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Jazz Saxophone: Learn by Listening to the Masters

jazz saxophone - eric marienthal playing at the blue note

For anyone learning jazz saxophone, it’s a good idea to listen to the masters of the instrument at their best. Dissecting the work of a few of the greats like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, and Cannonball Adderley will greatly help you understand the elusive art of improvisation and the importance of feel when it comes to selecting the perfect, most compelling notes to play.

As one of jazz’s most iconic tenor and soprano saxophonists, John Coltrane masterfully played multiple notes while creating beautiful cascades of scales, which one music critic famously described as “sheets of sound.” His compositions were both controversial and popular, and Coltrane’s most avant-garde work reflects a sound quite distinctive from earlier jazz recordings.

Coltrane achieved this sound through a technique called “Coltrane changes,” an advanced variation of the rhythm change technique. Coltrane changes allow a musician to perform jazz improvisations through creating harmonic progressions using multiple tonal centers (also known as the multi-tonic system).

Charlie “Bird” Parker was a pioneer and master of the musical style known as bop or bebop. Along with his musical partner William “Biddy” Fleet, Parker helped forge this new, radical style of jazz in the 1940s. Bebop emphasizes long solos and fast, powerful, complex compositions.

Bebop also departed from the tradition of jazz being played by big bands. Quartets or other small groups of musicians play bebop, with the saxophonist often playing a key role by performing reharmonization techniques through superimposing or substituting progressions. Many bebop tunes are mixtures of earlier jazz and music during the swing era.

Stan Getz was another key innovator of the jazz saxophone, known for his thoughtful solos and catchy, skillful melodies. His recordings and performances helped popularize cool jazz (which was calmer and more meditative than bebop) in the 1950s and bossa nova in the 1960s as seen in the classic performance below:

Throughout his musical career, Getz had played both as a solo saxophonist and in bands, where he first became popularly known for being in Woody Herman’s band, Four Brothers. Needless to say, his saxophone often took the lead in the classic compositions of his 1980s acoustic quartet.

As a virtuoso of the alto saxophone, Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley later mastered the tenor and soprano saxophone. He was known for creating pure tones, and his compositions ranged in style from fusion and post-bop to soul jazz. Early in his musical career, Cannonball had started and led his own band with his brother, Nat Adderley, where his quintet included many other notable musicians. The hits on his landmark albums propelled his upbeat sound from small nightclubs to large performance venues around the world.

These four jazz masters worked hard at their craft, and their music shows the range and versatility of the saxophone. It’s never too late to learn how to play the saxophone. Online music lessons make learning how to play jazz saxophone much more accessible.

Jazz instructors at teach a variety of essential jazz styles. Whether you’re a beginner who wants to learn the basics or an advanced player seeking individualized tips from an expert, our teachers will provide the guidance you need. 

Eric Marienthal teaches jazz saxophone online at ArtistWorks. Click below for more info and free sample lessons!

Learn jazz saxophone online at ArtistWorks

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