Is The Saxophone A Mongrel?

Gavin Bryars is a British jazz bassist and composer, whose music has been described as “mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and…deeply moving.”¹

In the past Bryars has said:

I remember once, when I started writing for the alto saxophone, a saxophonist told me to think of it as being like a cross between an oboe and a viola, but louder.


Given that Bryars sees (hears) the saxophone as a type of cross breed, it’s not surprising that he writes music that is of the mixed breed variety as well. Just as an aside, since he was a jazz bassist, you would think that he would have worked with a sax player or 2 along the way. :scratch:

In any event, to give you just a small taste of what Gavin Bryars’ music is, here is the 1975 recording of The Sinking Of The Titanic.

The Sinking Of The Titanic was one of Bryars’ earliest compositions, and was inspired by the events that transpired in the last few moments before the unsinkable luxury liner sank, on April 14, 1912, after hitting an iceberg.

Gavin Bryars describes it this way:

The initial starting point for the piece was the reported fact of the band having played a hymn tune in the final moments of the ship’s sinking. A number of other features of the disaster which generate musical or sounding performance material, or which ‘take the mind to other regions’, are also included.

Source: Titanic page on Gavin Bryars’ website


¹ Gavin Bryars Biography page
…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2012, 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. Helen..I was at Sheffield University with Gavin in the early 60s and played in bands with him there..I played clarinet then, not very well..I’m at least 4 or 5% better now..

    I don’t know whether you see or hear him at all since he spends some of his time in far Canada, but if ever you do please give him my regards and tell him I’ll give him ‘mongrel’ if he ever comes back to do a Rag Week at Sheffield U..




    • I don’t know if Gavin Bryars comes out to the West Coast. I haven’t seen his name in the papers out this way. That said, I also hadn’t been watching for it before. Now I will.

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