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SML: More of the Story

By Fred Cicetti, May 1999

Since I wrote my first article about Strasser, Marigaux & Lemaire (SML) saxophones in 1997 and posted it on the two saxophone newsgroups, there have been some surprising developments.

Immediately after the article was posted, several website administrators asked if they could display it. I want to give special thanks to Harri Rautiainen, who gives the article featured treatment at his Sax on the Web site.

Since the article began running on the websites, I have been receiving about three e-mails a week from SML owners around the world. I save most of the messages in a massive file that is taking over my hard drive.

Because of the popularity of this topic among a small group of devotees, "Sax on the Web" now has a discussion group for all us SMLunatics. I hasten to add that Harri Rautiainen is one of us; he owns a killer tenor he bought in Helsinki.

I went to Paris last May on vacation and to visit friends who live just outside the city. Before I traveled there, I arranged a visit to the SML headquarters at 144-146 Boulevard de la Villette in Paris.

The company maintains a fairly mundane two-story building on a typically romantic Parisian street lined with shade trees. Most of the activity is on the second floor where Nicole Petitpierre, the receptionist and all-around clerk keeps the gate. In the back of the second floor is a repair shop where all you see are oboes.

If you own an SML sax and are in Paris, don't bother going to see this place. Nicole is very polite, friendly and as helpful as she can be. The rest of the SML family will ignore you unless you have a broken oboe under your arm.

SML doesn't make saxes anymore and they have no interest in helping you. I went there looking for more information, and got none. In fact, Nicole set up a meeting with the only expert on saxes in the place, and the guy stood me up. He knew I was coming from the U.S. and he just decided to take the day off. Please don't judge the French by this experience; everyone else I met in France was delightful.

The most important information that I wanted from SML was a list of serial numbers. SML owners everywhere are begging for this data. Well, we ain't gettin' it from the company. But I haven't given up. I'm going to conduct a survey, which is the subject of another posting to the newsgroups and "Sax on the Web".

I've also enlisted the help of Gary L. Ray, proprietor of Wichita Band Instrument Company. Gary gets to Europe regularly for business, which makes him an easy guy to hate. He knows the SML company and the whole incestuous woodwind clique in France. He's trying to get me more information.

Meanwhile, Gary found another SML catalog, which he mailed me. It contains the same information about the saxes that I included in the first article. However, the back page has a display under the headline: "Pros who know are switching to SML." There are photos and short bios of sax players, who, I'm presuming, were paid for endorsing the horns. The following is the text that ran under the photos:

Has appeared with Benny Goodman, Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and with his own group. Recently toured with Gene Krupa. He is lead tenor player with Woody Herman's new herd. Carmen plays on SML Gold Medal saxophones exclusively.

Outstanding Downbeat award winner. Well known jazz flutist and alto saxophone virtuoso. Formerly with Dizzy Gillespie. Now leading his own group. Recording artist on Atlantic label. Leo Wright plays on Louis Lot flutes and SML Gold Medal saxophones exclusively.
(Note: Louis Lot flutes were part of the SML family of instruments.)

Outstanding alto saxophonist. Recorded for Decca and Mercury. Played with Benny Goodman, Alvino Rey, Bobby Byrne, Shep Fields, Richard Himber. Plays on SML Paris saxophones exclusively.

ERNIE MAURO (Shown with Phil Silvers and Lehman Engel):
Outstanding saxophonist. Played "DO RE MI" on his SML Paris saxophone for Phil Silvers, star of the Broadway hit musical, while Lehman Engel, prominent music director of "DO RE MI" nods his approval. Ernie Mauro plays on SML saxophones exclusively.

All-time great saxophonist, recording artist. Former Benny Goodman lead alto man. Plays on SML Paris Gold Medal saxophones exclusively.

Outstanding arranger, composer, and saxophonist. Has appeared with the Tommy Dorsey Band 1944-1949. N.B.C. staff for six years. Victor, Decca, Columbia recording artist. Played with Skitch Henderson, Axel Stordahl, Hugo Winterhalter, Andre Kostelanetz. Sid plays the SML Tenor saxophone exclusively.

Formerly with Duke Ellington. House band leader at the Howard Theater, Washington, DC.
Plays on SML alto and tenor saxophones exclusively.

Well-known New York professional. Plays on SML alto and tenor saxophones exclusively.

When Gary sent me the catalog, he included a cover letter that has some added information that will interest bari players:

"In looking at the catalog before sending it off to you," Gary wrote, "I've remembered a bit about the SML baritones. I've only seen one, but I do believe they were made as stencils by Buffet. Note the key guard on the low B, Bb, C & Eb; they don't look like SML parts at all.

"During the 50s and 60s, Buffet actually did make a few stencil saxes for other companies. I've seen two 'F.A. Reynolds Professional Models' that are absolutely identical to the Super Dynaction Buffets of the same time. I believe SML bought baritones from Buffet and had them stamp the SML name and logo on the bell."

This is just a hypothesis. Morgan Witthoft, a Texan who owns three SML horns, sent me photos of key guards. The bari guards are different. However the left-pinky spatula keys on the bari are standard SML.

Of all the developments since the first article, the most astounding to me is the effect it seems to have had on the marketplace for SML saxes. The article got SML owners coming forward with testimonials about their horns. There's been a definite buzz about them. They are no longer "sleeper horns."

Recently, a fine SML tenor sold for more than $3,000 on Ebay. I've seen others advertised in the same price range at other saxophone websites. In fact, I saw one SML horn advertised in the same pricey category between two Selmer Mark VIs.

Fortunately for me, I got in under the wire when I bought my alto two years ago. Recently, I was lucky to find an uncommon all-nickel-plate tenor that I really wanted. Don't ask. Let's just say that, a year ago, I could have picked up a tenor for a lot less.

Last note for now. It seems that SML made far fewer sopranos than altos, tenors and baritones. There are some King Marigaux sopranos out there that were made for King by SML. However, SML sopranos seem to be quite rare.

Like a lot of SML owners, I want one of these sopranos. I have a 1927 Buescher that I love, but I know there's a better sop out there. I have an e-mail from a guy in Germany who heard a classical soprano player in France. He said the sax was an SML and it was the best sound he ever heard on any soprano.

The German guy went up to the player after the concert and asked him about the horn, and inquired whether the sax might be for sale. The player put the sax in its case, closed the top and walked away without saying a word.


.. ©1999-2005 Harri Rautiainen and respective authors
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Created: May 24, 1999.
Update: October 15, 2005.

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