An Englishman called Ben Davis was demobbed
from the British Army in 1919, after the First World War, just when
Dixieland jazz and dance music was becoming popular in the UK. being
fascinated by the new sounds, Ben taught himself to play the saxaphone.
He played with many of the big bands in the country, and finally
formed his own.
Ben was a man of considerable drive and
ambition,seeing further potential on the business side of the music
Instustry and following a meeting with Henri Selmer in 1928, Ben
established the Selmer Company in London, at No 12 Moor Street . The
first premises were soon outgrown by 1933, when the business was moved
to 114-116, Charing Cross Rd.in the Centre of London which was there
head Office and Showroom until the 70’s.The company’s greatest period of
expansion was from 1934 to the start of World War II in 1939. By then
Selmer was the biggest company in the British musical instrument
industry. After the war, Ben’s brother Lew Davis, who was a professional
trombonist, joined the company. They opened another shop in Charring
Cross Road run by Lew Davis specializing in Brass and woodwind
The Selmer company remained and
established its sucessful business at the Charring Cross Road address
which was in the centre of London untill the early 70’s.
Selmer London were major importers of
Brass and wind instruments. Apart from being the exclusive UK
Distributor for Selmer Paris , they had there
own brand names, which were very successful .Such Student Lines as
,Console and Sterling Clarinets,Flutes and Oboes, Gold Seal Flutes
.”Karl Meyer “and “Pennsylvania Student Saxophones” followed later by
the “Super Pennsylvania ” which was made by Yanagisawa in Japan and was
marketed as a step up horn.
During the 60’s Selmer went into manufacturing amplification and
importing famous names such as Hofner, Gibson, Fender Guitars and
distributing their own brands like the “Futurama” guitar made in the
Czech Republic,all with great success. In the early 60’s Selmer were the
main agents for the US made Lowry organs.
In 1972 Selmer moved their operation to Woolpack Lane in Braintree
Essex. I remember at the time the Selmer Mk6 production had ceased and
my patrtner L:aurie Naiff and I bought the remaining stocks they had in
their warehouse a total of 45 saxes some in silver some in two tone,
some F# keys,some had low A bells. When the Mark VII’s eventually became
available in London ,they were a hard to sell product. The main
complaint was the the left hand little finger cluster, it seemed that
the instrument was designed for a Gorrila ,compared with the comfortable
Six. In 1974 I was at a trade show in Chicago and flew into New York for
the Newport Jazz Festival, I got very friendly with the horn players in
the Gillespie Band who were appearing at the Buddy Rich club,we met
every night before the show for a drink, then I would have a meal and
watch the the Band for the rest of the night. I mentioned that I had
Mark VII alto’s and Tenor’s in my Take Five London store they were eager
to see them ,so I flew them over for them to give them a try.They were
not impressed ,in the end I sold them to Rod Baltimore on 48th Street.
Rod thought they were great instruments.
At that time in Rod’s store he had one of these Yanagisawa Soprano
Saxophones , in London we had never heard of them. At the time they were
very popular with the American pro players. I had a closer look at one
and reconised it as the “Selmer Super Pennsylvania” that we were selling
back in London as a step up instrument from the Selmer “Karl Meyer” and
the Selmer “Pennsylvania “saxes. The same sax was also turning up with
different names from places like South Africa.
During this time (1974) the new Mk7 was being introduced into the UK ,
they were only producing Alto’s and Tenor’s which the Soprano market was
left open. This was a major coup for Yanagisawa being able to market
under their own name and put them their name on the map.
During this same period a very similar
situation help Yamaha .The Selmer Mk7 not being that easily accepted by
the profession ( mainly for the Gorrila like fingering) left the market
open in the UK in which Yamaha took advantage and got in with their
model 62 thanks to the expertise of Bill Lewington the Yamaha importer
at the time.
Selmer London was evetually sold to
Norlin USA in the 80’s
Ben Davis retired to the south of France
and lived well into his late nineties . In the UK he left a great legacy
and a hard act to follow.
HENRI SELMER COMPANY UK