Charlie Parker

Charlie Parker playing at the Three Deuces on 52nd Street, NYC

There are literally hundreds of famous saxophone players and hundreds more incredible and talented artists that were not widely known.  The history of the saxophone is only around 150 years old.  There were only a few composers
of classical music that would even write for the saxophone, leaving the instrument
to be used mostly in marching bands and military bands until the jazz era.

The first saxophone players to gain acceptance truly made history with the instrument were people like Frank Trumbauer, who was one of the leading
saxophonists of the 1920s and 1930s.  He was one of the early innovators and
was an influence on the great Lester Young, who was one of the greatest tenor
saxophone players of all time.

Coleman Hawkins is considered by many to be the father of the jazz saxophone
and quite an amazing innovator of the instrument as well.  He came to prominence in the 1930s with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra and made a very famous recording of “Body and Soul” which became a national hit.  Coleman Hawkins also had the rare ability to adapt to the modern conceptions of the”Be Bop” era artists such as Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk.  Coleman Hawkins was actually the first one to record Thelonious Monk and he embraced bebop as opposed to most of the contemporaries of the swing generation players of the time.

Lester Young, another major innovator was known for his work with the Count Basie Orchestra of the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Lester had a cool, relaxed and very swinging style and phrased in a very legato manner, quite differently than many of the prominent players of that era.  He in turn had a major influence on  Charlie Parker.

Charlie Parker was probably the greatest alto saxophone player of all time and is considered to be the most influential saxophone player of all time.  He was a legend as a person and a player and he created a completely new way of playing that pretty much shook up the entire music world.  He was an absolute master of the saxophone and of music in general.  He could play the most incredible tempos with ease and had a tremendous sense of swing and a complete mastery of modern harmony as well as an astonishing sense of rhythm.  He packed more music into one single chorus of a 12-bar blues than almost anyone can imagine.

It is impossible to cover all of the great innovators and great sax players but some of the masters of the alto sax besides Charlie Parker include Jimmy Dorsey, Buster Smith, Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith,  Earl Bostic, Tab Smith, Lou Donaldson, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Frank Strozier, Charles MacPherson and Lee Konitz to name just a few.

Of the tenor sax players there are so many, but here are some of the great players who contributed so much to the art of the saxophone.  They include people such as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Don Byas, Lester Young, Chu Berry, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Gene Ammons, Eli “Lucky” Thompson, Paul Gonsalves, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Stan Getz, Zoot Sims, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, George Coleman, James Moody, Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Junior Cook, Michael Brecker and many others.

Some of the great Baritone Saxophonists of all time include Harry Carney, Jack Washington, Cecil Payne, Park “Pepper” Adams, Nick Brignola, Ronnie Cuber and Howard Johnson and Charles Davis, just to name a few.

By Adam Brenner

Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker

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