Whilst there are many general jazz education books out there, sometimes it pays to get more specific. So if you’re learning sax and focusing on playing jazz, there are some essential saxophone method books to check out…
In this article we’ve selected some of the best for your attention!
When it comes to ‘improvisation’ you just play what you feel right?
In reality, learning to play jazz is a combination of various things, and the many excellent saxophone method books out there will help you get equipped for faster progress.
Think of it as you’d learn to speak a foreign language.
You need to build up your vocabulary, learn the grammar, practice your accent and find a few choice phrases. These books will show you the way…
Transcriptions: The Charlie Parker Omnibook
The Omnibook series is a collection of transcribed solos of some of the greatest innovators of the history of jazz. The first Omnibook published was the Charlie Parker Omnibook which contains 60 original compositions and solos of the be-bop great Charlie Parker.
Available in Eb (alto sax & bari sax), Bb (tenor saxophone and soprano sax) it’s an essential element for anyone wishing to learn about bebop.
Charlie Parker’s virtuosity means the book can be very useful for technical development and the chord changes provided are helpful when one wants to analyze and understand why he played those notes over those chords.
Released by American publisher Hal Leonard LLC the Omnibook series became so successful that today there are several other versions covering musicians such as John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Joe Pass and Bud Powell.
Most of these books come in C/Eb and B/ versions.
Technique: Jim Snidero’s Jazz Conception Series
The next type of saxophone method books are not artist transcriptions, but written solos on existing jazz standards or original compositions, aimed to develop articulation, phrasing, time feel.
Two of the most popular books of these types of methods are alto saxophonist Jim Snidero’s Jazz Conception series (Easy, Intermediate, Advance) and tenor giant Bob Mintzer’s etudes series.
The great part of these books, first of all, is that they are accessible for every level of the student and that they feature audio tracks with and without the saxophone, helping the student to master the articulation, time-feel and to play with the band.
Bob Mintzer’s series introduces various genres such as Blues, Funk and Jazz throughout a series of original compositions and explanations of what is the focal point in each piece.
Each composition focuses on a particular scale, mode, time signature, style and so on.
Jim Snidero chooses a different approach to his series; the focus is on straight-ahead, be-bop language with compositions based on jazz standards and songs from the Great American Songbook, such as Misty, Caravan, A Night in Tunisia, Confirmation and many others.
There is no extra explanation to each piece although it’s recommended to take an extra look at these solos, by trying to analyse and understand what’s happening in each section.
Both books feature stellar rhythm sections: Russel Ferrante on keyboards, Jimmy Hasslip on bass and William Kennedy on drums in the Bob Mintzer books while in the Jim Snidero books you can play with Mike LeDonne on piano, Peter Washington on double bass and Kenny Washington & Joe Farnsworth on drums.
Scales & Harmony: Jerry Bergonzi Method Books
Michael Brecker once called Jerry Bergonzi “the best tenor player in the world” but in more recent year’s he’s perhaps more famous for publishing an astonishing 7 volume series of jazz method books.
The series called “Inside Improvisation Series” consists of the following books: Melodic Structures; Pentatonics; Jazz Line; Melodic Rhythms; Thesaurus of Intervallic Melodies; Developing A Jazz Language; Hexatonics.
These books are available in Concert, Bb, Eb and bass clef versions, so it’s not only a saxophone book but suitable for all instruments as the topics they talk about are rather general improvisational techniques and harmony related, rather than strictly made for saxophone.
There is no particular order one should use these books, if you want to work on your pentatonic play, you can just pick up volume 2, without going through the first book.
Each of these books has thorough explanations and examples of their topics, with backing tracks allowing the player to practice and put to use the ideas and materials they learned in these books.
The rhythm section on these books is Renato Chicco on piano, Dave Santoro on double bass and Adam Nussbaum on drums. Quite a band indeed!
General Jazz Books: Jamie Aebersold Jazz Handbook
Whilst these saxophone method books are an important addition to your bookcase, it’s still worth being aware of the key general jazz books and music theory guides that have been tried and tested for years.
We’ve pulled them all together in this in-depth guide, but the most popular are
- Jamie Aebersold Jazz Handbook
- Mark Levine’s The Jazz Theory Book
- Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians by Robert Rawlins and Nor Eddine Bahha.
These three books will give you all the information you need to know about the first steps of learning jazz and to understand what’s happening and why does it work.
From basic intervals, jazz harmony, piano voicings, II-V-I cadences, scales and modes. For the performing artists, these books take you through modulations and modal interchange, arranging techniques and many more.
So whatever level of the saxophone journey you’re on, check out some of these books for a deeper understanding behind the music.
But remember, the tried-and-tested method since the beginning of time – learning by transcribing your favourite players – is still a crucial part of learning to play jazz.