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In Brussels, it’s Sax and the city

On Adolphe Sax’s birthday, Nov. 6, townspeople will gather with their saxophones in the town square for music and partying.
On Adolphe Sax’s birthday, Nov. 6, townspeople will gather with their saxophones in the town square for music and partying. Belgian Tourist Office

Belgium’s capital, Brussels — renowned for its chocolate, beer, and diplomacy — is also home of the Musical Instruments Museum, the largest of its kind in the world.

The museum is the perfect setting for Sax200, a celebration of the 200th year of the birth of Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), inventor of the saxophone.

A total of 1,200 musical instruments are on display within a splendid Art Nouveau building. This year, pianos, harpsichords, harps, and organs have made way for saxophones, sousaphones, and other instruments that chronicle the life and works of the great Belgian. Sax invented an entirely new series of instruments.

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The museum, known locally as the MIM, is crowned by a restaurant with panoramic views of Brussels.

Using headphones, visitors can listen to fragments of sounds from an array of instruments ranging from silky and lustrous to low down blues, demonstrating the versatility and depth of the saxophone family of horns.

Entering the exhibit, one is struck by a huge poster of Bill Clinton playing the saxophone during his 1992 presidential campaign.

The famous composer Georges Bizet was an early supporter of Sax. He said: “Only the saxophone could produce a sound imbued with tenderness and delicate and contained passion.”

But the instrument was destined for even greater things. It played a pivotal role in the development of America’s Golden Age of Jazz. There are immense photo collages of Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Coleman Hawkins, and other jazz greats whose gritty yet elegant tones contrast with Claude Debussy’s silvery Concerto for Saxophone.

Starting in 1918 when the jazz craze hit Europe, the sax went through many transformations, and now reigns supreme in the jazz world. It is used routinely in military and marching bands in the United States.

Dinart, three hours south of the capital and the birthplace of Sax, is pulling out all the stops to showcase the genius of their favorite son.

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Two rows of 28 colorful giant saxophones reflecting countries of the European Union dominate the bridge crossing the Meuse River in town. Called Art on Sax, the 15-foot high structures are the product of a graphic art competition in 2010 that combines music and art.

Walking tours take in favorite Sax hangouts and jazz clubs. Wall-size cartoons and comic strips of Sax, and the Sax Interpretive Center at 37 Rue Sax where visitors can listen to sound effects and musical samplings, are on the tours.

Concerts by the Royal Band of the Belgian Air Force as well as itinerant musicians will fill the town during the next few months. On Sax’s birthday, Nov. 6, townspeople will gather with their saxophones in the town square for music and partying.

Founded in 1990, the International Adolphe Sax Association promotes the saxophone in all aspects and sponsors the International Saxophone Competition every four years. The 2014 event will be held Oct. 25 to Nov. 11. Visit www.visitbelgium.com .


Marci DeWolf can be reached at travelnewsmd@gmail.com.