische) was popular.
Gaelic-speaking Highlanders reinforced Scottish music and dance traditions from Canada’s Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, to the “hollers” of America’s southern Appalachian mountains. Irish traditions took hold in Newfoundland; and when Irish immigrants flooded American cities, their lively fiddle tunes were quickly adapted by others.
Today, the tunes played in fiddle contests are based on the same rhythms to which these early arrivals danced – jigs, reels, hornpipes and schottisches.
About The Fiddle
If you ask Dennis Coehlo what he knows about old-time fiddling, be prepared for a long conversation.
Coehlo has been a producer of fiddle contests, documentary recordings and folk events for over 30 years. He has judged fiddle contests in Indiana, Georgia, Idaho, and Wyoming.
But he is more than a promoter. Originally from Idaho, Dennis started playing folk and old-time music professionally in the mid-’60s in coffee houses and folk clubs in Europe. He plays most string instruments.
In the mid-’70s, he played twice-monthly live radio over WSLM, Salem, Indiana. He has also been a consultant on traditional music to the Smithsonian and the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and served as Wyoming Folk Arts Coordinator from 1981 to 1985.
Changes over the Years
Coehlo says there are big differences in today’s contest fiddlers and yesterday’s fiddlers. “Twenty-five years ago the people who were playing were born before World War I. But most of those people have died. It’s their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that are playing now,” he said.
The biggest difference is their relation to dancing. “Oldtime fiddle playing was built around dance tunes. People went to dance. Now people go to hear the music first, and then perhaps dance. Today’s country-western bands may dance while they play, but they are not necessarily playing to accompany people dancing. Today’s bands rarely learned their skills playing for dancers. As late as the 1940s, square dancers were still using live musicians at their dances. But in the 1950s, they changed mostly to recorded music.”
Before World War II, the fiddle music that was in Wyoming was that of the immigrant communities from Europe.
“Right after World War I, immigrant communities from all over Europe moved to America to work in the coal mines or on the railroad. There were over 40 separate ethnic lodges in Rock Springs alone. The immigrants still felt a strong and important tie to their heritage – enough that they formed and financed organizations to help them keep their heritage – their history, their foods and their music.”
“There were guys around in the 1920s and 1940s who played for dances in Casper and all the little towns around. They played the dance styles of the era. Leroy Haygood, from Casper was an impressive fiddle player who played for little-town dances. Henry Hlavachek was another. They learned to play what people expected.
“Some of the European nationalities were close enough to share dance steps; others were more difficult to assimilate. For example, Czechoslovakian musicians often played polka music, but the longer they were in America, the more they adapted. They developed what is known as the Dutch hop – it’s a little different from Czech music, and a Czech band might not know the rhythm if they were not playing with other non-ethnic groups.
“This melting pot of rhythms was a major influence on dances the first half of the 20th century. I remember one Hispanic family that moved from New Mexico to Wyoming before World War II. They had five daughters, and the man worked in the mines. One night, they convinced their father to take them to a Saturday night dance in Rock Springs.
“They were surprised at the music. It had a kind of Hispanic flavor to it,” Coehlo said, “but it took awhile before I identified it. It was the same rhythm I had heard at a Serbo-Croatian dance hall in old New Mexico.”
Before World War II, people expected fiddlers to play certain kinds of rhythms for a dance. There was an overlap in how fiddlers played polkas, waltzes, schottische. But not after World War II.
“We found that the communities that were able to maintain their traditions most closely to the original traditions of Europe usually had a strong religious community. For example, there was a time when almost everyone from Sheridan to UCross was Polish. And they had a Polish-speaking clergy. They also had a strong traditional music group.”
Coehlo said that the pattern of ethnic music is much like other ethnic traditions. “The second generation tries to hide their ethnic traditions,” he said. “They don’t want people to know – to think of them as inferior or not American. But the third and fourth generations want to recapture that spirit and maintain their identity.”
Some adults playing in Wyoming now learned from people who played in the 1980s, according to Coehlo. “Bob Mathews [one of last year’s contest judges] and Shelly Clark learned from guys like Stippy Wolff, an old-time Jackson ranch-hand dance fiddler, Herman Johnson and Byron Berline. Berline played traditional tunes because he learned from his father.”
Recording the Tunes
In 1987, Coehlo began traveling around the state to record older fiddle players. “We got a lot of them on tape,” he said. “I felt then there were essentially three or four styles of fiddle playing, almost like the four corners of the state. There were the Hispanic influences, moved north from New Mexico and Colorado. There were the Mormon influences from Salt Lake City and Idaho. From Montana came Scandinavian influences. And on the eastern side of the state were the German Volga traditions.
Then other syncopations and scales started moving in as people shared their music –African-American music with its blues scales from the South; Texas and Oklahoma with Native American and Appalachian harmonies.
Coelho feels that Wyoming’s fiddle tradition is unique because of all this cross-breeding. “The most representative fiddle player I can remember was Leroy Haygood. He was in his 80s when he died 20 years ago. “Leroy loved to pick up instruments at yard sales,” Coelho said. “It’s unfortunate that so few sat down to learn the way he played things.”
Today’s Fiddle Contests
Coehlo noted that there is a major difference in the early dance music and contest playing today. “What has developed into today’s contest repertoire is a far cry from the early music. It has its own distinct flavor,” Coehlo said.
In the mid-60s, contests began to build influence, according to Coehlo. “Idaho-style and Texas-style players dominated the contests with a mixture of Missouri and Texas styles. They also developed numbers strictly for contest performance. These were slower and more melodic. By the 1970s, the traditionalists had given way to this new contest style.
“Now there are schools in Idaho, Colorado, Washington and Montana that teach kids how to play specifically to win fiddle contests. Their whole goal is to teach kids to compete – just like youth sports leagues.
“But these kids are not learning from people who actually played old-time music. They are learning from their children, and many of them were not dance players but competition players. So the rhythms and styles are a little different than the real old-style fiddle playing.
“For young people who want to play, the contest is a kind of substitute for the old dance venue – instead of playing for dances, they play for contests. But the style and repertoire have changed.”
Leonard Zierlein has played music for 77 years—longer than most contestants in the Wyoming State Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest have been alive. He has won the Wyoming State Senior Champion four times, and he keeps on playing despite several physical problems.
When his eyesight began to fail and he could no longer drive, he rode his horse to pick up his mail. After surgeries on his hands and shoulders, he quit playing songs requiring the “G” string. But he has not given up.
Leonard Zierlein’s family began playing for community dances in the hill country of Nebraska in the 1920s. Leonard started playing banjo, guitar and piano at age 10.
He moved to Wyoming when he was 18. His brother was working at a dairy farm near Cokeville and got Leonard a job haying. He joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 and served in World War II until the end of the war. Then he returned to Nebraska.
Occasionally, he and his two brothers played for dances, with Leonard on guitar and his brothers on fiddle.
After five or six years in Nebraska, Leonard moved back to Wyoming. He spent a number of years in Casper where worked at several trades — government trapper, brand inspector, dairy truck driver and welder. In 1956, he bought the farm in Burlington, where he still lives.
For many years, Leonard played backup guitar with friends and family. In 1988, at the age of 67, he decided to try the fiddle. After three years of playing, he joined the Wyoming Fiddlers Association and played for the first time in the Wyoming Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Shoshoni in 1991, entering the novice division. He won first place.
In 1992 he won his first Wyoming Senior State Champion title. The next year, he won Senior State Champion title a second time; and his daughter, Brenda, won State Junior-Junior State Champion title. Leonard won Senior State Championship twice more — in 1994 and 2006. He has competed at the National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest in Weiser, Idaho, seven times.
Leonard has six fiddles. His favorite is a Joe Wigel fiddle, #67. The fiddle his father played he gave to his daughter, Brenda.
Leonard has missed only a few Wyoming state contests since 1991. The last few years have been a struggle for Leonard to play, but his love for fiddling and his fiddling friends and fans is strong. Perhaps it is Leonard’s memories of playing music as a 10-year-old, joining in with the oldtimers who encouraged his efforts.
Leonard has passed that tradition of encouragement on – and a lot of today’s younger musicians owe their love of music to his encouragement and support.
– by Vickie Roseberry & Ann Graham Robinson, 2008
Content: ( Click the question to view the answer)
1. What is the difference between a violin and a fiddle?
The violin and “fiddle” are the same instrument. It depends on how it is played and what is played as to what it is called. It is a violin if you play classical European music (Mozart, Bach, Beethoven) or are part of a classical symphony orchestra. It’s a fiddle if you play traditional folk or country music.
Some minor adjustments are made to create classical or traditional music easier. It is common to call the instrument a violin if it is strung with gut or synthetic strings, a fiddle if it has steel strings.
For example, classical players may use a bridge with more of a rounded curve. This allows them to finger each note more easily and clearly.
Some fiddlers use “fine tuners” – small screw mechanisms attached to the tailpiece at the end of the instrument to make small tuning adjustments easier. These are rarely used by classical musicians.
Today most players hold the instrument underneath the chin, using a chin-rest; but many early fiddle players and some traditional and folk fiddlers set the instrument lower on the chest or on the arm.
These small changes are easy to reverse and do not hurt the instrument.
2. Who invented the violin (fiddle)?
No one knows who invented the stringed instrument known as a violin (fiddle). Almost every early culture had stringed instruments. Hollowed-out gourds were used by Central Asian cultures at least as early as the 7th century. Egyptians, Sumerians, Greeks and Indians played stringed instruments that were bowed, strummed and plucked.
In Europe, the violin can be traced back to the 9th century. The Medieval rebec had lateral pegs, a nipped-in waist and f-shaped sound holes, much like today’s violin. By the mid-1500s, Gaudenzio Ferrari (1511-1580) — painter, sculptor and lute player – began experimenting with instruments that would lead to the violin.
3. What are the oldest violins in existence?
The oldest preserved instruments that qualify as a violin by today’s standards were created by Gasparo da Solo (1542-1609) of Brescia, Italy. Gasparo’s father knew Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). We know that da Vinci built some stringed instruments to study how air transmits sound, but we do not know that he actually built a violin. It is possible that da Vinci’s work influenced da Solo.
The oldest surviving violin known to have been made in the American colonies is in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. It was made in 1759.
4. Where did the names fiddle and violin come from?
The word “violin” comes from the Romance languages (Middle Latin, vitula, meaning “stringed instrument).” The word “fiddle” supposedly comes from the Germanic languages, but it may also have come from the same Middle Latin word. “Violin” was adopted by the Italians, “fiddle” by the English.
5. Where did the idea of the bow come from?
Hunters who use bow and arrows know the sound made when the arrow is released from a tightly held bow. Early Greek philosophers discussed the sound made by a tightly-held string. Some Native American tribes on the North American continent have a tradition of plucking the strings of the bow and changing tension to change notes. The idea of a bow to create sound on an instrument probably came from Asia by way of the Arabs, or from Nordic tribes. It may have appeared in many places at the same time. It was used in the 10th century on mini-stringed lutes (shaped similar to a half-pear or barrel).
6. What is a bow made of?
The violin bow is basically a hardwood stick strung with fibers fixed in place at each end. Most bows today are made of Pernambuco, a reddish flexible hardwood from Brazil. The bowhair is horsehair. It takes 150 horsehairs to string a bow. Some modern bows are made of fiberglass.
7. Where were most fiddles made?
The most beautifully toned violins were made in Italy. But by 1800, thousands of violins were manufactured in Germany. Many of these were exported to North America and sold through music stores or mail order companies.
8. How is a fiddle tuned?
A traditional fiddle has four strings. In the most common tuning, the lowest note is G below middle C. The other strings are tuned a fifth apart to notes E, A and D. This gives it a range of more than 4.5 octaves. There are no frets or marks on the neck, as there is on a guitar, so a fiddler must learn where the proper sounds are by the position of the hand.
9. Of what are fiddle strings made?
Violin strings were originally made of tightly twisted sheep gut or cat gut. Today they may be gut, steel, steel-wrapped synthetics – even gold-plated.
10. Did any president ever play the fiddle?
Thomas Jefferson considered music a “favorite passion of my soul.” He practiced the violin three hours a day and was good enough to play chamber music for the royal governor of Virginia. He purchased a violin in 1768 for five English pounds, and a fine Italian one for 13 English pounds. The Italian violin has never been found. Jefferson and his family played chamber music for strings and keyboard. His younger brother, Randolph, also studied the violin. But Randolph preferred the music of the common people. He often joined the black slaves, playing the fiddle and dancing half the night.
11. Who were the first fiddlers in the American West?
The Hudson Bay Company of England sent French trappers into the Canadian and American Rockies in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Fiddles, violin strings and “jaw’s harps” are listed on their supply sheets. The Metis – among the first Canadian Natives to meet the trappers – probably learned from them. They have a long tradition of fiddle music.
When Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left St. Louis in 1804 to explore the Louisiana Purchase, at least two men on the expedition played the fiddle. Their journals mention more than 30 times when the men sang and danced — for their own entertainment, at forts or Native American encampments. One of the musicians was Pierre Cruzatte, son of a French father and Omaha Indian mother. He had been a trader with the French trading house of Chouteau in St. Louis.
To celebrate the New Year 1805, Lewis & Clark visited a Mandan village and took a fiddle, tambourine and a “Sounden” horn. In June 1805, Lewis wrote in his journal, “such as were able to shake a foot amused themselves in dancing on the green to the music of the violin which Cruzatte plays extreemly well.” He probably played the instrument with it resting on his breastbone or arm since the chin rest was not invented until the 1820s.
12. When were the first fiddle contests?
The first fiddle contests in America date back to the 1730s. They were very popular although some traveling showmen rigged the contests. In the mid-1920s, Henry Ford sponsored a series of old-time music contests at his car dealerships, trying to promote old-fashioned American values.
13. Who was the first old-time fiddler to make a hit record?
The honor probably goes to “Fiddlin’ John” Carson (1868?-1949). Carson worked in a cotton mill but kept busy on the side by making moonshine and “passing the hat” as a traveling performer. He won the Georgia Fiddlin’ Championship seven times. In 1922, he walked into the studio of Atlanta’s newly opened radio station WSB and said he wanted to “have a try at the newfangled contraption.” Carson performed “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane” live, and continued playing weekly. The station was overwhelmed with the response. Ralph Peer, president of OKeh, a label specializing in “race” records for the black market, brought his equipment to Atlanta to record Carson. When Carson played “Little Old Log Cabin” and “The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow,” Peer called them “pluperfect awful.” He pressed 500 records with a blank label, and Carson sold them all at the next fiddler’s convention. He vowed to “quit makin’ moonshine and start makin’ records.” Peer recognized a market and signed up Carson, his daughter Rosa Lee (“Moonshine Kate”) and his Virginia Reelers. They played until 1934, creating a music revolution – “old-time” or “hillbilly” music — forerunner of today’s country music.
14. Has fiddling been affected by technology?
From 1916-1918, Cecil Sharp began collecting Appalachian tunes and songs to preserve them. In the 1930s, Alan Lomax made field recordings for the Library of Congress. They used technology to preserve old-time tunes and fiddling styles. But the popularity of records and radio also changed the music. It exposed more people to styles and techniques they might never have heard otherwise. But at the same time, many local quirks and styles disappeared as more people copied what they heard on the new technology – and lost their individual character.
Early old-time fiddle music was recorded without vocals because early microphones were not good enough to capture the normal singing voice. By the 1930s, new electrical microphones changed that. Groups like the Carter Family – A.P., Maybelle and Sarah – became popular. In the late 1930s during the Great Depression, the Carters moved from their Appalachian home to Del Rio, Texas. Just across the border were powerful “border blaster” radio stations XERA and XEG. They broadcast at 100,000 watts – more power than was allowed in the United States. Rural folk all across the U.S. and as far north as Canada heard their music.
15. Did they really play the fiddle at the battle of the Alamo?
The legendary Davy Crockett (of “Remember the Alamo” fame) was a skilled fiddler and buck dancer. The fiddle piece “Col. Crockett’s Reel” — known today as “The Route” — may be based on a piece Crockett played. In 1836, Crockett joined men at the Alamo, fighting for the independence of Texas from Mexico. In the lulls between the skirmishes, John McGregor played the bagpipes while Crockett played the fiddle to keep up the men’s spirits. They died in the battle.
16. Why is the “devil” associated with the fiddle?
The fiddle, or violin, has been associated with Satan in Western culture for generations. This goes back to ancient Greece when musical instruments were associated with special gods and goddesses. In the 16th century, the fiddle was most often used to accompany dances. As the Protestant Reformation took hold, many associated dancing with the devil. Peasant street dance performers were denounced as agents of the devil. Renaissance painters showed the devil, fiddles and dancing together. Some said that the Scandinavian Hardanger fiddle with its hidden drone strings was the “devil’s voice” because it sounded like two instruments being played – and thus had to be haunted or the fiddler in league with the devil.
The Great Religious Revival of the late 1800s in the southern United States picked up on the idea of the fiddle as the devil’s instrument, or “devil’s box.” Pity the man who played the fiddle on a Saturday night gathering and appeared in church on Sunday – he was liable to be shamed from the pulpit. The idea of the fiddle as the devil’s instrument is echoed in the contemporary song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”
17. What is the difference in old-time and bluegrass music?
What is now known as “bluegrass music” was popularized by Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs in the 1940s on the Grand Ole Opry. The roots of bluegrass are the old-time string bands that first aired on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry radio show. WSM Nashville Radio station opened in 1925, sponsored by the National Life & Accident Insurance Company. (The call letters – WSM – stood for “We Shield Millions.”) Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys joined the Opry in 1939. He played many of the old-time tunes – only he played faster and sang higher and added musical breaks for virtuoso performing. The music was no longer for dancing but for performance. The new style of “bluegrass” was coined from their name.
18. How did the invention of radio affect old-time music?
In the late 1910s and early 1920s, after World War I ended, more than half the nation moved to towns. Movie houses spread national news and entertainment. Among the popular new devices on the market were phonographs and radios. To help sell these new-fangled “radio receivers,” Westinghouse Corporation opened WDKA radio station in Pittsburgh. By 1924 there were 600 radio stations across the country. Most played live symphony and classical music.
Local old-time performers filled time slots no one else wanted — early morning and noon. These “hillbilly” acts cost little – often nothing – compared to an orchestra.
In April 1924, Sears, Roebuck mail order department store opened its own radio station in Chicago — WLS (“World’s Largest Store”). Sears, Roebuck catered to farmers and rural customers with their catalogs, and they sold more musical instruments to rural folk than any other mail order operation.)
Sears chose to cater to its customers with a new type of rural old-time music program — Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance. It was only a local fiddle band and square-dance caller, but telegrams poured in after the first program. Radio barn dances sprouted up on stations across the continent, and a new form of entertainment was born.
19. Why was the fiddle popular?
The fiddle has a wide range of sounds – low and mournful to accompany old ballads, lively enough to dance an Irish jig — and small enough to put in a flour sack and carry on a horse or in a wagon. Anyone with a musical ear could pick up the basics in a few hours. Civil War soldiers sent home photos of themselves in uniform, holding a fiddle.
20. What is old-time fiddling?
Old-time fiddling is the voice of the people – and elements of almost every immigrant group are found in it – Scots, Irish, English, Native American, Canadian, French, German, African, Scandinavian. As roads opened up after the Civil War, traveling entertainers took vaudeville songs and acts to remote areas. Local musicians adapted these songs to their own instruments and styles.
Until the 1800s, the music heard in rural America was mostly the music of the common people. It helped pass the time while men and women worked or marked an important event. It was played at parties, dances and gatherings and sung at worship services. Most musicians played by ear. Music was not written down, but techniques and tunes were passed along to family, friends and travelers. When a performer wasn’t sure of a note or words, he or she simply added a word or note that fit the rhythm. Since there was no “real” version of the music, hundreds of versions of tunes and songs resulted.
Most old-time fiddling was meant to accompany a dance. A fiddle was often the only instrument, and the fiddler might be the only performer. To play and sing at the same time, some held the fiddle on the upper chest, tilted clockwise to make heavily accented down strokes (downbows). Fingering was often simple, but the bowing rhythm could be energetic and driving. Rhythm and tempo were far more important at a noisy dance than clear notes. Appalachian fiddlers often placed rattlesnake rattles inside their instrument to create a better sound.
21. What is the Hardanger fiddle?
Scandinavian immigrants moved into northern areas, bringing with them the Hardanger fiddle. The Hardanger has hidden “drone” strings that create a bigger bodied sound — as if more than one instrument is being played. Traditional hardanger fiddlers play the fiddle on the arm rather than close to the body to increase the instrument’s sound and vibration.