Saxophone – what makes a player “great” – innovation, improvisation, inspiration!


I was mentioning to Mic that I was thinking of writing a post about great saxophone players. He immediately responded by saying -but what makes them great? I may not have thought enough about it but I started to try to sound knowledgeable. Well firstly, the instrument will make a difference to the sound, as well as the mouthpiece, type of reed and the player’s embouchure. Of course the technical mastery of the instrument including the ability to play in a range of keys both major and minor and various modes. The other players in a band will also make a difference -whether the percussionist drives the rhythm etc. However after all that is taken into consideration there are still other criteria, such as  – innovation, improvisation and feeling   as well as just pure unique ability and sometimes a touch of genius.

This post is just a taster of some of the great saxophone players…please comment if you have other suggested ‘greats’..

Coleman Hawkins (Prez)

Charlie 'Bird' Parker

Lester Young

A good start  –  viewing and listening to some greats is the following clip, Bird, Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins

The Bird in good spirits

some more rare footage of Bird, this time with Dizzie

Coleman Hawkins -Indian Summer

Colemand Hawkins -Quintet South of France Blues

Coleman Hawkins – Stoned – live 1962

What better way to introduce John Coltrane with ‘So what’ with Miles Davis -1959

Miles and Trane

The Trane playing soprano sax…

defining a players style….   Tenor saxophonist, Coltrane is known for his huge dark tone with clear definition and body. He made the high registers look like child’s play and was known for his split-note multi-phonics. There is no denying his skill as demonstrated in the virtuoso performance of his difficult “Giant Steps”. Giant Steps is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition.

Giant Steps -John Coltrane

Now try the Trane playing with Stan Getz -such different styles (live in Dusseldorf)

Stan Getz

Stan Getz

This consummate musician had an amazing technique and could play anything on saxophone. As one musician said, it’s as though the saxophone was a direct extension of his heart. (quoted from the – saxophone.com)

Vintage film of Count Basie orchestra featuring Lester Young (1938)

Lester Young and Billie Holiday

So who else should we include in the ‘Greats’:

Zoot Sims

Eric Dolphy

Dexter Gordon
Art Pepper

Pharoah Sanders
Paul Desmond
Wayne Shorter
Sonny Rollins
Benny Carter
Stanley Turrentine

any others?

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~ by Ray Harris on December 10, 2011.

2 Responses to “Saxophone – what makes a player “great” – innovation, improvisation, inspiration!”

  1. Fantástico…

  2. BIG MERCI

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