History Notes #07: Last Super Sax

History Notes #07 : Last Super Sax
Today, Douglas Pipher examines the history of rare and little-known instruments: the Dorsey model, and a number of Radio Improved instruments made several years after the Balanced Action was released.

We're going to talk today about the very last two iterations of the Selmer super sax series. The first one was a number of Radio Improved instruments that were built well into Balanced Action production. I call these the late Radio Improved. The second is probably the most iconic niche product SELMER made, known as the Dorsey.

So let's start with the late Radio Improved. By the mid twenty thousand serial number, the Balanced Action was in full production. In the twenty one thousand series, a batch of Radio Improved was built. In the twenty two thousand series, another one was built, and in the twenty four thousand series, a further one was built. So what would be the reason for this? Well, clearly somebody wanted them. Maybe a customer had come and said: I need some, I'd like them. They were built in very low quantities. So for the collectors out there who would like to buy a Radio Improved saxophone stamped Radio Improved with the Bell keys on the left, that has a serial number between 21 000 and 24 000, there's only about 80 of them in existence.

The second one, the Dorsey model, is surrounded by so much mythology, it's very difficult to determine what is true and what is story. But what we do know is that a famous bandleader, Jimmy Dorsey, requested and played a Dorsey saxophone, a Henri SELMER Paris Dorsey model. It was never called the Dorsey model, it simply became identified with him, so it has become known as that. It is known that he and his entire sax section played Dorsey models.

There is exactly one example of the Dorseys made in the 25 000 serial range that is in a store in the US, and then most of them, built in 1939, are from the 27 000 and 28 000 serial number. Now how can we tell these? Well first they have the Bell keys on the left side like a Radio Improved but they do not have the words Radio Improved stamped on the bell. So if you see a later one and it says Radio Improved, it's a late Radio, not a Dorsey. The other identifying factor is there is a modification on the removable pant guard on the back. They took the double bell key guard and welded it to this triangular guar ; it provides a very unique look to the instrument. Also, the Dorsey models featured a lot of Balanced Action key work, now that makes sense because we're six years away from the end of the Radio Improved production.

Most people in North America, particularly musicians and fans of jazz history, would know who Jimmy Dorsey is. But in other markets, perhaps you don't. There were two famous brothers, Tommy Dorsey, a trombone player, and Jimmy Dorsey, a saxophone player. In their early days, they performed together. But later they split up and they each had a big band, two of the most famous big bands of the late thirties.


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