The Most Iconic Saxophone Players Of All Time
There is no denial that the saxophone has a rich history. Being invented back in 1846 by Adolfe Sax, this wonderful instrument has continued to bring life to entire waves of musical movements and inspired generations of pioneering musicians. That is why at Millers, we are celebrating some of our favourite saxophone players throughout history!
There is no denial that the saxophone has a rich history. Being invented back in 1846 by Adolfe Sax, this wonderful instrument has continued to bring life to entire waves of musical movements and inspired generations of pioneering musicians.
Contrary to popular belief, the world of saxophone actually stems from a background within the classical realms and progressively found its place both as a solo instrument and part of a collaborative. With the turn of the 20th century though, the saxophone found a new home with Vaudeville and ragtime bands and helped lay the groundwork for its use in dance orchestras and eventually found its calling within the world of jazz…The rest as we say is history!
Since then, the iconic saxophone sound continues to defy the world of music and send shockwaves through both modern and contemporary sounds alike. That is why at Millers, we are celebrating some of our favourite saxophone players throughout history!
Fun Fact: Did you know that despite mostly being made from brass, saxophones remain a woodwind instrument as their sound is produced by an oscillating reed and not from lips vibrating in a mouthpiece cup that you find within the brass instrument family. For more information on the different types of saxophone, read our guide here!
Charlie Parker: (1920 -1955)
Bebop connoisseur and jazz extraordinaire. During his short 34 years and an incredibly troubled life, Charlie Parker (Also known as “Yardbird” or “Bird” due to his supposed love of eating chicken) changed Jazz forever.
At the age of 15, the alto sax became Parker’s choice instrument and from there his improvisational style only continued to grow and flourish – His fusion of fast temos, virtuosic technique and advanced harmonies was so advanced that Parker was able to almost single handedly change the jazz saxophone world into a fiery sound that audiences and musicians alike still love to this day.
Miles Davis even famously said “You can tell the history of Jazz in Four Words. Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker” and that’s earned Charlie his spot on our list!
Ben Webster: (1909 – 1973)
After a history of also mastering violin, piano and then the alto saxophones, Webster soon emerged as one of the world’s most inventive and unique soloists. By combining a raspy, growling solos on uptempo numbers and utilising instantly recognisable tones, his style continues to be a staple within the jazz world today.
Webster continued to dominate both US and European audiences until his untimely death in Copenhagen. Where he even has a street named after him “Ben Websters Vej”
David Sanborn (1945- Present)
As we move towards the modern heroes, no saxophone list would be complete without the sounds of David Sanborn and his modern alto saxophone workings. Blending jazz with instrumental pop and R&B, Sanborn has been on an upwards trajectory and continues to inspire millions of players across the globe since his first release, Taking off, in 1975.
Following an 8 year battle with polio in 1956 and throughout his childhood, Sanborn fell in love with music and radio. The more sax he heard, the more infatuated he became, drawing inspiration from the likes of Bill Doggett’s ‘Honky Tonk’ and Fat Domino’s ‘Ain’t That A Shame’.
Sanborn’s unmistakable style and outspoken passion towards playing has continued to skyrocket his career and landed him as arguably the best modern alto player around today.
Phil Woods (1931 – 2015)
Multi-instrumentalist, band leader and composer, there are few who can come close to the raw talent and musical prowess of Phil Woods. To this day Woods’ style remains one of the leading Jazz solo artists the world has ever seen.
A vibrant enthusiast and lover of Charlie Parker, Woods dedicated his life to mastering dazzling fluency and speed enriched with blues-steeped tones. Many of Woods’ works can be seen to draw influence from Parker’s bebop style throughout the 50s.
Woods continued to be a key figure within the educational jazz world, helping found the Annual Arts Festival in Delaware and taking masterclasses across the globe with the likes of the National Youth Jazz Orchestra and Catania City Brass Orkestra.
Phil’s work to continue to keep Jazz alive and fresh amongst younger audiences more than earns him his spot!
Courtney Pine (1964 – Present)
Courtney’s exciting and innovative playing style has planted jazz firmly within the modern soundscape; his sound continues to blend drum and bass and carriage with contemporary jazz styles to create a hybrid fusion that you can’t help bop along to!
Pine has since been awarded an OBE and CBE for his service to music and we love him!
Ronald Bell (1951 – 2020)
There was no way that this list would be complete without the recently late Ronald Bell, founding member of Kool & The Gang. Since 1954 Bell continued to breathe life into the soul, funk and R&B genres through his self-taught saxophone style and more than recognisable vocals.
We’d like to ‘celebrate’ Ronald’s life and contributions to the world of funk!
Of course, there are a million other names that this list could be filled with, if you have any suggestions, we’d love to hear them over on our social channels! Or even better, get involved in our Share Your Sound campaigns…Who knows, you might even make one of our future lists!