From Bradley Strauchen-Scherer, Associate Curator in the Department of Musical Instruments:
Because of its prominence in jazz and pop music, the saxophone has become a cultural emblem of America. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton tapped into the instrument's widespread appeal and image of easygoing cool through his performances on The Arsenio Hall Show and MTV. Visitors to the Museum's Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation exhibition, on view through January 3, 2016, have the opportunity to see the most eye-catching saxophone associated with President Clinton, which has been generously loaned to the Met by the National Music Museum.
It started as a design idea back in December 1992, and in May 1994 that idea blossomed into an Oval Office presentation of the "Number One Bill Clinton" tenor saxophone to the instrument's presidential namesake.
Peter J. La Placa, president and CEO of the L.A. Sax Company, began production of the LA-42T Presidential Model saxophone in 1993. After reading the description of it in a February 1993 issue of Musical Merchandise Review, National Music Museum Associate Director and Senior Curator Margaret Banks initiated contact with La Placa to bring one of the limited-edition red-white-and-blue tenor saxophones to the National Music Museum, located on the campus of the University of South Dakota. Little did either person realize that the instrument that was to find a permanent home at the NMM would be the "Number One Bill Clinton" saxophone.
On May 16, 1994, La Placa and then–South Dakota Senator Larry Pressler, along with then–State Representative Tim Johnson and a vice president from the University of South Dakota, found themselves in the Oval Office. Johnson heard Clinton exclaim, "This is funky. I never thought I'd see a patriotic saxophone." What was to be a momentary visit in which President Clinton would accept the saxophone from La Placa, then turn it over to the state on behalf of the National Music Museum, ended up lasting nearly half an hour, with the president playing several jazz tunes on the instrument. Just when officials were getting nervous about Clinton's next appointment, the president turned the saxophone over to the South Dakota contingent. Clinton was said to have remarked, "That is the most beautiful saxophone I have ever seen."
As the first of a limited edition of 150 saxophones of the LA-42T Presidential Model, this presentation model was specifically designed to honor President Bill Clinton. The saxophone features lacquer on the brass keys and the interior of the instrument's bell. The exterior touts a baked-epoxy finish in metallic fire red, diamond metallic white, and reflex blue, artistically blended with a field of brilliant white stars throughout the bell flare. Touches are accented with mother-of-pearl inlays.
As a student, Clinton found music to be one of his favorite hobbies. He practiced every day, sometimes as many as four hours at a time. He loved jazz, played in his school's jazz ensemble, and won first chair in Arkansas's All-State Band. As a teenager, he even entertained the idea of pursuing music as a career. Later, as a presidential candidate, Clinton caused quite a stir when he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show playing his tenor sax. Indeed, it was that same appearance which prompted La Placa to design the Presidential Model.
Celebrating Sax: Instruments and Innovation, on view November 6, 2014–January 3, 2016