As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite artists is Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He’s even influenced the instrument choices I’ve made. Two of his signature instruments were the manzello and the stritch. He claimed they were 19th century precursors of present day saxophones, but in truth they were about 30 years old when he started playing them!
When I was in high school, I badly wanted to own a stritch. What’s a stritch? Well, that’s Rahsaan’s name for the straight alto sax that was made by Buescher in the 1920s. I’ve yet to see a satisfactory explanation for the name, but if you look at it, the horn looks like an ostrich’s neck. My own theory is that ‘stritch’ is a contraction and variation on ostrich. Mine is made by Keilwerth (see profile photo). They recently stopped production on them, but you can still see them occasionally offered for sale on eBay. Currently, LA Sax also makes a straight alto, but they’re not as good as a Keilwerth (an uncompensated endorsement!).
The saxello was a soprano sax variation by King, again from the 1920s, that featured a curved neck and a bell that went out 90 degrees from the body. Rahsaan’s ‘manzello’ was a saxello with the original bell cut off and replaced by a larger one (it looks like it’s from an alto horn). He kept the original saxello bell and attached it to his siren whistle.
I came across what I eventually found out to be a Lyon and Healy semi-curved soprano sax (also known as a Lyon and Healy Perfect Curved Soprano Sax). It was an attempt to rip off the saxello design and was actually made by Martin in the late 1920s. The picture of me playing it was taken in 1985. Several years after that, I received a birthday notecard that featured the picture of Rahsaan playing his manzello. It was a rather freaky coincidence to see a card that so closely resembled my photo!