French saxophone maker beats Covid blues to hit the right note

After the financial blues of the Covid pandemic, the French saxophone maker favoured by American jazz greats celebrates its 100th birthday looking to expand further in Asia and the United States. 

French saxophone maker beats Covid blues to hit the right note
This file photo taken on January 17, 2018 shows a Saxophone just being assembled at the Selmer Saxophone factory in Mantes-la-Ville, outside Paris. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

Selmer experienced two difficult years after the pandemic began in 2020, the company’s executive chairman Thierry Oriez tells AFP. 

“The Covid crisis affected us together with our customers” because “the world of music stopped”, whether that meant shows or conservatory classes.  But now Oriez looks to the future, with sales brimming once more. 

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

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

While order books are full, Selmer, like many other companies, faces recruitment difficulties while Covid-19 continues to pose absenteeism problems. 

The company was founded by clarinet player Henri Selmer in 1885 but produced its first saxophone in 1922.  Selmer’s instruments have been played by jazz legends including John Coltrane, Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins. 

This file photo taken on January 17, 2018 shows an employee assembling a Saxophone at the Selmer Saxophone factory in Mantes-la-Ville, outside Paris. (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

‘Musical evolution’ 

The family business was sold in 2018 by its heirs to European private equity group Argos Soditec. A delivery subsidiary for Asia was established in 2020. 

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

The instruments are made at a factory in Mantes-La-Ville, just west of Paris.

The company also owns a laboratory that works with musicians to develop new models.  Finishing touches and assembly of Selmer’s Axos series, a new collection less expensive than the company’s other instruments, are completed in China.

An alto saxophone costs 3,150 euros ($3,430) while a tenor is worth 4,150 euros ($4,500).  Oriez says the new collection “allows us to be more aggressive in the Chinese market”. 

While the Mantes-La-Ville factory has motorised precision machinery to craft some of the 700 pieces that make up each instrument, a large part of the work is still carried out by hand. 

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

Engraver Morgane Duhamel spots an imperfection and adds by hand “a small engraving that will be personalised and will offer the customer a unique instrument”. 

Eric Bruel, who makes the saxophones’ horns by turning the brass tubes on a mandrel, said the search for new tones “has an influence on the treatment of the metal: the reheating temperature with the blowtorch, it will be more or less strong, more or less long”. 

“Selmer has always walked the line between modernity regarding tools and the other slightly Amish side: we still do the forging, the welding and polishing by hand,” Bruel said. 

“In almost 30 years at the company, I’ve seen many changes in tools, the families of instruments, the musical evolution with young saxophone players who do not necessarily have the same sounds as their elders,” he said. 

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Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Miss.Tic, whose provocative work began cropping up in the Montmartre neighbourhood of Paris in the mid-80s and made her a pioneer of French street art, died on Sunday aged 66, her family told AFP.

Paris street art legend Miss.Tic dies aged 66

Radhia Novat grew up in the narrow streets in the shadow of Sacre-Coeur basilica, the daughter of a Tunisian father and a mother from Normandy in western France, where she began stencilling sly and emancipatory slogans.

Her family said she had died of an unspecified illness.

Other French street artists paid tribute to her work.

On Twitter, street artist Christian Guemy, alias C215, hailed “one of the founders of stencil art”. The walls of the 13th arrondissement of Paris – where her images are a common sight – “will never be the same again”, he wrote.

Another colleague, “Jef Aerosol” said she had fought her final illness with courage, in a tribute posted on Instagram.

And France’s newly appointed Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malak, saluted her “iconic, resolutely feminist” work.

Miss.Tic’s work often included clever wordplays — almost always lost in translation — and a heroine with flowing black hair who resembled the artist herself. The images became fixtures on walls across the capital.

Miss. Tic with some examples of her work. Photo by Bertrand GUAY / AFP

“I had a background in street theatre, and I liked this idea of street art,” Miss.Tic said in a 2011 interview.

“At first I thought, ‘I’m going to write poems’. And then, ‘we need images’ with these poems. I started with self-portraits and then turned towards other women,” she said.

Miss.Tic also drew the attention of law enforcement over complaints of defacing public property, leading to an arrest in 1997.

But her works came to be shown in galleries in France and abroad, with some acquired by the Paris modern art fund of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, according to her website.

And cinema buffs will recognise her work on the poster for Claude Chabrol’s 2007 film “La fille coupee en deux” (“A Girl Cut in Two”).

For a spell she was a favourite of fashion brands such as Kenzo and Louis Vuitton.

“So often it’s not understood that you can be young and beautiful and have things to say,” she told AFP in 2011.

“But it’s true that they sell us what they want with beautiful women. So I thought, I’m going to use these women to sell them poetry.”

Her funeral, the date of which is still to be announced, will be open to the public, said her family.