Famous Saxophone Players

Famous Saxophone Players

Time makes the difference between the good sax players and the really great ones. Some names however become very popular on an international scale, while others remain “semi gods” in smaller, connoisseur circles. 

Determining the most famous players is a task that is virtually impossible, as it would be to name the best rock artist, for example. Such choices rely heavily on subjectivity and personal taste, so a list that is true worldwide and for each and every individual is hard to compile.

Some sax players make it to the top of popularity lists with their jazz music, others by playing as part of an orchestra. One atypical saxophone star is the former US President, William “Bill” Clinton, well known for his hobby of playing the saxophone.

Share your thoughts on the best saxophone players ever, here.

Real and fictional famous saxophone players

Kenny G

Although real sax players have gotten their names on the lips of many, there are also virtual characters that play the saxophone in their own shows or sitcoms.

Famous names such as: Eugene Rousseau, Kim Hutchcroft, Antonio Hart, Sigured Rascher, Vernard Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Sam Levine, Dean Frasier, Donald Hayes, Sam "Chip Davis, Jr., Jerome Richardson, and Larry Williams are often heard.

Fictional characters, such as some Sesame Street puppets or Lisa Simpson (from the cartoon show “The Simpsons”) are also into playing the saxophone. Other names from show biz and the media world that we can consider are: Kenny G., Branford Marsalis, Kirk Whalum, David Sanborn, Dave Koz.

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Famous Saxophone Players - Charlie Parker, John Coltrane & Stan Getz

Let's take a look at three of the most famous saxophone players in history. They are Charlie "Bird" Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz. These three influential players are considered icons during their time and they made great contributions to jazz music. As you read, you will notice that despite their greatness, they had their personal weaknesses.

Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker was one of the greatest improvising soloists in jazz and influenced the development of "bop" in the 1940s. He was born in Kansas City, Kansas, on August 29, 1920, the only child of Charles and Addie Parker. Charlie Parker took music lessons in a public school and started playing the alto saxophone at the age of 13. He left school in 1935 and right away he started playing professionally, joining jazz groups in his hometown.

Charlie Parker's name started to appear in the music press in the early 1940s and he was part of a number of leading bands touring various states. He formed his own group in 1945 and worked with the famous Dizzy Gillespie. Despite being such a talented saxophone player, Parker had his own share of troubles and struggled with alcohol and heroin addiction. He went through personal and financial struggles during his final years and attempted suicide twice in 1954. He died on March 12, 1955 in New York City while watching Tommy Dorsey's Orchestra on tv.

John Coltrane

Famous saxophone player, John Coltrane was an American jazz saxophonist, band leader and composer born in Hamlet, North Carolina. He lived in an extended family within the household of his maternal grandfather, Rev. William Wilson Blair. Coltrane greatly influenced jazz music of the 1960s and 1970s. His influence during that era has often been equated with what Charlie Parker contributed to jazz music of the 1940s and 1950s.

Tenor saxophonist, Coltrane is known for his huge dark tone with clear definition and body. He made the high registers look like child's play and was known for his split-note multi-phonics. There is no denying his skill as demonstrated in the virtuoso performance of his difficult "Giant Steps". Giant Steps is generally considered to have the most complex and difficult chord progression of any widely-played jazz composition. Coltrane worked with both Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. Like Charlie parker, he struggled with drugs and alcohol. He was able to overcome his addiction and produced the album "A Love Supreme", a celebration of his triumph. Coltrane died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at the age of 40.

Stan Getz

Finally, we take a look at famous saxophone player, Stan Getz whose real name was Stanley Gayetzy. Getz was born on February 2, 1927 in Philadelphia. His family was originally from Russia. He was nicknamed "The Sound" because of his sweet perfect control of his instrument. Getz is said to have recorded over 300 pieces. This consummate musician had an amazing technique and could play anything on saxophone. As one musician said, it's as though the saxophone was a direct extension of his heart.

Getz started receiving public attention at age 20, as a result of his fabulous solo "Early Autumn" recorded with Woody Herman's band. This beautiful song demonstrates Getz's masterly way with a melody. In 1961, he helped make the genre, bossa nova more popular. One of his most notable performances is "The Girl From Ipanema" which topped the charts in 1964. Some of this famous saxophone player's albums include Focus, Jazz Samba, Apasionado, The Steamer, Best of the Roost Years, Best of the West Coast Sessions, and People Time. Like the other famous saxophone players, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, Stan Getz struggled with drug addiction and was incarcerated for drugs in 1954. He tried to overcome his addiction but in 1969 he once again had problems with the law. He died in 1991 due to liver cancer.

It is sad to know that despite the great contributions made by famous saxophone players, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Stan Getz, all three had a weakness for drugs during their careers. Despite this fact, their legacy lives on and their creativity continues to inspire and influence many to this day.

Who do you consider the best sax players ever? Share your thoughts here.

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