Frank Trumbauer.


This page has been left here as a relic of the days when its subject seemed of great interest: viz., why was Frank Trumbauer often listed in discographies as playing the little-used C-melody saxophone, and not the alto saxophone, which he clearly also frequently employed? It began as a pre-Internet written essay, as long ago as 1995, and gradually evolved into a long, rambling discourse. You will be happy to learn that 90% of it has been superseded by more recent research conducted by scholars far more capable than I. Therefore, all that guff has been deleted. But we decided to leave in place several sound clips of Tram playing alto saxophone.

The original draft of this article considered forty-seven sides by the Trumbauer Orchestra, in other words, most of them from TRUMBOLOGY to HOW AM I TO KNOW.  Here are four occasions on which Tram surely must be playing alto saxophone. Or my name is Mickey Mouse. 8^)


In the last chorus, at bars (measures) 7 and 8, Tram plays a truly startling break:

This is just a very rough idea of how it goes, but the point is, the high notes in the second bar aren’t in the normal compass of a C-melody sax. So I suggest he is playing alto here. Indeed, he’s playing (what was then) the top note on the alto, F and the D below.

Hear an mp3 of this break three times:



#2 JUST AN HOUR OF LOVE. (Keys F, Ab, F, Ab)

Tram solos in the final Ab chorus, and his solo includes an alto top E, again higher than a C-melody. I think Tram must be on alto here as well.

Hear an mp3 of this part three times:



#3 LILA (Keys C, Eb, C, Eb)

In the coda, Tram plays a note that is alto high Eb, off the top of the C-melody. Bix enters over the second note in the second bar.

Hear an mp3 of this three times:



#4 LOUISE (Keys F, Eb)

Although there are no notes outside the compass of the C-melody here, this phrase from Tram’s solo is so much in the nature of a ‘noodling’ break on the alto, that I feel convinced it’s that horn he’s playing.


Hear an mp3 of this three times:


I have ‘begged the question’ a little by putting these examples in the alto key, and I would also freely confess that I’m not a ‘reading’ musician at all, just a ‘busker’, but I had to try and write these simple examples down somehow


N.B. (added June 2007) The distinguished musician Scott Robinson has kindly outlined another and more sure approach to this question. Rather than concentrate on the extremes of the saxophone compass, attention should be given to the ‘break’ between the registers of the saxophone. The sound of the sax. may change between the open C sharp at the top of the lower register, and the D at the bottom of the upper register. Even in the hands of a master player like Tram, there may be a perceptible change of tone – and this could well be emphasised on recordings where he is relatively close to the microphone. Because in that case, the sound will physically emerge from the top of the horn on the C sharp and bottom of the horn on the D. The microphone might emphasise this. As yet, I have done no work using Scott’s approach.