Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Saxophone Range: A Gallery Of Classics, by Wiggia

Following on from the tenor sax all the other versions of the instrument fall into place, none more so than the alto sax with which Charlie Parker did so much with to change the direction of modern jazz and begat be bop. Although he died at the age of 34 he packed more into those years than most of us would in treble that time. There is to much to write about Parker without filling pages so a link to his Wiki page is justified, he earned his dues as they say:

There was also an autobiographical film of his troubled life, “Bird”, made in 1988 .

This is “Koko” with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach on drums recorded in 1945, Parker's and jazz's first be bop album.

In direct contrast to the style of Parker there was Johnny Hodges with the Ellington Orchestra and Paul Desmond who became hugely popular with Dave Brubeck; a million miles away from Parker in style but giving huge pleasure to millions on record and live.This from Hodges is almost an Ellington and Hodges calling card:

And here from the Pacific College album, the Oberlin album before this was one of my first jazz album buys, with Brubeck in ‘53; a classic Desmond performance:

At the other end of the sax scale is the baritone. Normally a backing instrument, it was used by Gerry Mulligan, a New Yorker by birth. He was an early cool jazz exponent, an accomplished piano player and also of other reed instruments , and he was also an arranger and composer. He played with all the greats of the time and several small groups later in life including Brubeck; a unique sound.

This is another case of little of value live being available; here with Ben Webster is as good as it gets. Mulligan was also responsible for a rash of jazz film scores after he was responsible for the score to I Want to Live in ‘58, a film that had Susan Hayward in the title role:

Gerry-Mulligan-&-Ben-Webster-Quintet_Whos-Got-Rhythm.mp4 from brunosaeg on Vimeo.

And whilst others like Pepper Adams made a mark with the instrument, the only other player that I liked was Serge Chaloff. This is a later number and better recording, giving tonality of the instrument full justice. Not nearly enough was heard of Serge, who apart from a heroin addiction that caused gaps in his playing also developed cancer of the spine and played and lived in appalling agony in his last years.

Roland Kirk was a multi-instrumentalist who not only played a wide range of them on records and live but often several together; this wasn’t a gimmick, it was part of his approach to his music. He was another who despite being blind from an early age and suffering poor health - he had two strokes and the last one was fatal - gave so much in his performances that he became hugely popular and rightly so, one of my personal favourites. Here he is with McCoy Tyner in ‘75, just two years before his passing:

Another of the younger (he is in his sixties now) exponents of the saxophone is the hugely accomplished David Murray. This version of Billy Strayhorn's Chelsea Bridge is as good as any:

This is for JD who some time ago said (in jest?) That no one could play the soprano sax in the modern age. John Coltrane made this number one of his greatest hits with the instrument. Again the original album version available has awful sound; this one is not great, but it is live and gives a half decent version of this iconic number:

My favorite things - John Coltrane from A JAZZ SUPREME on Vimeo.

The forties through the sixties begat most of the greats of the saxophone era following the foundations laid by the likes of Carter et all. It also saw the start of another form of music started by Ornette Coleman, free jazz - that was also the title of his ‘61 album that started the movement. I personally have never been able to go that route: whilst appreciating the technical ability and the fact that proponents were as with all “art” trying to move on to the new, I simply did not enjoy listening to most of it so my recollections are few and muted.

The only one from whom I have heard anything I like is Anthony Braxton who is prolific in his output, over a hundred albums since the sixties and a multi reed instrumentalist; not all is my type of music but amongst his more staid works are items I like and as a promoter of this style he is as good as any currently playing, and easier on the ear. Later, apart from playing all saxophones from piccolo to ultra bass, he also started to play the piano more than in the past as he went on another tangent, none of which was my cup of tea , but this is:

I could go on forever, there are just so many old and new that should be on any list, and that is the problem. All “lists” are finite, that is the nature of them, so I will finish with this from one of the most celebrated modern jazz albums of all time, Something Else, where we have in a stellar group Julian “Cannonball” Adderley playing alongside Miles Davis; for me, Adderley's solo is up there with any of them - enjoy:

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