Hidden Belgium: La Maison du Monsieur Sax

Hidden Belgium: La Maison du Monsieur Sax

The inventor of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax, came from the modest river town of Dinant in the Ardennes. The town proudly celebrates its most famous son with 12 painted saxophones on the bridge across the River Meuse, along with a Sax fountain, Sax music kiosk and a small museum on the site of the house where he was born in 1814.

It might strike you as overblown, but Dinant doesn’t think so. It sells itself to tourists with the slogan: “Sax and the City”. And celebrates the saxophone in a small, quirky museum filled with contorted brass instruments that blast out saxophone recordings at the push of a button.

The inventor didn’t stay that many years in Dinant. He left in his teens, studied music in Brussels, and worked for a time in his father’s instrument workshop where he built the first saxophone in 1841.

The new instrument became popular with French army bands and was later adopted by composers such as Bizet and Ravel. It crossed the Atlantic as a brass band instrument and was taken up in the 1920s by New Orleans jazz bands and solo performers such as Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

In 1992, Bill Clinton celebrated his victory in the Democratic nomination for president by playing Heartbreak Hotel on his tenor saxophone. Some considered it a gimmick. But it may have helped him win the 1993 election.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day. 

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