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Aerophone – A Colston Willmott Story

This story first appeared in the October issue of The First Edition, the Hornby Island monthly magazine

They could be considered inanimate objects, mere mechanical devices had it not been for their history. They had travelled all over, coast to coast in Canada, a limited number of nervous visits to America, several times to England and even touring about Europe; Holland, Germany, Denmark, twice venturing into the communist countries of Poland and East Germany. Alway giving out their joyful noise. They themselves were of an international bent: Bianca Orsi, Guillaume Selmer and Chuck Martin born in Italy, France and the USA, now long-time residents of of a remote island off the west coast of Canada.

They’ve been undisturbed for years, resting in their purple velvet lined coffins, tucked away under a work table, all but forgotten; their owner, if he can be described as such, elderly, toothless, incapable of bringing them to life. Gifting them to the island’s local school auction.

It seems surprising that the saxophone was invented in Belgium, not a country that pops immediately into one’s mind, but the great-grandfather of the aerophone’s creation is one Adolphe Sax, a musician and inventor of numerous instruments, among them the saxotromba, saxhorn and saxtuba. He played flute and clarinet. Both his parents were also instrument designers.

Belgium in some ways seems similar to Canada, the confusion of multiple languages, plus as with Belgium the creation of hundreds of original ideas ignored internationally; the Americans often claiming them as their own. Belgium, stereotyped with delicious chocolate and Trappist beer actually invented [according to internet sources] the contraceptive pill, plastic, cricket, the world wide web, jpeg images, asphalt, electric trams, the internal combustion engine, synthetic rubber, the stock exchange and perhaps most importantly the Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt and Gypsy jazz…

This old fella’s connection with Belgium is sparse. What has enticed him to Brussels? The CBS television travel show – “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium”, a documentary ridiculing tourist junkets, or the recording of Sidney Bechet’s All Stars with Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson at the 1958 World Fair kindling dreams of a jazz mecca?

His host, Pol Lenders, is an amiable fellow, offering to escort him about the city in his immaculate head-turning nineteen-fifties red and white two-toned Studebaker-Packard. His character is as expansive as his girth, his rotund body topped with a shiny hairless cranium, his ruddy jovial face supplemented with a gigantic walrus moustache.

Chauffeured around in the luxury of this elegant overlarge American automobile, zooming up and down narrow streets, parking in alleyways with barely enough room to open the doors, never quite knowing where one might be, blurs the direction and sequence of events, quite suitable for the configuration of this story. Where were we hanging out with Al Jones, the drummer from Dizzy’s fantastic bands back in the early fifties or the local hero, vibraphonist Fats Sadi is at best hazy. Where was the Blue Note, an elitist private drinking club where it’s rumoured that the famous Formula 1 driver Johnny Claes could be seen lounging at the bar before he started the evening playing a tune on trumpet; doing a reasonable facsimile of a Shorty Rogers West Coast cool guy.

Pol’s Jazz Club in is hidden away in a cobbled side street surrounded by the baroque and gothic architecture of the merchant guild houses that occupy the heart of this ancient city. Its entrance, a replica of a twenties speakeasy with a sliding slat cracked ajar to receive the secret password, as though frequented by Al Capone and his gangster cronies, opens into a long narrow room, divided by a drop-down projection screen, onto which in the intermission is thrown images of silent film stars – Charlie Chaplin, W.C Fields and Harold Lloyd – old movies being his other obsession. The walls are festoon’d with photographs of musicians that have graced the stage, and patiently awaiting his master is Ice Cream, a tongue-lolling jazz mutt who is acknowledged by every band at the beginning of each set with a brief rendition of the old New Orleans warhorse of the same name. Naturally he barks along with his favourite tune. What is it with Euro-dogs and jazz?

End Notes:


The author is playing John Tchicai’s Adolphe Sax soprano. [Photograph Barry Thompson]



Pol Lenders

Al Jones

Fats Sadi

Bill Smith [aka Colston Willmott] can be contacted at colstonwillmott@gmail.com

My weekly radio show, presented between noon and 2:00 every Wednesday on Hornby Island Radio [CHFR – 96.5 FM] can be found at: https://hornbyradio.com/dj/jazz-gems-with-bill-smith/

The First Edition is the Hornby Island monthly magazine, where residents are kept up-to-date with local news and events, plus a number of columns on various subjects. If your interest is piqued, a subscription is available for $36.00 per year North America, $40.00 per year Elsewhere. Cheques or money order to: The First Edition, Hornby Island, British Columbia, Canada V0R1Z0.