The saxophone is a woodwind instrument invented by Adolphe Sax in the 1840s. Although intended to be an instrument for adoption by traditional Western orchestras, the saxophone is best known for its significance in Jazz music that was pioneered by African American musicians starting in the early 20th Century. The saxophone quickly became a staple in the Jazz world because of its expressive flexibility. When wielded by a skilled player, the saxophone can express a huge range of musical and emotional tones.
As a result, some of the most legendary Jazz musicians of the 20th Century were saxophone players. Here is a quick rundown of the best jazz saxophonists to ever put a reed to their mouth.
The music of Charlie Parker is not to everybody’s tastes. Often extremely dense and complex, the sheer amount of ideas can be bewildering. Once you take a deep dive, however, Parker’s music is addictive. Parker was partially responsible for inventing and codifying the bebop musical style. His best years were between 1945 and 1948 – during which he composed some of the most notable first wave bebop songs.
John Coltrane created one of the most enduring jazz albums of all time: A Love Supreme. The album is seen by many to be the pinnacle of expressive, sax-led jazz. Coltrane squeezed every drop of emotion and lyricism out of his instrument. A dizzying combination of hard bop and modal jazz, the album was considered a classic from the moment it was released in 1965.
A Love Supreme’ has undoubtedly been the inspiration for many young people to pick up the sax. If you want to get started, then contact a teacher through a nearby jazz club or check out this new online saxophone lesson platform. The playing on A Love Supreme is immensely complex, but this complexity is balanced out by an inherent soulfulness to the composition. It takes a special kind of composer to imbue complexity with a universal emotional resonance. Coltrane certainly was special.
Ornette Coleman is quite rightly considered to be a great musician and composer. In the 1960s, he rewrote the language of jazz – taking a cavalier attitude towards harmony that created fabulous and moody atmospheres. As a composer, Ornette rejected overt formality and embraced spontaneous collaboration. He frequently collaborated with musicians and artists that were considered distant to his scene. Coleman was also a politically active musician. He was incensed by the institutional racism that meant black artists were often the pawns of white concert promoters or record label executives and led the way in demanding fair pay.
Sonny Rollins was still playing the saxophone until 2012 when he was unfortunately afflicted with a rare lung disease. The saxophone of one of the world’s greatest players and composers had been silenced. Sonny rose to fame in the 1950s with his big, robust sax melodies. He grew into arguably the best sax improviser in the world.