Conventional wisdom says that the addition of electronics to the saxophone was a direct response to the encroaching popularity of rock guitar. It wasn’t long after the British Invasion changed the landscape of popular music, after all, that Selmer introduced the Varitone series of electronic pickup/effects units specially designed for woodwinds.
Eddie Harris became synonymous with the Varitone through a series of late-’60s funk-jazz crossover records, though a few bop holdovers like Sonny Stitt also experimented, with varying degrees of discomfort. Fusion opened the floodgates, driving saxophonists to plug in to adjust to the flood of manipulated sounds emanating from electric guitars and synthesizers. Wayne Shorter brought the Lyricon, an early electronic wind instrument, into Weather Report, while Michael Brecker used Varitone and EWI with the Brecker Brothers.