History of the Saxophone Part 2

By January 16, 2017saxophone articles

Swing Baby Yeah! The Tenor Saxophone Breaks Out

Now we get into a time when the popularity of the sax explodes even more! I’m talking about swing music. It all started with Louis Armstrong, I know, he was a trumpet player, but back in the early 20’s he played in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, which was a very popular band at the time.

Louis Armstrong was getting everyone’s attention, not just around him but the whole jazz world in general. He was playing his horn like no one had done up till then. Bringing in new ways of phrasing, new rhythm and harmony. Also playing in Henderson’s band at the same time was Coleman Hawkins on the tenor saxophone. Trumpet was king and the new, exciting things that Armstrong was doing were rubbing off on Hawkins. The collaboration between these two musical monsters was the launching pad for the tenor saxophone’s giant role in jazz.

These guys went on to become the featured soloists in other big bands bands of the day, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins is regarded as the “Father of Jazz Saxophone” and would influence many to come. He made it sound big and sweet and used a lot of vibrato;

He spent most of the 1930’s living and touring in Europe. After returning to New York in ’39 he saw another wave of monster tenor saxophone players like Lester young, Ben Webster, and Don Byas, all of who were influenced by Hawkins but now had their own strong voice.

Listen to the “Hawk”

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Lester Young

young-160While Coleman Hawkins was in Europe, Lester Young earned the reputation as the young tenor saxophonist to copy. His sound was warm and sensual with almost no vibrato. Very different from Hawkins who used plenty of vibrato.

He was regarded as one of the most inventive and influential tenor saxophonists of his time. His nickname was “Prez” and he came up with the Count Basie band and so was also very good friends with Billy Holiday.

Here’s a little sample from the “Prez”

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Ben Webster

ben webster picMy personal favorite of these big three tenors was Ben Webster. He seemed to be able to get Hawkin’s big sound and had Young’s warmness in there as well. He could explode like a monster but also had one of the sweetest, warmest tone of anybody before or after him.

Listen to a bit of Ben:

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This was the first important wave of swing jazz tenor saxophonists and would inspire the next important ones to come in the 40’s like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Illinois Jacquet.

Illinois-JacquetYes, it was Jacquet who while playing in Lionel Hampton’s popular big band in 1942 really set off the fuse for the R&B / rock and roll wailin’ sax sound that was just around the corner.

Illinois Jacquet also inspired King Curtis who would become one of the most prominent saxophone figures in the next big new wave of music… rock and roll.

Check out The History of the Saxophone Part 3

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