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Posted Wed Dec 30th, 2009 11:00am Post subject: Stephen's stop in Elkhart, Indiana

Mr. Fry's tour of America lands so many thumping direct hits on the various stupidities dragging down our dying middle-class I'm surprised PBS gave the OK for this series. I would be even more surprised if they repeated it. Pointing out the soaring levels of homelessness, job loss, hunger or childhood poverty in post-Bush II "Amurka" is very risky. That Mr. Fry has mentioned some of these issues is refreshingly at odds with the usual safe & sanitized drivel we see on PBS.

As a descendent of one of the 18th century's arch anti-federalists I sadly admit that America's best days are, without a revolution of values, morals and ethics unprecedented in history, all behind her. She will be lucky to maintain enough of her past glories to qualify as a decent motor/train tour of boutique cities (surrounded by a vast intellectual and post-industrial wasteland).

It's tourist economy future in mind, Mr. Fry would make his tour of America more colorful by touching on at least some of the industrial history of the little towns he encounters. An example of this is Elkhart, Indiana. It is now one of the poorest cities in the U.S. But between roughly 1910 and 1960 it was the manufacturing center of most of the world's finest musical instruments--especially vintage saxophones, trumpets, trombones, clarinets and other jazz and big band era instruments. These were made primarily by three companies, C.G. Conn, Martin and Buescher.

As a tenor sax player of many decades I can tell you that instruments of this quality, complex tonality, projection capability and sonic variety are no longer made. In their heyday these companies made, finished and adjusted their instruments by hand. The saxes had rolled or bevelled tone holes, thick heavy high quality brass and were built for durability. Many a Baby Boomer was conceived to the sax, trumpet and clarinet solos played on those horns and their sound defined the age of jazz, the WWII big band era and bebop.

I humbly submit my list of the best of the best saxophones from that era: The Martin Committee II (no better sax for warm emotional ballads was ever made), the Buescher Top Hat & Cane 400 (the quintessential big band horn), the Conn 30M Connqueror (depth, darkness, complexity and projection--the perfect rock'n'roll monster with the right mouthpiece). The engraving on these old vintage masterpieces from Elkhart, Indiana was a work of art in itself. The most astounding custom engraving can be found on the Conn Virtuoso Deluxe tenor saxes made between 1912 and the late 1920s. The fanciest were 24 karat gold plated and engraved down to the key cups.

Because America sells out, abandons, dumbs down or destroys so much of its history there is little that remains of the old instrument factories. The people that remember them in their prime are dying out as are the generations of musicians from the Depression & WWII era. The instruments themselves survive like exquisite little time capsules--each with their own stories to tell just asking for the player's air to give them voice. Living testament to the wonders that American manufacturing could create at its best back when people took a very personal pride in the fine things they made with their own hands.

A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic. - Joseph Stalin

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