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25 Best Saxophone Players of All Time

Several saxophone players appear on almost every list, but there is considerable disagreement about who is the best player or should have been on the list.

It is not fair to point out specific players due to style differences over time to a certain degree. However, some of the players are regarded as the finest in history.

Charlie Parker is widely regarded as the best saxophone musician of all time. He pushed jazz from joyful dancing music to the peak of spontaneous artistic expression. His astute genius produced a new harmonic and melodic approach known as bebop.

Similarly, John Coltrane positioned himself as his generation’s best tenor sax virtuoso. His technique introduced new chord progressions, which often were characterized as a waterfall of sound. Because of his love of experimenting, John Coltrane’s music varied dramatically.

Likewise, Sonny Rollins is often regarded as the most remarkable contemporary improviser and the “Saxophone Colossus.” An expert in constructing a musical theme developing countless variations based on a single melodic notion.

Simultaneously, Lester Young rose to fame as a Count Basie’s ensemble member. Young used exquisite harmonies in a relaxed, peaceful tone. He is also credited with developing and promoting some of the discourse associated with jazz. 

Here are lists of the top 25 jazz players of all time:

Which saxophone is hardest to play?

The soprano is known as the hardest saxophone to play.

Who invented the saxophone?

The saxophone is one of only a few instruments in widespread use today that a single person invented. Adolphe Sax is the name of the man who invented the saxophone.

Which saxophone is best for jazz?

The tenor saxophone is most strongly linked with jazz musicians because it is a fixture in that genre.

25. Lester Young 

Lester Young at the Famous Door New York September 1946
Lester Young at the Famous Door New York September 1946

Lester Young, full name Lester Willis Young, nickname Pres or Prez, was born on August 27, 1909, in Woodville, Mississippi, and died on March 15, 1959, in New York. 

He arose in the mid-1930s Kansas City, jazz world with the Count Basie band and initiated a framework to improvisation that offered most of the foundation for cool jazz and modern jazz solo.

His improvisations had a more calm and elegant swinging, rhythmic feel than was usual of other artists’ performances during the 1930s. His phrases were concise, sensible, and melodically new. 

Many modern jazz figures have been mentioned as a favorite, including Stan Getz, Charlie Parker, and John Coltrane.

Billie Holiday claimed she was the one who nicknamed Lester Young’ Pres,’ pointing to his position as president of the tenor saxophone, just as he dubbed her ‘Lady Day.’

His technique was full-grown when he recorded his debut album — with Count Basie in 1936. His versatile style foreshadowed new options for the next generation. “D.B. Blues,” “Taxi War Dance,” and “Lester Leaps In” are among his most notable performances.

Excessive drinking continued to impact his life and creativity, eventually leading to his death in 1959.

The Lester Young Story, a magnificent four-CD survey of his work from 1947 to 1949 on Proper, highlights a unique and vital artist.

24. Benny Carter

Photograph of Benny Carter in 1984
Photograph of Benny Carter in 1984

Bennett Lester Carter, popularly known as Benny Carter, was born on August 8, 1907, in New York and died on July 12, 2003, in Los Angeles, California.

He was a pioneering and essential alto saxophonist in American jazz. He was also an accomplished composer, arranger, bandleader, trumpeter, and clarinetist.

Carter studied the trumpet as a child and began doubling on it while directing McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. He spent most of 1935–38 performing and arranging in Europe before settling permanently in Los Angeles in 1945.

He built large swing groups in California and New York when he came to America. Carter moved to Los Angeles permanently in 1945.

He later focused primarily on film and tv compositions, but he occasionally played alto saxophone on jazz concerts and records.

He was the first black composer to achieve recognition in the biased world of Hollywood studios.

He was a significant character on the New York scene as a player and writer, and his Hollywood breakthrough came with the 1943 film Stormy Weather.

Carter’s work in film and television forced him to put his first passion, jazz, on hold at times. But he never gave up, and recording projects, gigs, and concerts offered assurance that his originality and virtuosity remained consistent over the years.

23. Eric Dolphy

Eric Allan Dolphy
Eric Allan Dolphy

Eric Dolphy, full name, Eric Allan Dolphy, was born on June 20, 1928, in California, and died in Berlin, Germany, on June 29, 1964.

He was an American jazz musician who was a brilliant improviser on woodwind instruments, and he had a massive impact on free jazz.

Dolphy started to play alto saxophone, oboe, and clarinet as a child and attended Los Angeles City College. During the late 1940s, he was a member of Roy Porter’s big band.

He subsequently spent some years in a United States Army band before transferring to the United States Naval Music school. Eric Dolphy was a remarkable woodwind improviser and a key figure on free jazz.

Dolphy’s influence was partly due to his outstanding performance on alto saxophone, alto saxophone, flute (previously unusual in jazz), and bass clarinet.

While Eric Dolphy was often compared in his rhythmic phrasing to Charlie Parker’s, Dolphy’s harmonic phrasing was characterized by broad, angular leaps and remote relationships to set harmonic structures.

His usage of chord structures was noteworthy when his fellow exponents of ‘the new thing’ were discarding them. He was fond of harmonic patterns, which he adapted to his artistic purposes.

Out to Lunch was produced four months before Dolphy’s tragic death at 36. It demonstrates the breadth of his musical vision, with tributes to avant-garde classical flutist Severino Gazzelloni and Thelonious Monk included.

Dolphy’s collaborators share his convictions, seeing each piece as an expressive opportunity rather than a predefined formula.

22. Louis Jordan

Jordan in New York City 1946
Jordan in New York City 1946

Louis Jordan, born Louis Thomas Jordan on July 8, 1908, in Brinkley, Arkansas, died on February 4, 1975, in Los Angeles, California. Louis Jordan was a famous American saxophonist and singer in the 1940s and 1950s.

He was a pivotal figure in developing both blues and rock & roll. Jordan toured as a teenager as a singer, dancer, comic, and saxophone player with groups such as the Rabbit Foot Minstrels.

Jordan and his Tympany Five became one of the country’s most famous recording acts in 1942. Jordan was a pioneer of the “jump blues” style, with songs like “Choo-Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and “Ain’t Nobody Here but Us Chickens.”

Even though his breakthrough to mainstream music charts, Jordan’s main attraction was mainly to black audiences.

His songs are full of smart, funny observations on the changing scenario, spanning from restriction to the post-war prosperity to inflation and the eternal pleasures of food, drink, and gorgeous ladies.

His frantic storytelling foreshadows rap, just as R&B evolved into rock’n’roll in the 1950s. But it was the emergence of rock, including its loudness and pace, that put a stop to Jordan’s dominance.

He continued to travel till his death in 1975, around between. Jordan’s musical style impacted many spectra of musicians, including Bill Haley, Chuck Berry, and Ray Charles.

Eric Clapton, Muddy Waters, and Woody Herman were among those who covered his material.

Jordan was elected into both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1983. (1987). In 2018, he was honored with a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.

21. Art Pepper

Art Pepper in Los Angeles 1979
Art Pepper in Los Angeles 1979

Art Pepper, the full name Arthur Edward Pepper, was born on September 1, 1925, in Gardena, California, and died in Gardena, California, on June 15, 1982.

He was an American jazz musician known for the beauty of his tone. His improvisations on alto saxophone and a pivotal player in West Coast jazz in the 1950s.

Pepper began his career with Los Angeles ensembles conducted by Lee Young and Benny Carter, later temporarily joining the Stan Kenton band before joining the United States Army.

In 1947, he went to Kenton and stayed until 1952, when he began recording ensembles. 

After a tremendously productive recording era, 1956–60, he spent most of 1961–67 in prison due to drug consumption and drug-related custodial sentences.

His solos were built with fragmented motifs and asymmetrical accents, and he constructed melodic lines with unique, compelling tension.

Pepper’s improvisations were highly emotional of any tempos, and he was a sympathetic interpretation, as seen by Hoagy Carmichael’s 1956 version of “Winter Moon.” 

By the 1970s, he had completed rehabilitation, released music, and gained followers. He continued to refine his approach, inspired by John Coltrane, and his late albums, especially Winter Moon from 1980, have a shearing force.

20. Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon In Concert in Toronto 1978
Dexter Gordon In Concert in Toronto 1978

Dexter Gordon was a jazz tenor saxophonist, songwriter, bandleader, and actor who passed on April 25, 1990. He was a crucial figure in the early periods of bebop.

Many followers often described Gordon’s sound as “huge” and “comfortable. He was recognized for integrating musical phrases into his solos, including “Happy Birthday” and well-known themes from Wagner’s operas.

This is not uncommon in jazz improvisation, but Gordon frequently performed it to trademark his approach.

Lester Young was a significant influence on him. Gordon, in turn, influenced John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins early on. During the 1960s, Rollins and Coltrane inspired Gordon’s style by developing hard bop and modal style.

Gordon was a tenor saxophonist who worked with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, and Charlie Parker. Gordon was believed strongly in using music to resonate with people. 

His improvisation was incredibly fascinating and insightful, yet it was never particularly complicated or strange. He made his film debut in Unchained while serving a sentence for narcotics-related charges (1955).  

Following his release, he composed for a Los Angeles production of Jack Gelber’s play The Connection (1960) and recorded recordings such as Go! and A Swingin Affair.

Gordon died in Philadelphia at 67 from kidney failure and larynx cancer.

19. Ornette Coleman

Coleman at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg 2008
Coleman at the Enjoy Jazz Festival in Heidelberg 2008

Ornette Coleman’s full name is Randolph Denard: Coleman. Ornette Coleman was born on March 9, 1930, and died in New York on June 11, 2015.

He was a jazz saxophonist, composer, and bandleader from the United States. He was the primary initiator and prominent exponent of free jazz in the late 1950s.

Coleman started playing alto, then tenor saxophone at an early age. He quickly became a performing artist in dance bands and rhythm-and-blues ensembles.

He learned harmony and performed a cheap plastic alto saxophone in small nightclubs while working as an elevator operator.

Coleman released his first album, Something Else! in 1958, with drummer Billy Higgins and trumpeter Don Cherry.

Coleman relocated to New York when his concept of emotional expression of his improvisations sparked considerable controversy.

His most famous lengthy work is the suite Skies of America, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in 1972. 

Sound Grammar, which won the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2005. It was recorded with a quartet of twin acoustical double bassists (one bowing his instrument, the other plucking), a drummer, and Coleman himself (performing alto saxophone, trumpet, and violin).

Coleman’s early approach impacted fellow saxophonists and performers of all other jazz instruments. Coleman had a heart attack on June 11, 2015, in New York City at 85.

18. Coleman Randolph Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins Spotlite Club New York 1946
Coleman Hawkins Spotlite Club New York 1946

Coleman Randolph Hawkins was born on November 21, 1904, and died on May 19, 1969. He was a jazz tenor saxophonist from the United States.

Hawkins began studying the piano at the age of four, the cello at seven, and the saxophone at nine. He gained creative development and was one of the great jazz artists while playing with Fletcher Henderson’s large ensemble. 

He was known for his virtuoso, arpeggiated style to improvisation, and tonal technique, which was characteristically rich, expressive, and vibrato-laden.

He may be the first jazz horn player to comprehend complex chord progressions completely.

Several of the great jazz musicians of the swing era and key figures in contemporary jazz were influenced by him. “When I heard Hawk, I began to play ballads,” Miles Davis reportedly said.

Until the arrival of Lester Young, Hawkins’ rich, full-bodied tone and rapid vibrato was the anticipated style on jazz tenor.

He delivered harmonically complicated lines with urgency and force, pleading for the listener’s attention.

He led small groups beginning in the 1940s, frequently recording and touring in the United States and Europe.

He also developed into a brilliant blues improviser, with quick, low notes exhibiting a new aggressiveness in his craft.

Despite his drunkenness and poor health, he continued to perform until he died in 1969.

17. Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet at Jimmy Ryan's Club in New York 1947
Sidney Bechet at Jimmy Ryan’s Club in New York 1947

Sidney Bechet was an American jazz saxophone, clarinetist, and composer born in New Orleans on May 14, 1897, and died in Paris on May 14, 1959. Bechet began playing the clarinet at the age of 6.

By 1914, he was a veteran of numerous semi-legendary local ensembles. After working with Clarence Williams and King Oliver in New Orleans, he moved to Chicago and New York City in 1919.

He visited Europe with the Southern Syncopated Orchestra and became the first jazz performer commended by a renowned classical musician, Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. 

He built solid melodies topping the New Orleans-style group, becoming one of the first jazz players to improvise with a jazz-swing vibe, double-timing and improvising aggressively and authoritatively.

Bechet’s massive and warm tone, with a broad and powerful vibrato, grasping of drama, and his utilization of critical timed pitch variations (“note bending”), significantly impacted Duke Ellington and Johnny Hodges. 

Throughout the 1920s, he gradually focused on the soprano saxophone, briefly working with his primary collaborator Duke Ellington in 1925 before returning to Europe.

Occasionally, he worked in the Noble Sissle band, and, beginning in the late 1940s, he settled himself in Paris.

At his death, he had acquired the level of distinction maintained by such world-famous Parisians as Jean Cocteau and Maurice Chevalier.

16. Sonny Rollins

Rollins performing in October 2011
Rollins performing in October 2011

Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins is a jazz tenor saxophonist from the United States widely regarded as one of the most prominent and influential jazz performers.

Throughout his seven-decade period of performing, he has released nearly sixty albums as just a bandleader. Some of his songs have become jazz standards, including “Oleo,” “St. Thomas,” “Pent-Up House,” “Doxy,” and “Airegin.”

Rollins grew up in the same neighborhood as Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, and Coleman Hawkins. Rollins began working alongside Miles Davis in 1951, after recording with him in 1949.

During the next three years, he wrote three of his most well-known songs, “Oleo,” “Doxy,” and “Airegin,” as well as continuing to collaborate alongside Charlie Parker, Davis, and others.

Rollins developed a style based mainly on Parker’s, becoming a master of insightful and intriguing improvisation paired with a firm grasp of the tenor sax. In jazz history, his improvisations stand out for their clarity of thinking. 

Long before such methods became prevalent in contemporary jazz, Rollins was interested in solo saxophone improvisation and extensive manipulations of tone color.

He had a strong influence on avant-garde saxophonists of the 1960s and 1970s.

Rollins received multiple distinctions, including five Grammy Awards. He received the National Medal of Arts in 2010. Rollins was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor the following year.

Rollins has been labeled the “Saxophone Colossus,” as well as “the finest living improviser.” 

15. Johnny Hodges

Hodges playing a Conn 6M with Al Sears in background
Hodges playing a Conn 6M with Al Sears in background

Cornelius Johnny Hodges is the full name of Johnny Hodges. Johnny Hodges, also known as Jeep and Rabbit, was born on July 25, 1906, in Massachusetts, United States, and died on May 11, 1970, in New York.

Hodges was an alto saxophonist best known for Duke Ellington’s big band. For many years, he was the lead alto in the saxophone section. Hodges also played soprano saxophone but declined to play it after 1946.

Hodges was one of the most prominent sax performers in jazz history, known for the richness of his tone and mastery of ballads. 

Hodges began as a self-taught artist, playing the drums and piano before picking up the saxophone at 14.

He was later taught by the renowned Sidney Bechet, one of the first fundamental jazz soloists and possibly Hodges’ only significant influence. 

Hodges moved to New York after starting his profession as a teen in Boston. Ellington’s clarinetist suggested Hodges when Ellington wanted to expand his ensemble in 1928.

His performance became one of the Ellington orchestra’s distinctive voices. Hodges left Ellington to head his band from 1951 until 1955 but rejoined soon before Ellington’s glorious return to popularity.

Hodges’ influence was so strong in American jazz that generations of saxophonists, including those who had never heard him perform, tried to imitate his style.

Ellington famously observed of Johnny Hodges, “Johnny Hodges has total autonomy of expression.” He speaks what he intended to communicate on the horn, with his language, and from his point of view.”

14. Ben Webster

Ben Webster at Famous Door New York City in 1947
Ben Webster at Famous Door New York City in 1947

Benjamin Francis Webster, commonly known as Ben Webster, was born on March 27, 1909, in Kansas City, Missouri, and died on September 20, 1973, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

He was an American jazz musician who was regarded as one of the most distinctive of his generation. He was known for the purity of his tenor saxophone timbre and his creative originality.

Webster started playing the violin as a child and later played piano melodies to silent movies; after learning how to play alto saxophone, Webster joined Lester Young’s father’s family band.

By 1930, he had shifted to tenor saxophone, and he rapidly emerged as a soloist. Initially, Webster’s tone was barely distinguishable from his idol, Coleman Hawkins, but he eventually developed his style. 

A full-time engagement as Duke Ellington’s first featured tenor saxophonist (1940–43) propelled Webster into his own, and he grew as a soloist and distinctive performer.

He frequently played scratchy, growling solos on up-tempo pieces, but he showcased a rich, breathy tone on ballads. His songs were straightforward, and his style was instantly recognizable.

Webster’s inclination for excessive drinking gave him the title “The Brute.” Throughout his career, this addiction caused him a series of issues.

Later, he resumed his freelancing work, traveling and recording with some of the most well-known jazz musicians.

His meetings with Art Tatum in 1956 seemed incredibly influential. Webster had a significant influence on later tenor saxophonists after establishing the expressive powers of the instrument.

13. Iain Ballamy

Iain Ballamy
Iain Ballamy

On February 20, 1964, Iain Ballamy was born. He is a British composer and saxophonist widely regarded as one of the best current jazz saxophonists.

He was mentioned with Count Basie and Chet Baker in the B.B.C. magazine ‘100 Jazz Greats.’ In 2001, he received the B.B.C. Jazz Award for Innovation.

Ballamy wrote Composition for the London Sinfonietta, the Apollo Saxophone Quartet, and Joanna MacGregor.

In 2017, the award-winning trio ‘Quercus,’ which included iconic folk vocalist June Tabor, Iain Ballamy, and pianist Huw Warren, released ‘Nightfall,’ their second album for E.C.M.

Ballamy was the first jazz artist to earn the renowned Paul Hamlyn Composer’s Award in 2007.

Ballamy is now a guest lecturer at The Royal Academy of Music, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

12. Oliver Nelson

Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson

Oliver Edward Nelson was an American jazz saxophone, clarinetist, arranger, composer, and bandleader born on June 4, 1932. Oliver Nelson was a great alto, tenor, and even soprano soloist, but his writing gradually overshadowed his playing abilities.

He made his first debut in 1947 with Jeter-Pillars Orchestra and St. Louis big bands led by Nat Towles and George Hudson.

After arranging and playing the second alto for Louis Jordan’s big band in 1951, he served in the Navy and then went to college for four years.

His 1961 Impulse! Record The Blues, and the Abstract Truth (1961) is widely recognized as one of the most influential records of its time. The exact version of Nelson’s tune “Stolen Moments” serves as the album’s highlight.

Nelson was in higher demand as an arranger, composing for Wes Montgomery, Billy Taylor’s, and Jimmy Smith big band concerts.

Nelson was constantly working in the studios by 1967, when he went to Los Angeles, composing for tv and films.

He performed with a big band on occasion, created a few ambitious compositions, and recorded jazz; Oliver died at the age of 43 from an unexpected heart attack.

11. Sonny Stitt

Sonny Stitt NYC, July 6, 1976
Sonny Stitt NYC, July 6, 1976

Edward Hammond Boatner Jr., commonly known as Sonny Stitt, was born on February 2, 1924, and passed away on July 22, 1982. He was a bebop/hard bop jazz saxophonist from the United States.

He was among the finest saxophonists of his period, releasing more than 100 records and distinguished his warm tone and quality. He was born into a musical family,

His father, Edward Boatner, was a baritone vocalist, composer, and college music professor; his brother was a classically trained pianist, and his mother taught piano.

Like the renowned pioneer Charlie Parker, his romantic improvisational approach featured broken phrases, loose tonal variation, and chromatic overtones and was based on virtuoso technique.

Stitt was occasionally compared to Charlie Parker early in his career, but he progressively established his sound and style, mainly when playing tenor saxophone.

Stitt was a member of the Miles Davis quintet (1960) and the Giants of Jazz (1971–72)—with Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and others the majority of his career on the road as a leader of small ensembles.

His poetic tenor saxophone solo, which Lester Young impacted, started to dominate his concerts over time.

Stitt was diagnosed with cancer in 1982 and died on July 22, 1982, in Washington, D.C.

10. John Coltrane

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

John “William” Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina, on September 23, 1926, and grew up in nearby High Point. As a child, Coltrane was encircled by music.

John Coltrane was a renowned American saxophonist, bandleader, and composer who rose to prominence in the twentieth century with recordings such as ‘Giant Steps,’ ‘My Favorite Things,’ and ‘A Love Supreme.’

Coltrane, who began his career in the bebop and hard bop idioms, helped pioneer modes and was one of the performers at the center of free jazz.

He successfully led at least fifty studio sessions and participated in other albums by various performers, including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

Coltrane’s music evolved into a more spiritual realm during his career, as seen by his most praised albums, A Love Supreme (1965) and Ascension (1966).

He is still viewed as the most critical saxophonist in jazz history, having won multiple posthumous honors, including a Pulitzer Prize in 2007, and sanctified by the African Orthodox Church.

Coltrane died of liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40, at Huntington Hospital on Long Island.

9. John Surman

John Surman at the 2017 Oslo Jazz Festival
John Surman at the 2017 Oslo Jazz Festival

On August 30, 1944, John Douglas Surman was born. He is an English jazz saxophonist, bass clarinetist, synthesizer musician, and performer of free jazz and modal jazz, frequently drawing on folk music themes.

He has written and produced music for dance productions and film soundtracks. In 1962, John Surman started playing jazz in his home Devon as a teenager.

In the mid-1960s, he rose to prominence playing baritone saxophone in the Mike Westbrook Band, and he was soon heard frequently playing soprano saxophone and bass clarinet.

In 1969, he formed The Trio with drummer Stu Martin and bassist Barre Phillips. He co-founded one of the first all-saxophone jazz bands, S.O.S., with alto saxophonist tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore and Mike Osborne in the mid-1970s. He began exploring with synthesizers in 1972.

His association with E.C.M. Records has been ongoing since the late 1970s. Surman has recorded extensively for the label, both solo and with a diverse spectrum of other artists, on synthesizers, bass clarinet, soprano, recorders, and baritone saxophones.

Since the 1990s, he has composed various suites of music that highlight his playing in unexpected settings, such as classical string quintet, church organ and chorus, and London Brass and Jack DeJohnette.

He was a member of a unique trio with bassist Dave Holland and Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem.

8. John Dankworth

Dankworth performing at Buxton Opera House on 4 November 2002
Dankworth performing at Buxton Opera House on 4 November 2002

John Phillip William Dankworth, popularly known as Johnny Dankworth, was born on September 20, 1927, and died on February 6, 2010. He was a saxophonist, clarinetist, jazz composer, and film score composer from England.

Dankworth secretly married Cleo Laine after her separation from George Langridge in 1958.

Most people knew John Dankworth as Cleo Laine’s husband and accompaniment, but he was a consistent player for several decades, if not hugely innovative.

In the late 1940s, he played alto sax and was a founder member of the Club Eleven in 1948. He founded the Johnny Dankworth Seven in 1950 and directed a big jazz band featuring Laine from 1953 to 1964.

Dankworth took over as Laine’s music manager in 1971 and reduced the ensemble to eleven members. He then created a traveling quintet in the early 1980s.

Dankworth’s reputation as a composer was higher than that of a musician; he wrote operas, compositions for a jazz band with a symphony orchestra, and movie soundtracks.

In 1969, he and Laine founded the Wavendon Allmusic Plan, a cultural group that hosts international performers from all walks of life in its 300-seat performance theater.

Dankworth also presented hundreds of lectures and led classes, workshops, and seminars, and he was recognized for his contributions to jazz in England in 1974.

Dankworth died on February 6, 2010, in London, following an extended illness at 86.

7. Charlie Parker

Parker at Three Deuces New York in 1947
Parker at Three Deuces New York in 1947

On August 29, 1920, Charlie Parker was born in Kansas City, United States, and died on March 12, 1955, in New York. He was an American alto saxophonist, composer, and bandleader who was widely regarded as the finest jazz saxophonist of all time.

Parker was a significant influence in the formation of bebop and a very influential soloist.

Parker was a lightning-quick expert who pioneered groundbreaking harmonic ideas in jazz, such as rapid passing chords, new types of shifted chords, and chord alterations.

Charlie Parker toured the Missouri nightclub scene with local jazz and blues ensembles from 1935 until 1939. Parker performed alone and in ensembles in various settings, including bars and radio programs.

In 1945, he led his band while also working with Dizzy Gillespie on the side, and the two of them co-created bebop. Parker later collaborated with a few additional record labels, including Dial from 1945 through 1948.

Before joining Mercury, he worked for Savoy Records in 1948. Parker had his European premiere at the Paris International Jazz Festival in 1949, and he later visited Scandinavia in 1950.

Meanwhile, the Birdland Club in New York was built in his honor. Parker gave his final stage performance at Birdland a week before his death in March 1955.

On March 12, 1955, Parker died of lobar pneumonia and the long-term effects of addictions.

Parker has had a significant impact on current jazz. Among his numerous followers were John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Albert Ayler, all crucial figures in the evolution of free jazz.

6. Jan Garbarek

Jan Garbarek in Oslo in 2016
Jan Garbarek in Oslo in 2016

Jan Garbarek was born in Mysen, Stfold, Norway on March 4, 1947. He is a jazz saxophonist from Norway who performs classical and world music.

He grew in Oslo, stateless until seven, as Norway did not grant automatic citizenship.

Garbarek’s approach includes a razor-sharp tone, long, keening, prolonged notes, and a considerable deal of quiet.

In the late 1960s, he began his recording career, most notably on albums by the composer George Russell. By 1973, he had discarded the loud dissonances of avant-garde jazz, keeping just the tone of his prior approach.

Garbarek rose to prominence by collaborating with pianist Keith Jarrett’s European Quartet, which issued the albums Belonging, My Song, and Personal Mountains, the live versions of Personal Mountains, and Nude Ants.

Garbarek’s compositions frequently draw significantly on Scandinavian folk music. Garbarek’s music started to integrate synths and influences of world music in the 1980s.

He has worked with musicians from India and Pakistan, including Bade Fateh Ali Khan, Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, and Hariprasad Chaurasia. Garbarek is known for writing the original composition for the 2000 movie Kippur.

5. Cannonball Adderley

Cannonball with brother Nat Adderley in 1966
Cannonball with brother Nat Adderley in 1966

Cannonball Adderley, full name Julian Edwin Adderley, was born on September 15, 1928, in Tampa, Florida, and died in Gary, Indiana, on August 8, 1975.

He was a renowned and well-known American jazz musician of the 1950s and 1960s, whose joyful music was firmly rooted in the bop school and incorporated the harmonic sense of classic jazz.

Adderley, a multi-instrumentalist, is best known for his alto saxophone work and records alongside Miles Davis and his groups.

Adderley began an 18-month collaboration with trumpeter Miles Davis in 1957, which turned out to be one of the most prolific and innovative times in both men’s careers.

Adderley favored a bustling style that contrasts with Davis’s sparse simplicity when playing in Davis’s sextet alongside saxophone superstar John Coltrane.

Adderley appeared notably on Davis’ albums Milestones (1958) and Kind of Blue (1959), both considered 1950s hard bop and modal jazz classics.

Adderley was first recognized as a technical successor to Charlie Parker; however, the more classic rhythm-and-blues phrasing of Benny Carter also influenced his music.

Although his music was not exceptionally innovative, Adderley was a technically accomplished musician recognized for an improvisational style that included restless, highly embellished, frequently colorful phrases.

Adderley was a compassionate and generous man who supported and promoted several new musicians.

He was also a solid and articulate public speaker, serving several institutions and government organizations to improve jazz.

4. Gerry Mulligan

Portrait of Mulligan 1980s
Portrait of Mulligan 1980s

Gerald Joseph Mulligan, popularly recognized as Gerry Mulligan, was born on April 6, 1927, in New York, United States, and died on January 20, 1996, in Darien, Connecticut.

He was a composer, baritone saxophonist, and arranger, best known for popularizing “cool” jazz—a delicate, crisp, subtle approach to jazz style.

Mulligan was also a notable arranger, collaborating with Stan Kenton, Miles Davis, Claude Thornhill, and others.

His early 1950s piano-less four featuring trumpeter Chet Baker has been excellent jazz ensembles.

Mulligan was also an accomplished pianist and player of various reed instruments. His tunes have become standards, including “Five Brothers” and “Walkin’ Shoes.”

Mulligan had great musical instincts when he was a child. He played the piano and wind instruments in various minor musical organizations throughout his school years.

After graduating from high school in 1944, he worked as an arranger with several bands, most prominently Gene Krupa’s big band (1946).

Soon after, Mulligan became engaged in a drive to create a new form known as cool jazz.

He is regarded as a versatile artist, equally at home in various jazz forms, and one of the more significant baritone saxophonists in the jazz idiom.

3. Stan Getz

Getz in 1983
Getz in 1983

Stan Getz, full name Stanley Getz was born on February 2, 1927, in Philadelphia, U.S., and died on June 6, 1991, in Malibu, California. He was an American jazz tenor saxophonist renowned for his smooth, velvety tone.

Getz rose to fame with Woody Herman’s big band in the late 1940s, and reviewer Scott Yanow calls him “one of the all-time best tenor saxophonists.” Getz was a member of cool jazz and bebop bands.

He promoted bossa nova in the United States with the smash track “The Girl from Ipanema,” influenced by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Joo Gilberto (1964).

Getz began learning the saxophone at 13 and made his official debut at 15. He collaborated with Jack Teagarden, Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and Benny Goodman, and he recorded under his name in 1946.

Getz led quartets and quintets with Jimmy Raney, Horace Silver, and trombonist Bob Brookmeyer. In 1952, Getz appeared heavily on guitarist Johnny Smith’s smash album of “Moonlight in Vermont.”

When Getz returned to the United States in 1961, he collaborated with arranger Eddie Sauter to compose Focus, which many consider Getz’s masterpiece.

He collaborated with guitarist Charlie Byrd on Jazz Samba (1962), the album introduced in the bossa nova period and featured their smash track “Desafinado.”

Getz resumed typical acoustic jazz orchestration in 1981 and stayed with such combinations for the rest of his career, which included a stint at Stanford University from 1982 until he died in 2005.

2. Wayne Shorter

Shorter in Amsterdam 1980
Shorter in Amsterdam 1980

Wayne Shorter was born in New Jersey, United States, on August 25, 1933. He is a well-known jazz saxophonist, one of the most prominent hard-bop and modal players, and a developer of jazz-rock fusion music.

Shorter attended New York University and participated in the United States Army (1956–58).

He briefly played in the Horace Silver quintet (1956) and the Maynard Ferguson large band (1958) before joining Art Blakey’s hard-bop Jazz Messengers (1959–63).

He joined Miles Davis’s modal jazz quintet in 1964 as a tenor saxophonist and lasted with him through Davis’s early fusion music experiments, possibly leaving in 1970 as a soprano saxophonist.

Shorter’s improvisations were always remarkable for their harmonic and rhythmic intricacy.

By the mid-1960s, an increasing concern with lyricism had resulted in significant stylistic modification and the employment of more diffuse forms; much of his playing indicated a reworking of John Coltrane’s style.

Many of Shorter’s songs are now jazz standards, and his work has received worldwide acclaim, critical acclaim, and acclaim. Shorter has 11 Grammy Awards to his name.

He has been praised for his virtuosity of the soprano saxophone since switching from the tenor in the late 1960s and commencing an extended reign as Down Beat’s annual chart-winner on that instrument in 1970, winning the critics’ vote for ten years and the readers’ poll for 18 years.

1. Charles Lloyd

Charles Lloyd with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, Santa Barbara, 2006
Charles Lloyd with Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland, Santa Barbara, 2006

On March 15, 1938, Charles Lloyd was born in Memphis, Tennessee.

At nine, he had his first saxophone and was captivated by radio broadcasts of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker from the 1940s.

Phineas Newborn, a pianist, and Irvin Reason, a saxophonist, were his early mentors. He plays tenor saxophone and flute but also has recorded alto saxophone and the Hungarian tárogató.

Since 2007, Lloyd’s regular band has been a foursome consisting of pianist Jason Moran, acoustic bassist Reuben Rogers, and drummer Eric Harland.

After Eric Dolphy left to join Charles Mingus’ band in 1960, Lloyd was asked to take over as music director of Chico Hamilton’s band.

Passin’ Thru and Man from Two Worlds, Hamilton’s most notable albums for Impulse Records, contained music arranged and composed almost exclusively by Lloyd.

During this time of creative composition, he discovered his distinctive style as a saxophonist.

Lloyd became a member of the Cannonball Adderley Sextet in 1964, performing with Nat Adderley, Joe Zawinul, Sam Jones, and Louis Hayes.

Down Beat named Charles Lloyd “Jazz Artist of the Year” in 1967, and the Quartet was asked to tour the world.

Many musicians credit Charles Lloyd with foreshadowing the World Music movement by incorporating cadences from many cultures in his compositions as early as the late 1950s.

His pieces have accompanied the post-bop period, endorsed the traditional instruments of many world cultures, and enriched the psychedelic 1960s with avant-garde improvisation.

Which saxophonist composed the iconic “St Thomas”?

Walter Theodore “Sonny” Rollins from the United States is widely regarded as one of the most prominent and influential jazz performers.

Throughout his seven-decade period of performing, he has released nearly sixty albums as just a bandleader. His songs have become jazz standards, including “St. Thomas,” “Oleo,” “Pent-Up House,” “Doxy,” and “Airegin.”

Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas” (1956) was recorded in August 1955 as “Fire Down There” by Randy Weston and premiered in February 1956 on the “Get Happy” album.

The song began as “The Lincolnshire Poacher” and grew into a nursery lullaby in the Virgin Islands that Sonny Rollins’ mother sang to him and on which he based “St. Thomas.”

Rollins’ 1956 release was the first to gain popularity, and the song remains his most well-known piece.

Who is the best female saxophone player

Despite being confined to the role of Vocalist far too often, several female jazz instrumentalists have contributed significantly to the genre with their dedication to skill over the last period. Some of the best female saxophonists are:

Candy Dulfer is a talented jazz and pop saxophonist from the Netherlands. Dulfer has shared the stage with Madonna, Prince, and even Pink Floyd in 1990.

Melissa Aldana, a prominent international saxophone community, was born in Chile and began playing at six. She started with alto sax but moved to tenor after hearing Sonny Rollins, a great jazz saxophonist from America.

Vi Redd is a notable blues alto saxophonist who has collaborated with Count Basie, Linda Hopkins, and Dizzy Gillespie. She is considered one of the most well-traveled blues performers of all time and a pioneer for women in blues.

Mindi Abair is a jazz saxophonist from Florida and a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences member. She has multiple hit jazz records to her credit and two Grammy nominations.

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