The ten best saxophonists of all time
Anytime a discussion of jazz saxophone takes place, a handful of names invariably crop up, even from those only vaguely familiar with the form. And there's a good reason for that: While there have been innumerable saxophonists over the last century or so, none have been as influential as these players, whose impact was so profound that their shadow still darkens the path of the countless young cats who have followed in their wake. Keep reading for a rundown of the ten best saxophonists in jazz.
10. ORNETTE COLEMAN
With his 1959 Atlantic debut, The Shape of Jazz to Come, alto player Ornette Coleman helped usher in free jazz and avant-garde jazz. Recording without piano helped liberate the songs of a recognizable chord structure and his harmolodics philosophy sought to to free musical compositions from any tonal center. Coleman also used somewhat inventive instrumentation, such as the double quartet (one quartet on each side of the stereo channel), on albums like Free Jazz. The 2006 live album Sound Grammar is among the 83-year-old saxophonist's better recent efforts.
9. RAHSAAN ROLAND KIRK
Some folks thought Rahsaan Roland Kirk's playing multiple horns at once was a gimmick. Granted, the guy looked like a madman with all sorts of woodwinds strapped around him, with maybe a tenor sax or manzello and stritch (both obscure saxophones) in his mouth at the same time, but Kirk was a hell of an improviser, often harmonizing with himself. There's a live recording of Kirk playing "Sentimental Journey" on one horn and Dvorak's "New World Symphony" on the other, and Kirk said it's splitting the mind into two parts. "It's like making one part of your mind say, 'Ob-la-di' and make the other part of your mind say 'What does it mean'?" Not only was Kirk a damn fine saxophonist but his flute playing, while scatting, heavily influenced Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull.
8. STAN GETZ
While Lester Young might have had a warm tone, Stan Getz's was even more relaxed and wispy, especially on the jazz-bossa nova albums he did with Brazilian pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim and singer and guitarist Joao Gilberto, including the 1963 album Getz/Gilberto, which included "The Girl From Ipanema." Sure, Getz's tone was perfectly suited for bossa nova, but the tenor player could also work his around bop tunes. His playing is especially gorgeous and fluid on Focus, which included string arrangements by arranger Eddie Sauter.
7. CANNONBALL ADDERLEY
Julian Adderley's nickname "Cannonball" was derived from "cannibal," which he was dubbed in high school because of his large appetite. But the alto player also had a voracious hunger for music, which showed in his inventive improvisations, especially on Miles Davis's watershed album Kind of Blue and Adderley's remarkable Blue Note release Somethin' Else. His 1961 album You Know What I Mean? with Bill Evans and live albums like Mercy, Mercy, Mercy are also commendable.