What’s On Our iPod: Four Of Our Favorite Saxophonists Of All Time [VIDEOS]


Saxophone music seems to play wherever we go.
(Photo by Evonne, Flickr)

Nearly everywhere we travel, whether we’re standing on a subway platform in New York, wandering around Navy Pier in Chicago or walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans, the sweet sounds of a 19th-century Belgian inventor’s most famous creation seems to find our ears.

Adolphe Sax 1860s

Adolphe Sax 1860s
(Photo by unattributed and provided courtesy Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.)

The child of two instrument designers, Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax invented several things, including the saxotromba, the saxhorn, and the saxtuba. But he is mostly noted for creating the modern day saxophone, which he patented in 1846 and that quickly became popular around the globe.

Since Sax was born on November 6, 1814, and because we love saxophone music so much, we figured it was a great time to share some of our favorite saxophonists of all time.


I grew up surrounded by music. My mother constantly played a wide range of musicians on the radio, but her tastes were heavily influenced by Motown, jazz and the blues. It makes sense though, since her own mother, Deane, had been a torch singer when she was young; my grandfather John played trombone; and my great-grandmother Catherine loved to play marches on the piano. Then there was my Uncle Terry who was a gifted organist, and my Great Uncle Tom, who was a fantastic ragtime pianist too. So it is little wonder that I have music in my bones.

I attribute my love and knowledge of old school jazz, however, to a close family friend, Jim Pappas. More like a grandfather to me than any of my flesh and blood, I remember when Jim would visit our home and he’d come in and sit down on my bedroom floor with me and listen to albums by some of the greats, telling me which songs were “crisp” and which weren’t. These are some of my fondest memories from my youth, and every time I hear tunes by folks like Stan Getz, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker and others, I can’t help but think of Jim. So here are some of my favorite classic saxophone moments from the legends of jazz.


Duke Ellington and John Coltrane

Impulse! Records

Born on Sept. 23, 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina, John Coltrane grew up surrounded by music. But with musical influences like Lester Young and Johnny Hodges, “Trane” took to playing the alto sax and trained at Granoff Studios in Philadelphia and the Ornstein School of Music. When World War II broke out, he was called to active service and performed in the U.S. Navy Band in Hawaii.

After the war, he began playing the tenor sax and worked with folks like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner and more. On Sept. 26, 1962, “Trane” went into the studio with Duke Ellington, who originally penned “In A Sentimental Mood” in 1935, to record the song for the album, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. Despite the differences in their ages at the time, Ellington was 63 and Coltrane was 36, their performance was seamless.




Born to Ukranian parents in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Oct. 30, 1932, Stan Getz grew up in the Bronx in New York. In 1940, when he was just 13, his father bought him a sax for $35. He soon learned to play all of the saxophones and the clarinet, but the tenor sax became his favorite. Stan practiced eight hours a day, and in September 1941 he was accepted into the All City High School Orchestra of New York City and was soon playing gigs around town for $3 a night.

In December 1942 he got a gig at Roseland and then in 1943, too young to be drafted, he started making $70 a week touring with Jack Teagarden‘s band. He left the band when he turned 17 and joined the Stan Kenton band in California, making $125 per week, and his first recording with the band, “All Her Tears Flowed Like Wine,” with vocalist Anita O’Day, became a hit, reaching number four on the charts.

In the 1960s, when the bossa nova craze was taking off, Stan went into the studio with Brazilian guitarist João Gilberto and composer/pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim to record the album, Getz/Gilberto for Verve Records. This recording featured the song “The Girl from Ipanema” with Astrud Gilberto on vocals. The album won the 1965 Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!

Capitol Records


Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley was born on Sept. 5, 1928 in Tampa, Florida. Like Coltrane, he came from a musical family. His father was a trumpet player and educator. By 1948, Adderley had also become a band director at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale before moving to New York City in 1955. He intended to attend graduate school there, but when he sat in with Oscar Pettiford‘s band at Café Bohemia, the alto saxophonist became an instant sensation.

Drawing on inspiration from Charlie Parker and Benny Carter, “Cannonball” formed his first quintet with his brother Nat, but struggled financially. When he drew the attention of Miles Davis, and played with his quintet for two years beginning in 1957. In 1959, he reunited with Nat and formed his second quintet, and this time the band became an instant success with their brand of soul jazz.

In 1966, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet recorded Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at ‘The Club’ for Capitol Records, which is my personal all-time favorite from the group. This funky crossover song, written by Joe Zawinul, won Adderley his largest audience to date and reached number 11 on the Billboard charts.




Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 5, 1934, Stanley Turrentine came also had a great musical heritage. His father played the sax for Al Cooper’s Savoy Sultans, his mom played stride piano and his brother, Tommy, became a professional trumpet player. Stanley started his own career in the 1950s and played with guys like Lowell Fulson and Earl Bostic.

While in the military in the mid-1950s, he received his only formal musical training. Afterward, he married organist Shirley Scott in 1960 and he started a long and prolific career recording with Blue Note Records. But when the couple split in the 1970s, he began playing jazz fusion and signed with CTI.

“Mr. T,” as he came to be called, recorded Sugar as his first album for the new label. It quickly became one of his best received recordings. When David Rickert of All About Jazz reviewed this album, he said, “Seldom does a group of musicians click on all levels and rise into the stratosphere, but this is one such record.”

Of course, there are many more sax greats that we’d love to have featured here. But this is just a sampling of who we listen to. We hope this list whets your appetite and prompts you to explore the many facets of jazz these brilliant musicians have introduced us to over the years.

If your favorite sax player wasn’t listed here, please tell us who we missed in the comments below.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

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