Julian Smith On BGT: The Followup

Last Saturday night, Britain’s Got Talent crowned its new victor, but to the surprise of many around the globe, it was not Susan Boyle. No, the amazing Scottish singer, whose performances have been viewed on YouTube over 250 million times already, and who propelled the show to international audiences, came in 2nd to a dance troupe named Diversity.

But what is perhaps even more surprising than Susan Boyle coming in 2nd, is that soprano saxophonist Julian Smith came in 3rd. If you haven’t yet seen one of Smith’s performances, you can check out his smooth jazz rendition of Eric Carmen’s power ballad, All By Myself.

But as sure as spring follows winter, it was inevitable that as soon as Smith appeared on the radar screen, “pundits” on sax discussion boards would be offering up their opinions about Smith, his playing style, his use of electronics, his tone, his use of vibrato, his style of dress, etc, etc. Needless to say, most of the comments were not flattering of Julian Smith’s style.

To get a sampling of what I mean, just do search for Julian Smith on SOTW; you’ll soon get the idea. There are a number of threads which mention him, and the ones I’ve seen all seem to contain at least a few posts that diss Smith in one way or another. 

In one of these threads about Julian Smith, saxophonist, recording artist, collector of rare horns, and repair tech Randy Emerick, offered up the following thoughts regarding this dissing phenomena: 

…it is interesting that professional saxophone players tend to destroy other sax players who become successful, even when they are competent, when they achieve commercial success.

Kenny G is a good example. Commercial music is full of saxophone players, from the best, like Paul Horn, Plas Johnson, King Curtis, Pete Christlieb, to others, who can’t even produce a good sound on their instrument. Why pick on Kenny, who is surely not the worst of the successful players?

There is a market for saxophone players on top-40 records. Let’s not destroy the few who get the gigs.

Thank you Randy.

Let’s all contemplate this while we go to our respective woodsheds and go through our daily practice routines. After all, as saxophonists, isn’t that what we really should be focusing on?

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is www.bassic-sax.info. If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. Soprano is also a lot more demanding on the embouchure than either alto or tenor and probably not the best place to start. If you already play clarinet, you could probably handle the soprano embouchure. Otherwise, work your way up to it.

    This is not to say alto, tenor, or baritone are any less demanding at the highest levels, but they are more tolerant of less than perfect technique at the start. Altos and tenors are also easier to pick up secondhand than any other sizes, as there are more of them sitting in people’s attics and closets. With the economy being what it is, a lot of people are happy to unload their “attic junk” for whatever cash they can get. C-melody saxes are also not hard to find secondhand, and are back in production as well.

    A C-melody is an appropriate size for a starter horn, but the disadvantages are significant. First you’re not going to be able to join in with your community band as there will be no parts written for it. Second, it will be difficult to find a teacher that has one, and it is best by far if your teacher plays the same size horn you do. This might mean having to buy TWO C-melody saxes, so you can lend one to the teacher. You can be pretty sure a teacher will have an alto and a tenor.

    Now if you get to a point where you can transpose on sight and are no longer worried about the “which keys do I press” aspect, it may be entirely workable to take lessons from someone not playing the same horn you are, or to play a C-melody while reading music written for another instrument. It’s just not something I would recommend to a beginner.

    Please bear in mind that if you buy a used horn, it will almost certainly need some professional maintenance and/or repair work. Unfortunately, buying new doesn’t guarantee it will work straight out of the box either, but the chances are significantly better. Still, the cost of buying a used horn and having it brought up to playing standard is often less than buying a new student-model horn, and can often result in having a better instrument.

  2. What made is Julian Smith’s sax? sounds brilliant. Would like to learn. My wife would like it 🙂

    • Hello Florentin. Welcome to my site.

      Sorry for taking so long to reply. I’ve been doing some research, but have not been able to find out what make of soprano saxophone Julian Smith plays.

      I don’t know if you know this or not, but Julian Smith was already a professional saxophone player before he appeared on BGT. He went by the name Joolz Gianni (don’t know if that’s his real name, or a stage name). He has a couple of albums out with Sony records, one of which is Chilled 2 the Sax.

      Although he appeared on BGT playing the soprano, his CD cover shows a tenor, and internet chatter on sax discussion boards mentions this as well.

      If you would like to learn to play saxophone, it doesn’t really matter what brand you start on. What you have to decide is what “voice” you’re interested in. By voice I’m referring to soprano, alto, tenor, or baritone, the 4 most common saxophones.

      If you are interested in playing soprano, that might a bit harder to start with if you plan to rent an instrument for a few months to see if you like it enough to keep on going with it. Most music stores have altos and tenors that they rent, but sopranos are not as common as rental instruments.

      Perhaps the best thing to do is talk to a saxophone teacher in your area and get their input. Teachers usually know the music stores in the area, and know what they offer with regards to rentals. Sax teachers also usually know how good the inventory and prices of the individual stores are as well. A good teacher is an overall good source of information, and should be able to help you make an informed decision about what kind of sax might be best for you to start on, if lessons might be of benefit to start with, etc. etc.

      If you do decide to take up the saxophone, I hope you enjoy it. It is a great instrument. (But heh, I’m obviously slightly biased). 😉

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