Plastics News Europe - June 2018 - 6

DESIGN LANDMARK

Grafton Saxophone (1950)
"

Photo: Museum of
Making Music on a
Creative Commons
licence

Design Landmark
is researched and
written by James
Snodgrass

T

he Shape of Jazz to Come" - it's
a provocative title, for sure. The
year was 1959 and jazz was experiencing a revolution. John Coltrane
had his "Giant Steps" - quite a boast
- Miles Davis had his "Kind of Blue",
Charles Mingus had his "Mingus Ah
Um" and Dave Brubeck had his "Time
Out". And while Davis's album might
be the most admired jazz album of all
time, the most influential record of the
year was Ornette Coleman's "The
Shape of Jazz to Come".
Coleman's radical music divided
fans, musicians and critics. Even Miles
Davis, who would go on to make music
as avant-garde as Coleman's, initially
viewed the recording with scepticism.
But the album soon became the defining record of the "free jazz" genre (although the genre itself was named after Coleman's 1961 release "Free Jazz:
A Collective Improvisation").
Part of the shock of "The Shape of
Jazz to Come" was the harsh sound
of Coleman's plastic alto saxophone.
In 1954, unable to afford a brass saxophone - he had previously had a
saxophone destroyed in a bar brawl
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana - Coleman
bought an acrylic-bodied Grafton

Saxophone, which was half the price
of a conventional sax.
The Grafton was designed in the
UK by Italian inventor Hector Sommaruga and named after the London
street where he started his business.
The sax was patented in 1945 and
production began in 1950. The bodies of the saxophone were made from
clear and ivory coloured injection
moulded acrylic. Graftons were only
available as alto saxophones as it
wasn't possible at that time to injection mould the larger bodies needed
for tenor or baritone saxophones.
Price - and novelty - meant the
Grafton had plenty of early adopters.
John Dankworth played his at the Festival of Britain (1951), a 14-year old
David Bowie practiced his scales on
one and even Charlie Parker bought
one (allegedly because he'd pawned
his brass sax so he could score heroin).
But the Grafton's acrylic bodies became brittle with time and use. Production ceased in 1967 and these
budget saxophones are now extremely expensive to use and maintain, but
examples remain in the collections of
the V&A Museum in London and the
American Jazz Museum in Kansas City.

6

Ornette Coleman earned the
nickname "the man with the
white sax" thanks to his early
association with the Grafton
Saxophone

JUNE 2018


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