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
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)
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’:
Just one year ago -still controversy surrounds his life and death…
Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a talented and creative artist and one, through the media channels and marketing of the time, was able to communicate to a huge global audience.
As a black artist he was also subjected to the racial bias and prejudice of the time and in his early years had to fight his corner (such as the attitudes of MTV). However his journey was made easier by being able to walk the paths that had already been cut by black musicians during the previous 50 years. This is one more debt that he owed.
We need to put his story into historical perspective and understand how other black musicians had put their careers and even their lives in jeopardy while fighting for basic rights as musicians and as human beings.
Music and other creative arts have always been used for people to express themselves and with African-Americans in particular the use of these media have not only been used to express their plight and discrimination but also as a way of describing their own personal identity.
Starting with American enslavement, captured African slaves and their American descendants created work songs, spirituals, gospels, ragtime, jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, and contemporary rap and hip-hop .
Even the different forms of jazz (Dixieland, Swing, Bebop, Avant-garde, and Free Jazz) represent Black people’s struggle to determine a narrative about their existence in the world. Black music can be seen as a way of looking at the world, in the face of white supremacy and anti-Black racism. Jazz has always been creative, innovative, improvisational and often political.
Let’ start with Paul Robeson, a true giant in many fields and who ‘ paid with his career for his principles’. Paul Robeson was a truly creative man. He was a singer, an actor, a national football player and a lawyer. Robeson achieved worldwide fame and recognition during his life for his artistic accomplishments, and his outspoken, radical beliefs which largely clashed with the colonial powers of Western Europe and the Jim Crow climate of pre-civil rights America. Robeson was a forerunner in the Civil Rights movement, a leader in the labor movement and a crusader in the anti-lynching movement. Because of his anti-colonialist sentiments, Robeson was investigated by both the CIA and the FBI.
“All that Paul Robeson stood for had enormous impact on American and global history. The combination of his art, intellect and humanity was rarely paralleled. The cruelties visited upon him by the power of the State stands as a great blemish on the pages of American history. But despite the attempt to wipe him from memory, he has endured and continues to influence. It speaks to our most strategic interests that African American children be instructed about the truth of his existence. Indeed it would be in the best interest of all Americans to know what this great patriot offered this nation.” –Harry Belafonte, April 9, 2008, on the occasion of Paul Robeson’s ‘110th’ Birthday
Billie Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan Gough; April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was the daughter of Clarence Holiday. Her father abandoned the family early and refused to acknowledge his daughter until after her first success.Billie Holiday incorporated the song “Strange Fruit” into her set list in 1939. Adapted from a poem, by a New York high school teacher, “Strange Fruit” was inspired by the 1930 lynching of two black men, Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith. It juxtaposes the horrid image of bodies hanging from trees with an description of the idyllic South. Holiday delivered the song night after night, often overwhelmed by emotion, causing it to become an anthem of early civil rights movements.
Lyrics to “Strange Fruit:”
Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
On November 10, 1956, she performed before a packed audience at Carnegie Hall, a major accomplishment for any artist, especially a black artist of the segregated period of American history. She died in 1959 , with only$0.70 in the bank after she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings.
Many blues musicians suffered from racist attitudes and often sung about them as way of direct expression of their feelings as well as to raise awareness. This is from one of J.B.Lenoir’s songs:
I never will go back to Alabama, that is not the place for me (2x)
You know they killed my sister and my brother,
And the whole world let them peoples go down there free.
From “Alabama Blues”
J. B. Lenoir (March 5, 1929 – April 29, 1967) was an African-American blues guitarist and singer/songwriter ,popular in the 1950s and 1960s.
Mayfield is remembered for his introduction of social consciousness into R&B and for pioneering the funk style. Many of his recordings with the Impressions became anthems of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and his most famous album, Super Fly, is regarded as an all-time great that influenced many and truly invented a new style of modern black music (#69 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest albums).
Many in the black community felt that Brown was speaking out to them more than some major leaders in the country, a sentiment that was strengthened with the release of his groundbreaking landmark single, “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud“.
Brown continued performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations including Jesse Jackson‘s PUSH and The Black Panther Party‘s Breakfast program throughout the early-1970s. Brown also continued to release socially-conscious singles such as “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” (1969), “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” (1971), “Talking Loud and Saying Nothing” (1972), “King Heroin” (1974), “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” (1974) and “Reality” (1975).
Like Michael Jackson he had several personal problems that certainly did not make him a saint, but he did leave a legacy that deserves to be recognized.
Charles Mingus was known for being angry and outspoken on the bandstand. That’s why, in response to the 1957 Little Rock Nine incident in Arkansas, when Governor Orval Faubus used the National Guard to prevent black students from entering a newly desegregated public high school.
Mingus displayed his outrage at the event by composing a piece entitled “Fables of Faubus.” The lyrics, which he penned as well, offer some of the most blatant and harshest critiques of Jim Crow attitudes in all of jazz activism.
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em shoot us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em stab us!
Oh, Lord, don’t let ’em tar and feather us!
Oh, Lord, no more swastikas!
Oh, Lord, no more Ku Klux Klan!
Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Danny.
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won’t permit integrated schools.
Then he’s a fool! Oh Boo!
Boo! Nazi Fascist supremacists
Boo! Ku Klux Klan (with your Jim Crow plan)
Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
“Fables of Faubus” originally appeared on Mingus Ah Um (1959), although Columbia Records found the lyrics so incendiary that they refused to allow them to be recorded. In 1960, however, Mingus recorded the song for Candid Records, lyrics and all, on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus
Odetta Holmes, (December 31, 1930 – December 2, 2008), known as Odetta, was an American singer, actress, guitarist, songwriter, and a human rights activist, often referred to as “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement”.
Roach also led his own groups, and made numerous musical statements relating to the civil rights movement of African-Americans. His famous composition”Freedom Now Suite” used a photo of black students at a whites-only lunch counter in the South on the album cover.
In African countries there have been many black musicians who have had to fight racism , prejudice and discrimination.
Since 1954, Masekela played music that closely reflected his life experience. The agony, conflict, and exploitation South Africa faced during 1950’s and 1960’s, inspired and influenced him to make music. He was an artist who in his music vividly portrayed the struggles and sorrows, as well as the joys and passions of his country. His music protested about apartheid, slavery, government; the hardships individuals were living. Masekela reached a large population of people that also felt oppressed due to the country’s situation.
Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 10 November 2008) was a South African singer and civil rights activist. The Grammy Award winning artist is often referred to as Mama Afrika.
Fela Anikulapo Kuti (15 October, 1938 – 2 August, 1997), or simply Fela, was a Nigerian multi-instrumentalist musician and composer, pioneer of afrobeat music, human rightsactivist. HMV ranked him #46 on a list of the top-100 most influential musicians of the 20th century.
Not to forget the many other artists who had to make their way against the odds –
Duke Ellington 1943
In a 1944 New Yorker profile of Duke Ellington, Richard Boyer told of a white St. Louis policeman enthusiastically greeting Duke Ellington after a performance, saying: “If you’d been a white man, Duke, you’d have been a great musician.”
“Once the whites who played it and the listeners who loved it began to balk at the limitations imposed by segregation, jazz became a futuristic social force in which one was finally judged purely on the basis of one’s individual ability. Jazz predicted the civil rights movement more than any other art in America.” (Stanley Crouch)
For the last 20 or so years early years education specialists and parents have been interested in the link between music and brain development (e.g. Baby Mozart/Baby Einstein). From Baby Mozart -“Your child’s brain will grow and develop more in the first three years of life than at any other time, and you can help to nurture that growth and development in many important ways”.
As has been said, it may not work but it cannot do any harm, listening to Mozart while watching moving images, while gurgling!
Now that new technology has enabled more information to be collected while children and adults are performing certain operations, such as reading, listening, watching, then we are really on the threshold of a breakthrough, not only in terms of learning about learning but on understanding creativity itself.
Take a look at some research undertaken by some medical specialists one of whom plays jazz:
“The thing I love about jazz is that in many ways it’s so unscientific,” says Limb. “You know, when you listen to jazz, what you realize is that these musicians, they really live by breaking the rules, by sort of rejecting excessive control over what they’re going to do. And I think for a scientist who sort of thrives on controlling variables and really having a clear sense of order in all things, the freedom that really characterizes jazz, it’s an unusual mix.”
That mix came front and center when Limb decided he wanted to use science to study jazz. In particular, he was interested in the neurological basis of improvisation.
“The mental state, the creative state that you’re in when you’re improvising is entirely different than when you’re playing something that you’ve learned by memory,” he says. “As a jazz musician for most of my life, I’ve always wondered what takes place inside my head when I’m actually improvising something.”
So Limb teamed up with Dr. Allen Braun, his colleague (at the time) at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). They developed a special keyboard that, with the help of a series of mirrors, could be played by someone inside a functional MRI machine.
imb and Braun wanted to see if different areas of the brain are active when musicians take different approaches to playing.
So they recruited six professional piano players who were jazz artists, and had them play inside the MRI under two different schemes:
Low Complexity: The musicians played a simple c-major scale, “something that they’d played thousands of times,” says Limb. Then they improvised to a c-major scale.
High Complexity: The musicians performed a short piece of previously memorized music that Limb composed for the study (called Magnetism, get it?), as a recording of a jazz quartet played in the background. Then they improvised along with the recording.
When Limb and Braun looked at the brain scans, the same thing stood out for both the high and low complexity schemes.
“Improvisation was associated with this very, very similar brain response, independent of level of complexity,” says Limb. “So the really key part of our paper is that improvisation, the unique state in which you’re spontaneously generating new ideas and playing them musically, has a kind of characteristic, signature neural state which we’re looking at when we do these functional scans. We think we really honed in on what is going on in the brain during improvisation.”
eddie harris saxophone
And what’s going on is… nothing (sort of).
Limb says the most interesting thing was that one area went largely silent when the musicians switched to improvisation. That area, a part of the prefrontal cortex, is known for helping us monitor our behavior and performance.
“This is a broad expanse of brain that basically shut down during improvisation.,” says Limb, adding, “One of the things it’s closely involved in is in self-monitoring, and sort of conscious evaluation of what you’re doing. So for example, to judge the appropriateness or correctness of your behavior, this area would be active.”
And Limb says for jazz improv, that makes sense.
“What you want is to just generate ideas, and you don’t really want to worry too much about whether they sounded right,” he says. “You don’t want to be too inhibited by that. And I think that these musicians are so proficient that they’re able to enter this creative state where they’re essentially uninhibited rather easily.”
For any amateur musicians out there hoping this might lead to some kind of jazz pill, that’s not in the cards. But Limb says it’s a unique look into the physiology of creativity, and he thinks the findings probably apply to other spontaneous artistic creations, such as painting or poetry.
Monk-Coltrane from "monkzone"
He’s also been asked whether using an MRI to study an art form takes away from the mystique with which it’s typically regarded.
“Although there’s a tendency to want to very much romanticize artistic creation, kind of put it on the level of magic or something mystical– while there may be mystical and magical aspects to it, they are products of brain function,” Limb says. “And without making that sound mundane, I think that what we’ve done is try to address the fact that, well, it might be ordinary processes within the brain that are giving rise to these extraordinary musical achievements. To me it makes it in a way more appealing than to just leave it in the kind of abstract realm of something mystical.”
Limb adds, “And on the other hand, I think music is so mathematical that when we start to put all these things together– you know the logic and structure of music, the freedom of jazz– and combine that with the fact that they’re all really products of the human brain, there is sort of a logical correlation that, well, if it’s a product of the brain, we should use tools to study the brain to assess something, even something that’s as seemingly random as jazz.”
The study, published in the February 27 issue of PLoS ONE, was funded by the NIDCD.
When jazz musicians improvise, they often play with eyes closed in a distinctive, personal style that transcends traditional rules of melody and rhythm,” says Charles J. Limb, M.D.,
On a serious note…. ….many children do not have the luxury of listening to Mozart and are lucky to survive due to lack of water, poor nutrition and stimulation, and sometimes abuse.
Concerning all children, in the late 1990s and early years of the 21st century, there was substantial new research published to show that: “The years 0-3 are critical in the formation of intelligence, personality and social behavior, and the effects of neglect are cumulative;” and “Brain development before the age of one year is more rapid and intense than previously realized – the brain nearly triples in size within the first year of life, and the brain is much more vulnerable to environmental influences than suspected, including nutrition, but also the quality of interaction, care and stimulation .”Importance of Early Intervention
In the 1970s disability specialists began to recognize that early intervention could arrest and diminish the effects of disability in children, whether involving intense stimulation with developmentally delayed children, targeted exercises and therapy with physically disabled children, orientation and mobility work with blind children or early introduction of sign language with deaf children.
(RI/UNICEF One in Ten on Early Intervention, Volume 20/1999).