November 6th marks National Saxophone Day which is timed to coincide with the birthday of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the woodwind instrument.
Whilst originally conceived as an orchestral instrument in the early 1840s by the Belgian instrument maker, the history of the saxophone is firmly linked to many of the key developments in jazz music so, to mark this occasion, we reached out to saxophone players around the world and asked them to answer a simple question:
Which saxophone album was the most influential to you and why?
The result: more than 40 different recommended albums for you to (re)discover today!
You can check out their answers below, as well as click their names to listen to their own music and don’t forget to comment with your own favourite sax-led album at the end!
Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard
Artist: John ColtraneYear: 1961
“This recording was important for me because it showed me that with hard work a player can continue to grow and develop and find a unique way of expressing their creativity.
And grandmaster Coltrane was, in my opinion, pushing the boundaries of saxophone playing and Jazz to the highest levels ever.” – Jean Toussaint
Bird with Strings
Artist: Charlie Parker Year: 1950
“I had a very good teacher at a young age (I was probably 13-14) that suggested I check out this album. I was so entranced I transcribed Bird’s solo on Just Friends, April In Paris and Parker’s Mood.
I didn’t understand enough about the chord changes but I was able to write down the notes. This was my first serious effort at transcription.” – Walt Weiskopf (USA)
Body and Soul
Artist: Coleman Hawkins & His Orchestra Year: 1939
“Total mastery of phrasing and harmony. Even though it’s really complex it made sense to my ear even as a young musician because of the logic and storytelling in his improvising.
It’s one of the absolute seminal recordings in jazz, so much so that it’s in the US Library of Congress…!” – Alex Hitchcock (UK)
Bird on Verve Vol. 5
Artist: Charlie Parker Year: 1951
“My parents had this Bird record and as a 4-5 year old i would stare at the incredible illustration on the cover with a bird playing a sax and birds all over, one pecking in his ear!
This is now a classic out of print record, because the re-releases have different songs! I own the original ,and it ends with two vocal chorus songs arranged by gil evans!
I fell in love with the alto from this record onward… incredible, Max Roach and Miles Davis as sidemen?! C’mon it doesn’t get better than this…” – Steve Slagle (USA)
Artist: Sonny RollinsYear: 1956
“This is the record that turned me into a saxophone player, just overwhelming in his technique and inventiveness. Check out There’s No Business Like Show Business.” – Allen Lowe
Stan Getz meets Gilberto Live in Carnegie Hall
Artist: Stan Getz Year: 1964
“This record was given to me when I was 12 years old and started to play the saxophone. I listened to this album so much that I could sing every Getz solo on all tracks. I still love to listen to this music.” – Cecilie Strange (DK)
In New York
Artist: Cannonball AdderleyYear: 1962
“I absolutely fell in love with Cannonball Adderley’s sound as a young alto player in school, and “In New York” was one of the first albums of his I was exposed to after hearing his work with Miles on Kind of Blue.
Cannonball’s sound completely shaped the way I play today, and “In New York” is one of those albums up there with “Coltrane’s Sound” or “Mingus Ah Um” that I find myself returning to over and over, no matter what I’m going through in music or in life.
It just has so much depth and life to it, you hear something new every time you listen.” – Adam Claussen
Beyond the Wall
Artist: Kenny Garrett Year: 2006
“The Chinese influence with the avant gardish style and the use of modal and pentatonic playing in it inspired my playing. Great compositions too. I love ‘Tsunami Song’ too even though it doesn’t have any saxophone in it. Qing Wen is probably my favourite track on the album.” – Adam Nolan (IE)
The Jumpin’ Blues
Artist: Dexter GordonDate: 1970
“Sound & swing!” Jerry Weldon
Artist: Hank Mobley Year: 1960
“’Remember’ was my first solo transcription, and other tunes of the same album. Mobley was a great inspiration for me, and this album was my first jazz cd.
I released in 2020 a cd called Dice of Tenors and I dedicated one of the tunes to Hank with a different arrangement of Remember where I put some parts of his solo.” – César Cristóvão Vasco Cardoso
Artist: Donald Byrd (with Gigi Gryce)Year: 1957
“Gigi took risks as a composer, improviser, and human being. I’ve always appreciated this about his legacy in the straight-ahead world of BAM. As a young musician, I was drawn to this album because of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a song my mom performed in the stage production of The Wizard of Oz, in Singapore, in the early 80s.
Early on, this record helped me dive into creative ways of hearing ensembles, harmony, and improvising with your own sound.” – Caroline Davis
Crescent (Bessie’s Blues)
Artist: John ColtraneYear: 1964
“That was an album my dad would play on his record player and he would fall asleep with it on and it would repeat all night. I would literally sneak into his room and turn it down because I couldn’t sleep hearing Coltrane’s soloing.
The reason I mention Bessie’s Blues is because my dad gave me a chart of that tune to learn when I was 12 years old which left a HEAVY impression on me and made me realize he must want me to learn that song which I have learned and play it on my gigs.” – Eric Wyatt
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Artist: Colin Stetson Year: 2011
“There are far too many amazing saxophone albums out there to pick a favourite, but the first time I heard Colin Stetson it completely reconfigured my idea of the type of sounds, let alone music, that’s it’s possible to make on a saxophone.
There aren’t many people in recent times that have truly pioneered a new sound on the instrument, but Colin is one of them!” Andrew Neil Hayes (UK)
Duke Ellington and John Coltrane
Artist: Duke Ellington & John Coltrane Year: 1962
“Though this was not solely under Coltranes name, it had a huge impact on me for a number of reasons. Well, it was one in Dad’s record collection and I wore it out. But think overall the idea of artistic collaboration and excellence in performance and composition/arranging had a lasting impact.
The virtuosity and passion Trane brings along with the charming arrangements and accompaniment by Ellington combine to make a masterpiece, for me.” – Jacam Manricks
Artist: John ColtraneYear: 1963
“A record can never replace the live experience. In this album (more than many of Trane’s) he conveyed to me his presence on stage, the sweat, the thickness and intensity of the music. Pure energy.
There are so many records that you can transcribe the notes of, but energy cannot be transcribed.” – Emi Vernizzi
It’s OK to Listen to the Gray Voice
Artist: Jan Garbarek Year: 1985
“When I first started playing the saxophone I listened to a huge amount of Coltrane, Rollins, Parker, et al., all hugely important and utterly inspiring.
But Jan Garbarek’s playing on this album opened my ears to an entirely different approach – one focused on space, atmosphere and on the pure, powerful beauty of the sound of the instrument.” – Jake McMurchie (UK)
Know What I Mean?
Artist: Cannonball Adderley Year: 1962
“This is an album I used to listen to on repeat, and now that I’ve been reminded of it, I’ll probably do it again. It’s really beautiful playing from everyone involved.
I remember hearing it described as demonstrating the “softer side of Cannonball,” and while I agree that there is a lot of sensitivity in his playing, he is still super swinging and has the attitude heard on his quintet recordings. It showed me that you could play funky and beautiful at the same time.” – Gemma Farrell
O Grande Amor
Artist: Rich PerryYear: 2000
“This was the first record of Rich’s I heard. Even to this day, every time I hear it, hIs sound, time feel, harmonic approach and melodic pacing bowls me over!
He’s an artist with his own distinct approach that has deeply resonated with me for the last 20 years. For me he’s at the top of the list of my greatest influences.” – Hashem Assadullahi
Cannonball Adderley Live in New York
Artist: Cannonball AdderleyYear: 1962
“The whole recording is absolutely brilliant and the introduction is a profound statement about human behavior. It is so subtle that it would go over a lot of people’s heads.” – Bill Easley
Artist: Sonny RollinsYear: 1966
“It has so much soul and Sonny plays so free and with so much power and desperation. When I was in third grade everyone in the class should bring one tone each and then we should vote for our class favorite song.
I brought Alfie’s Theme. Everyone else brought New Kids On The Block or something like that but although the competition was hard Alfie’s Theme came second, before Madonna and Michael Jackson.” – Fredrik Lindborg (SE)
Oliver Nelson’s Blues and The Abstract Truth
Artist: Oliver NelsonYear: 1961
Besides the horns arranging what hit me mostly was the soloists on the record including: Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Eric Dolphy (alto saxophone, plus flute on Stolen Moments), Oliver Nelson (tenor & alto sax), George Barrow (baritone saxophone), Bill Evans (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), Roy Haynes (drums).
This compelled me to seek out each of the member’s albums and introduced me to the Impulse label. – Dan Moretti
Artist: John Coltrane Year: 1958
“As a young player, this album was my first serious jazz education. I played along with the whole album for years. I practically shaped my inner ears until I’ve got clear imagination about the sound I would like to develop on my horn.” – Viktor Haraszti (HU)
“The opening track Blue Train on this album gets you straight into this feeling of venture. All the other tracks are the premises of what John Coltrane was about to bring to the music.” – Arnaud Guichard (BE)
“Coltrane‘s music had a huge impact on me – when I first heard his solo on Blue Train, it blew me away. Not only is his harmonic approach so hip, but his emotional sound immediately drew me into his music.” – Jan Prax
Cannonball Takes Charge
Artist: Cannonball AdderleyYear:
“I think the track ‘I’ve Told Ev’ry Little Star’ always stood out to me as a kid (and today) because of the resonant sound Cannonball has when he plays the melody, and the solos are all incredible. It sounds very bright and happy, and it drew me in immediately as somebody who just began listening to jazz.” – Aaron Gratzmiller
Getz Meets Mulligan in Hi-Fi
Artist: Stan Getz & Gerry Mulligan Year: 1957
“As a Christmas gift to a young baritone saxophonist in high school, my girlfriend’s mother gave me a CD of Stan Getz and Gerry Mulligan. The cool tones, relaxed swing, melodic lines, and the improvised counterpoint had a profound influence on me that would not manifest for another decade. Gerry Mulligan’s romantic “A Ballad” is another favorite track and I love the little-known fact that Getz plays bari and Mulligan plays tenor on the A side (including Too Close For Comfort)” – Brad Linde
Artist: John ColtraneYear: 1964
“To me one of the best Coltrane LPs” – Gebhard Ullmann
Coleman Hawkins encounters Ben Webster
Artist: Coleman Hawkins & Ben Webster Year: 1957
“I was obsessed with the tone of these two saxophone giants. Such big, huge and warm sounds full of expression. The album was essential for looking for my own sound. It also expresses a lot joy. Just wonderful.'”- Tobias Meinhart (DE)
My One and Only Love
Artist: Michael BreckerDate: 1987
“When my high school band director played me Michael Brecker’s unaccompanied intro to “My One & Only Love” I realized what the instrument I was holding in my hands was capable of.” – Brian Patneaude
Freedom In The Groove
Artist: Joshua RedmanYear: 1996
“Joshua’s playing and composing influenced me hugely when I started improvising and writing my own music and continues to be a huge influence. His sound, command of his instrument, groove and sense of melody whether written or composed speak volumes to me as a saxophonist.” – Anna Brooks
Artist: Joshua RedmanYear: 1994
“There are/were so many great albums/artists to consider, but Joshua Redman was a huge influence on my generation. He brought sound, technique, creativity, and an organic way of playing. I really appreciated that he got away from synthesizers and distorted guitars and brought the traditional quartet sound into a modern setting. It was also appealing that he was my “age” and it showed that jazz was not just a historical art form.” – David Sterner
“Was given to me by a middle school band director and it I was blown away.” – Herschel McWilliams
A Love Supreme
Artist: John ColtraneYear: 1965
“What Trane was doing on the tenor was so new. It was both a perfect summary of where it had come from, and a pointer to where it would go.” – Andy Sugg
Artist: Keith Jarret (with Jan Garbarek) Year: 1977
“Phrases and amazing sound of Jan Garbarek” – Javier Girotto
Artist: Ornette ColemanYear: 1968
“His sound is unique. His harmolodic concept is unique. I hear his saxophone in my ear often! I had the opportunity to play with him for two hours straight at his home in New York, then we talked about music and life – amazing!” – Biggi Vinkeloe
Artist: Jan GarbarekYear: 1973
About playing free jazz…the whole album of Coltrane´s Interstellallar Space (which I admire and was influenced heavily by) would be an obvious choice here, and is surely named thousands of times by many players.
I wanted to note here one very remarkable album by the great Jan Garbarek, who was pioneering the Nordic/European tradition/way to play free improvised jazz. To me this album is by far the best example how to play all the different ways of rubato expression. – Esa Pietilä
Live at the Showboat
Artist: Phil WoodsYear: 1977
“Just a perfect, swinging recording listening to it helped me realize a lot about time and phrasing and a great sound!!” – Greg Abate
Artist: Sonny Rollins Year: 1956
“I asked my high school music teacher Michael Pacer, a saxophonist, “Who should I be listening to?”, and he instantly replied, “Sonny Rollins.”
My next trip to the record store I went straight to the Sonny Rollins section and chose “Tenor Madness”. I listened to it so much that every note of that album is engraved in my brain.
“Paul’s Pal” particularly stands out to me because of its joyous swing, and the way Rollins and the whole band (Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones) create such brilliant and compelling music based on relatively simple thematic material – it’s a quintessential Rollins, Garland, Chambers, and Jones masterclass.” – Arun Luthra
Artist: Dexter GordonYear: 1976
“My dad took me to hear Dexter in Milwaukee when I was in high school. I had no clue as to what was going on, but it was the coolest thing I had ever experienced. I picked up that double album (with Woody Shaw!) and it was on my turntable non-stop. I wanted to play this music after hearing that.” – David Bixler
Mercy Mercy Mercy! Live at “The Club”
Artist: Cannonball AdderleyYear: 1967
“Cannonball Adderley’s recording of “Mercy Mercy Mercy” was one of the first jazz tunes I heard when I started the saxophone at age 12.
I fell in love with his sweet, full sound (particularly the last note he plays), and I was captivated by his speech at the beginning of the recording. Ever since, I’ve admired both his sound on the sax and his incredible way with words.” – Ally Fiola
Power To The People
Artist: Joe HendersonYear: 1969
“This album had a profound influence on me as it shows the many sides of Joe Henderson the saxophonist and Joe Henderson the composer/bandleader.
From the intimacy and evolving mood of “Black Narcissus” to the strength, freedom and roots in hard bop found in the tune and playing on the title track “Power to the People” I was immediately enraptured by Joe’s sound, sonic spectrum, and individuality as a tenor saxophonist.
To this day it is one of my favorite records of all time.” – Daniel Ian Smith
Artist: Boots RandolphDate: 1963
“I was with my father shopping at Christmas time. I was 14 years old and had just gotten my first saxophone. We heard Boots playing over the stores music system and inquired about the album.
Boots Randolph is likely one of the most expressive saxophonists I have heard, even to this day. He was a commercial success in the early 60’s playing on a number of pop hits, and he was a frequently featured on the hit TV show “He Haw”.
His famous solo on Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” is a classic, and can be heard every holiday season.” – Frank Villafranca
Out Front (Hazy Blues)
Artist: Booker LittleYear:1961
“Great composing, great arranging, great soloists, great rhythmic and formal concepts…” – Christoph Grab
Heavy Metal Be-Bop
Artist: Brecker BrothersYear: 1978
Growing up listening to rock this was my bridge that led me to love jazz. Had enough funk, rock and groove but added the complexity of harmony and rhythm and soloing. – Ada Rovatti
Artist: Kenny Garrett Year: 1997
“As with almost all jazz musicians, I got into the music through the legendary recordings of Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. But the first album I heard (as a 16 year-old) which completely opened up my ears to ‘modern’ jazz was this album by Kenny Garrett.
On one hand it’s very informed by the history of jazz (Garrett toured with Miles in the trumpeter’s later years) but also brings in so many modern sounds – not least pentatonic patterns – to create a whole new sound world.
Coupled with that trademark intense tone Garrett produces, it’s a brilliant and intense album” – Matt Fripp, host of Jazzfuel and ex-saxophonist!
Further Saxophone Listening
Looking to dive deeper into the saxophone to celebrate national saxophone day?
Click the name of any artist who contributed to this piece to be taken to their website, Youtube or Bandcamp profile where you can listen to more!
And don’t forget to leave a comment here with your pick of the most influential saxophone album of all time!