A sampling of jazz saxophone

For your listening pleasure, here’s a sample of jazz saxophone players in a variety of styles, in roughly chronological order.  Have a listen, and see who you want to listen to more as you define your own personal style!

The earliest jazz styles did not make heavy use of saxophones. If there were woodwinds in the band at all, it was more commonly clarinet. Sidney Bechet was a clarinet player in this era, and sometimes used a saxophone to project his sound and be heard through the brass players around him. This early New Orleans style of woodwind playing is characterized by simple melodies and heavy vibrato. Listen to Sidney play background behind the group at the beginning, and the soprano sax solo around the 2:15 mark.

During the Big Band era the role of the soloist was diminished, and the music focused on sections or the entire band. The style of the day still used very heavy vibrato. Listen to this Duke Ellington tune, with Johnny Hodges on lead alto. The saxophone section is featured around 2:35.

Lester Young played with the Count Basie Orchestra, Fletcher Henderson, and various other groups of the day. He’s known for a light, airy tone on tenor, and for holding his saxophone out to the side instead of in front.

Coleman Hawkins had a long career in jazz, and was more interested in the saxophone as a solo instrument rather than a background instrument.

Charlie Parker is one of the two most influential jazz saxophone players of all time! Parker started off in the same vein as Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins…

…but is most known for his bebop style. His solos feature many arpeggios and scales and are very tonal.

John Coltrane, along with Charlie Parker, are arguably the two most influential jazz saxophone players in history. Coltrane’s Giant Steps may be the best-known jazz saxophone piece of all time. His solo style is described as “sheets of sound” – a constant stream of notes with few rests.

Ornette Coleman was a pioneer in the Free Jazz movement. His music is frequently “outside the box” tonally, intentionally playing notes that don’t fit the chords in the way that listeners of earlier jazz styles would expect.

Julius “Cannonball” Adderley was at one time a school band teacher in Florida before becoming a professional musician.  He frequently worked with his brother Nat. His style is reminiscent of Charlie Parker.

Stan Getz made his name with the Woody Herman Big Band, but later became a solo artist.

Wayne Shorter was a leader in the Jazz Fusion movement of the 70s and onward that blended jazz with rock and other styles. He collaborated frequently with Herbie Hancock.

Bob Mintzer is known for funk music, latin jazz and smooth jazz, both as a soloist and with his Bob Mintzer Big Band. If you want to go straight to the music, skip forward to the 1:00 mark:

Michael Brecker is one of the most influential tenor saxophonists of the “modern” era – his most well-known recordings are from the late 80s – early 2000s. Brecker’s brother Randy is also well-known as a trumpeter. Michael Brecker has won several Grammy awards, both individually and as part of the Brecker Brothers group.

Chris Potter is a modern jazz saxophonist with a style that remembers the “old masters” of jazz playing.

Joshua Redman is not afraid to use unconventional techniques in his playing.

Jeff Coffin first stepped onto the world stage as saxophonist with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and joined the Dave Matthews Band in 2008 after the untimely demise of their original saxophonist LeRoi Moore. Coffin sometimes uses some unconventional sounds and techniques, including multiphonics, slap-tonguing and playing both alto and tenor saxophones at the same time. His own group of all-star musicians is named the Mu’tet, as Coffin believes music must mutate and evolve in order to survive in an ever-changing world.

This is list is by no means comprehensive – who did I leave out?

Listening assignment for the week of 2/3 – Lenny Pickett

This week’s listening assignment is the great Lenny Pickett!

Lenny Pickett is best known as the long-time saxophonist and musical director for the Saturday Night Live band.  Before joining SNL, Pickett was a member of the Tower of Power horn section.  He is an accomplished composer and recording artist who has appeared on over 100 albums.  In addition to his duties with Tower of Power, Pickett is a professor of Jazz Saxophone at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

The best known aspect of Lenny Pickett’s playing is his command of the altissimo register.  Altissimo notes are produced by manipulating overtones to produce notes that are outside of the typical range of a saxophone.  Listen to the Saturday Night Live theme to hear Pickett play notes from the entire range of the tenor sax!

Check back next week for another assignment!



Listening assignment for the week of 1/27

This week’s listening assignment is a standard piece of saxophone repertoire, Tableaux de Provence.  This piece was composed by Paule Maurice, and takes a musical tour through the Provence region of France.  Maurice dedicated the piece to her friend Marcel Mule, one of the first saxophone virtuosos, considered the founder of the French school of saxophone playing.

Here is the first movement of Tableaux de Provence.  Listen to the wide variations in dynamics (loudness) throughout the piece, and the precise way that the performer moves through the melodic lines.  The back-and-forth conversation between the piano and saxophone is very important in this first movement.  The performer is Claude DeLangle, one of the best classical saxophonists playing today.  He teaches at the National Superior Conservatory of Music in Paris, France.

The entire piece is 5 movements and approximately 15 minutes.  For this week we’ll focus on only the first movement.

Listening assignment for the week of 1/20

This week’s listening assignment is Blue Rondo a la Turk by the Dave Brubeck quartet!

Blue Rondo a la Turk features a 9/8 melody, alternating with a more standard 4/4 swing section.  Listen for the repeated rhythm that bounces across all of the instruments, and the saxophone solo by Paul Desmond.

Paul Desmond has a great sound, and I really like how his articulation is so clean and light in staccato sections.  With saxophone it’s very easy for staccato articulations to be heavy and harsh, something we must work hard to avoid.

Take a listen and tell me what you think!