After the Covid blues, the French saxophonist finds the right note

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Mantes-la-Ville (France) (AFP) – After the financial blues of the Covid pandemic, the French saxophonist acclaimed by the greats of American jazz is celebrating his 100th birthday and is seeking to develop further in Asia and the United States.

Selmer had two difficult years after the start of the pandemic in 2020, the company’s executive chairman, Thierry Oriez, told AFP.

“The Covid crisis has affected us with our customers” because “the world of music has stopped”, whether it is shows or conservatory lessons.

But now, Oriez is looking ahead, with overflowing sales once again.

“(I’m) confident we could do more in the United States.”

Around 90% of sales are international, with China accounting for a fifth ahead of Japan, South Korea and the United States. The company did not provide any revenue figures.

While order books are full, Selmer, like many other companies, is facing recruitment difficulties as the Covid-19 continues to pose problems with absenteeism.

The company was founded by clarinetist Henri Selmer in 1885 but produced its first saxophone in 1922.

Selmer’s instruments have been played by jazz legends such as John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins.

“Musical Evolution”

The family business was sold in 2018 by his heirs to the European private equity group Argos Soditic, which became Argos Wityu. A delivery subsidiary for Asia was created in 2020.

Oriez took over the business in July from Jérôme Selmer, great-grandson of Henri Selmer.

The instruments are made in a factory in Mantes-La-Ville, just west of Paris. The company also has a laboratory that works with musicians to develop new models.

The United States is only the company’s fourth largest market behind China, which alone is worth 20%, Japan and South Korea. ALAIN JOCARD AFP/File

Selmer’s Axos series, a new collection cheaper than the company’s other instruments, is finished and assembled in China. An alto saxophone costs 3,150 euros ($3,430) while a tenor costs 4,150 euros ($4,500).

Oriez says the new collection “allows us to be more aggressive in the Chinese market.”

Although the Mantes-La-Ville factory has motorized precision machines to shape some of the 700 parts that make up each instrument, a large part of the work is still done by hand.

Craftsmen cut sheets of brass, use torches to bend them into shape, mount the keys on the tube, polish the instrument and engrave the Selmer logo on it.

The engraver Morgane Duhamel spots an imperfection and adds by hand “a small engraving which will be personalized and will offer the customer a unique instrument”.

Eric Bruel, who manufactures the saxophones of the saxophones by turning the brass tubes on a mandrel, specifies that the search for new sounds “has an influence on the treatment of the metal: the temperature of heating with the blowtorch, it will be more or less strong, more or less time”.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine did not
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has ‘no direct consequences’ for Selmer, as the company had no presence in either country ALAIN JOCARD AFP/File

“Selmer has always oscillated between the modernity of tooling and the other, somewhat Amish side: we still do the forging, welding and polishing by hand,” Bruel said.

“In almost 30 years in the company, I have seen a lot of changes in the tools, the families of instruments, the musical evolution with young saxophonists who do not necessarily have the same sounds as their elders”, has he declared.

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