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20 Recordings Every Saxophone Student Should Own-Part 1 of 4

Updated: May 7, 2023

This series of posts will explore my list of 20 recordings every student of the saxophone should OWN. And I mean that literally AND figuratively. It’s imperative to become a serious student of any instrument that you would like to play well. Studying recordings, both through repeated listening and playing along and/or transcribing, is a fun and informative practice device. These recordings in particular are chock full of detailed information regarding jazz improvisation as it relates to the saxophone, and just about every style imaginable can be found here. Every single one of these recordings are in my CD library, and I am so familiar with them that I can hear the next track starting in my head at the conclusion of the previous track. I have opted to put these recordings in chronological order so that the listener, if one so chooses, can hear the progression of stylistic nuance and harmonic development that unfolds over 65 years of jazz history. I have made an exception to the order here for numbers 7 and 9. Both Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges are early alto saxophonists with styles rooted in the swing era, but these particular recordings showcase their talents in a more modern context. They should both be viewed as early originators of the swing saxophone style and these recordings show them at full maturity still playing in that earlier style. It is my hope and intention here that you will gather plenty of information from these recordings, and if any or all of the artists speak to you, go ahead and investigate their vast recorded catalogs. Every one of them is a leader in their own right, and if you make a habit of finding and listening to a lot of each players work you will embark on a challenging and interesting aural journey that will give you amazing insight into this great American musical tradition.

1. Lester Young-The Lester Young Story Properbox 8, 4 CD set, 1933 and later.

Lester Young was the inspiration for Charlie Parker. Looking back at his work it's clear that he was the founding father of the modern saxophone sound. Sure, Sydney Bechet and Frankie Trumbauer predate him, but they don't have nearly the harmonic sophistication nor the far reaching influence that Prez had. This amazing 4 disc set can be purchased for a very reasonable price. Grab it and get a sense of of the modern saxophone sound.

2. Charlie Parker- The Savoy Masters Volumes 1 and 2 Savoy Jazz 1943-1948

As as has been documented ad nauseum, Charlie Parker revolutionized the jazz language and created the be bop idiom along with Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. These Savoy sides show Bird in full flight and are absolutely classic masterpieces. They are the seminal works of a genius and the beginning of modern jazz as we know it.

3. Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh 1955 Atlantic Records

Lee and Warne formed a dynamic duo that based their styles on the bedrock foundations of Prez and Bird. They were totally influenced by them both and knew their solos inside and out. This recording gives you a sense of how the various schools of thought melded and arrived in the mid 1950's, giving way to what was to come very shortly in the future. Although some refer to Lee, Warne and Lennie Tristano as the "Cool School", I'll leave it up to you to decide whether this music is lacking in emotion and hard driving swing, an assertion often attributed to the Cool School. (Hint: That is one of the most ridiculous assertions in the history of jazz music.)

Hear this masterpiece here:

4. Sonny Rollins-Freedom Suite 1958 Riverside Records

Sonny was heavily influenced by Charlie Parker, and this classic recording was a breakthrough for Sonny. You will hear a master improviser on this recording redefining himself and the direction he was to take for the rest of his life. His combination of robust tone, complete mastery of chord changes, and a desire to take his solos as far as he could imagine, are what make his playing unique.

Hear this incredible recording here:

5. Ornette Coleman-Shape Of Jazz To Come 1959 Atlantic Records

Ornette shocked the jazz world with his Harmolodic concept of composing and improvising, and it's this revolutionary recording that must be heard to fully understand the onset of "free jazz." While quite shocking and controversial in its day this group sounds somewhat tame by todays standards. The interplay of this quartet was truly groundbreaking. Listen hard to Ornette and you will hear some of Bird's unmistakeable influence. Ornette is an acquired taste but these ear bending musical landscapes are well worth the time and effort if you truly want to understand modern music in total.

Hear what shocked the musical establishment here:

Stay tuned for 20 Recordings Every Saxophone Student Should Own-Parts 2, 3 and 4, and as always, thanks for stopping by my blog.


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