The alto saxophone, also referred to as the alto sax, is a member of the saxophone family of woodwind instruments. Invented by Belgian instrument designer Adolphe Sax in the 1840s and patented in 1846, it is pitched in E♭, smaller than the tenor but larger than the soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is commonly used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, and jazz (such as big bands, jazz combos, swing music). The fingerings of the different saxophones are all the same, so a saxophone player can play any type of saxophone.
(Single-reed aerophone with keys)
|Developed||28 June 1846|
In E♭: sounds a major sixth lower than written. Most modern alto saxophones can reach a high F♯ (or higher using altissimo fingerings).
Military band family:
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The alto saxophone had a prominent role in the development of jazz. Influential jazz musicians who made significant contributions include Don Redman, Jimmy Dorsey, Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Lee Konitz, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Art Pepper, Paul Desmond, and Cannonball Adderley.
The range of the alto saxophone is from concert D♭3 (the D♭ below middle C—see Scientific pitch notation) to concert A♭5 (or A5 on altos with a high F♯ key). When necessary, a player can extend the instrument's range to concert C3 by putting their knee or foot in the bell. As with most types of saxophone, the standard written range is B♭3 to F6 (or F♯6). Above that, the altissimo register begins at F♯6 (or G6) and extends upwards. The saxophone's altissimo register is more difficult to control than that of other woodwinds and is usually only expected from advanced players.
The alto saxophone is a transposing instrument; pitches sound a major sixth lower than written.
Notable jazz alto saxophonists include Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Johnny Hodges, Paul Desmond, Benny Carter, Ornette Coleman, Bobby Watson, Eric Dolphy, Marshall Allen, Art Pepper, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, Carlos Ward, David Sanborn, Dave Koz, Tom Scott, Paquito D'Rivera, John Zorn, Tim Berne, Steve Wilson, Steve Coleman, Greg Osby, Vincent Herring, Mark Gross, Kenny Garrett, and Jeff Coffin.
Notable classical alto saxophonists include Tim McAllister, Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Lawrence Gwozdz, Donald Sinta, Harvey Pittel, Larry Teal, Kenneth Tse, Arno Bornkamp, Harry White, Otis Murphy, Claude Delangle.
New alto saxophones range in price between €250 ($281.05) for lower quality student models to over €6000 ($6745.20) for professional instruments.
The alto saxophone has a large classical solo repertoire that includes solos with orchestra, piano and wind symphony. Two important solo compositions are Jacques Ibert's "Concertino da Camera" and Alexander Glazunov's "Concerto in E Flat major".
The alto saxophone is sometimes used in orchestral music. Some of the compositions where it appears are listed below.