This week we take a look at the evolution of the low end of the saxes, the baritone and tenors. These players have defined recordings, performances, sounds, and styles with their rhythmic sensibilities, tonal innovations, and harmonic compositions. Take a look as we go down the line.

Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)
(Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Django Reinhart, Benny Carter…)

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Hawkins is credited as bringing the tenor saxophone to jazz music. He was most prominent in the swing, big band, and bebop eras.

Ben Webster (1909-1973)
(Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henerson, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter…)

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Webster was known as one of the “swing tenors;” essentially the most important tenor saxophonists to come out of the swing era.

Lester Young (1909-1959)
(Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Nat “King” Cole, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis…)

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Lester Young was a pioneer of the instrument harmonically. His stylings were the basis of inspiration for a lot of musicians after him.

Paul Gonsalves (1920-1974)
(Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington…)

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Paul’s solo on this song at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival famously included 27 choruses. The performance was said to revive Duke Ellington’s popularity at the time.

Harry Carney (1910-1974)
(Duke Ellington)

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Known to stop people in their tracks with his melodic solos, Carney was iconically Duke Ellington’s Bari Sax star.

Dexter Gordon (1923-1990)
(Lionel Hampton, Freddie Hubbard, Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw…)

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Dexter Gordon is known for translating the bebop style onto the tenor sax. From 1945 onwards, he released countless iconic records both on his own name and as a sideman.

Pepper Adams (1930-1986)
(Donald Byrd, Charles Mingus, Elvin Jones, Thad Jones…)

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Had a big, cutting tone with a driving sense of rhythm leading to him being nicknamed the “Knife.”

Sonny Rollins (1930-)
(Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Louis Jordan, Max Roach…)

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Sonny Rollins remains one of the most influential saxophonists having both played on numerous historic recordings and performances as well as composing some of the jazz standards. He linked bebop to hard bob.

Wayne Shorter (1933-)
(Miles Davis, Weather Report, Art Blakey, Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan, Joni Mitchell…)

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Wayne Shorter has been a virtuosic voice in recordings with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Weather Report, and so many others.

Jimmy Heath (1926-)
(Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Kenny Dorham…)

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Famed as a performer, composer, arranger, and educator, Heath first made his mark on alto becoming known as “Little Bird” before switching to tenor and branching out.

Warne Marsh (1927-1987)
(Bill Evans, Lee Konitz, Jon Larsen…)

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A mainstay of the Cool Jazz era, Marsh exemplified the subtleties in his improvisation and playing styles.

Stan Getz (1927-1991)
(Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Horace Silver, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown…)

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Getz popularized the bossanova sound with American crowds.

Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996)
(Fats Waller, Gene Krupa, Gil Evans, Chet Baker, Miles Davis…)

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Mulligan commanded attention through his multi-instrumental talents including Bari Sax, piano, clarinet, and several other instruments.

John Coltrane (1926-1967)
(Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Pharoah Sanders, Freddie Hubbard, Duke Ellington…)

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Trane is simply the most influential tenor saxophonist of all time as well as one of the most influential musicians of all time. His tone, composition, and use of techniques such as mulit-tonic systems and the “Coltrane changes” have cemented his legacy.

Joe Henderson (1937-2001)
(Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Freddie Hubbard…)

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Henderson had a renowned career as a tenor saxophonist spanning four decades. He played with a number of iconic groups and leaders in jazz.

Charlie Rouse (1924-1988)
(Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington…)

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Known for being Monk’s longtime tenor sax player, Rouse was technically brilliant getting around the sometimes awkward melodic structure put down by Monk.

Johnny Griffin (1928-2008)
(Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie…)

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Griffin was an accomplished recording artist playing on historic recordings such as Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers among many others. Later in life he moved to Europe and became the go-to tenor saxophonist for touring American musicians in Europe.

Eli “Lucky” Thompson (1924-2005)
(Kenny Clarke, Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, DIzzy Gillespie…)

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Thompson brought the tenor sax to a more bebop type of feel with a faster melodic and rhythmic sense and advanced technicalities.

George Coleman (1935-)
(Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Chet Baker, R0n Carter, Tony Williams…)

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Coleman is known for his extensive work as sideman to Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Slide Hampton, and others.

Stanley Turrentine (1934-2000)
(Donald Byrd, Kenny Burrell, Roy Hargrove, Freddie Hubbard…)

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Turrentine led the funk-jazz sound with an extenisve discography on Blue Note and as a sideman.

Kurtis King (1934-1971)
(Aretha Franklin, King Kurtis…)

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Performing under the name King Kurtis as well as the Kingpins, Kurtis is knwon for his rhythmic sensibilities and soulful stylings.

Eddie Harris (1934-1996)
(Horace Silver, Vee Jay Records…)

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One of the first to experiment with loops and pedals with his horn.

Branford Marsalis (1960-)
(Buckshot LeFonque, Bela Fleck, Sting, Horace SIlver, Kevin Eubanks…)

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Branford Marslis is the contemporary version of a lot of the historic jazz giants. His involvement in groups ranging from Sting to Horace Silver have defined a generation. Moreover his own groups have made an immeasurable impact on the scene.

Joe Temperley (1929-)
(Wynton Marsalis, Duke Ellington…)

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Joe Temperley was Wynton Marsalis’ sax player after Branford left.

Gary Thomas (1960-)
(Miles Davis, Greg Osby, Jack DeJohnette…)

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Known for his work with Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette and others.

Gary Smulyan (1956-)
(Dave Holland, Woody Herman, Mel Lewis…)

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Consistently rated as one of the top Bari Sax players of our time.

Ronnie Cuber (1941-)
(Lonnie Smith, George Benson, Horace Silver…)

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Distinctive tone on many recordings with the likes of Lonnie Smith, Horace Silver and others as well as his own groups.

Joe Lovano (1952-)
(Bill Evans, Bill Frisell, McCoy Tyner, Dave Holland…)

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As a collaborator and soloist, Joe Lovano has been a leader in contemporary jazz saxophone.

Joshua Redman (1969-)
(Christian McBride, Brad Mehldau, Kurt Rosenwinkel…)

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Redman is a contemporary draw as a sideman and leader. He plays tenor as well as many other of the saxes and works as a composer.

Future of the Sax: Marcus Strickland, JD Allen, Lauren Sevian, Dana Stevens, Jason Marshall, Chelsea Baratz…

As always, this list is incomplete and growing. Who do you think should be mentioned in the evolution of the Tenor and Baritone Saxophones? Special thanks to Marcus Strickland and Jaleel Shaw for guidance.

Check out Evolution of the Instrument: Saxophone (Part 1 – Alto & Soprano) here.

Comments

  • Niccolò

    I’d add for sure James Carter. For his deep knowledge and mastery of every style, his ability to play in and out, tradition with a post-modern mindset, and absolute versatility. He’s also one of the greatest voices on the baritone today, along with Hamiet Bluiett (another name worth mention).