All Things Saxophone


A Discussion

Last modified 09/12/08


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"There is no need to study classical saxophone if you want to play jazz!"

This is the impassioned opinion of a colleague of mine.  He and I have decided to "agree to disagree" on this, adding us to the ranks of saxophonists who count themselves on both sides of this standing argument.

Granted, this guy has the credentials to back up his opinion, having held the 2nd Tenor chair in the one o'clock band.  Ironically though, he himself did study classical saxophone.  The following is my take on the subject.

· Vocabulary

The legit (classical) style was here first, and the vocabulary of jazz (motifs) came in part from the legit saxophone world.  Anyone who has studied the major legit repertoire for saxophone (Creston, Ebert, Debussy, Bozza, Glauzanov, DiPasquale, etc.) and also the Omnibook knows that jazz genius Charlie Parker was using some legit motifs even if he didn't know that he was.  If you line up passages in works from the above mentioned composers alongside transcriptions of Parker's solos it's easy to pick out similarities.  We can even see in modern day players like                     that it's possible to blur the line between the two styles.  This is also demonstrated in clarinetist                          playing.

· Sound

Studying the legitimate production of sound on the saxophone builds endurance and discipline in the aspiring player.  Just as you have to learn how to solo "inside" the chord changes before you can solo "outside" the chord changes, a saxophonist must learn how to produce a disciplined tone before he or she can begin taking the liberties associated with playing jazz.  I have had many students come to me with bad habits in their sound/tone brought out of trying to play stuff that they weren't ready for.  I take them right back to the fundamentals which often breeds resistance from them but the ones that accept my direction end up making it.  The others just quit studying and end up playing bad blues in dive bars, or not playing at all.

· Vibrato

The legit vibrato (referred to by my friend                                           as a "shimmering texture" worked into the note) is a fast, relatively shallow pulse that emulates the style created hundreds of years ago by the violinists.  In jazz, vibrato can be fast, slow, shallow, deep, etc. but most importantly it is selective -- it may be used or not used on a note, and is often used on the last third of a note.  Given that the jazz vibrato has such a variety of nuances, how can an aspiring saxophonist know how or when to apply them without having developed fundamental vibrato production first?  They can't, and just end up developing bad habits if they try.

Based on the above criteria I require all of my students to study legit production as a prerequisite to jazz, although there is of course overlap on that — I usually get beginners started on jazz within the first year.  The best jazz playing comes from the cats that know the legit also — I find this to be true on other instruments as well.



Dan Higgins

Eddie Daniels'

Horace Alexander Young