Eugene Coffin: The Making of a Nineteenth-Century Saxophonist

Eugene Coffin, one of the earliest saxophonists to make a phonograph recording, was originally a trombonist and bandsman. After switching to saxophone in his early forties, he fashioned his career in a way that contrasts that of other American saxophonists of the Gilded Age. Because bands in the Albany, New York, region did not yet employ saxophones, Coffin performed on the instrument as a soloist. He utilized an entrepreneurial approach like that of nineteenth-century female saxophone soloists by seeking freelance engagements in diverse venues. However, he diverged from the practices of either gender by pursuing employment in a non-musical field—the hotel trade—for his primary source of income. We argue that this hybrid approach enabled Coffin to sustain a viable career as a professional saxophonist outside the confines of the wind band in an era when performance opportunities were limited, and the instrument’s identity was still being established in the United States.Coffin’s 1895 Columbia recording of Sea Flower Polka is the oldest audible example of the saxophone available to modern listeners. For this alone he should be considered a noteworthy figure in the instrument’s early history. His use of tenor saxophone and extraordinary triple-tongue technique further adds to this historic recording’s significance. In their range of repertoire and musical styles, his Columbia cylinders exemplify the prevalence of popular music within the American musical landscape of the late nineteenth century.



Work Title Eugene Coffin: The Making of a Nineteenth-Century Saxophonist
Open Access
  1. Thomas W Smialek
  2. L A Logrande
License In Copyright (Rights Reserved)
Work Type Article
  1. The Saxophone Symposium
Publication Date December 16, 2020
Deposited October 10, 2022




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  • Added Creator Thomas W Smialek
  • Added Creator L A Logrande
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