Untitled Document

Tenor Saxophone


Part 3... Swing

The time of the tenor saxophone has come

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, this was a very happening band at the time. Armstrong was getting everyone’s attention not just around him but the whole jazz world in general, 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 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... this collaboration was the launching pad for the tenor saxophone’s giant role in jazz.

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;

Coleman Hawkins  audio sample

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. These guys were the featured soloists in the biggest bands of the day, like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.

While Coleman Hawkins was in Europe, Lester Young earned the reputation as the young “hip” tenor saxophonist to copy. His sound was warm and sensual with almost no vibrato;

Lester Young  audio sample

My personal favorite of these big three tenors was Ben Webster. He seemed to be able to get Hawkins big sound and had Young’s warmness in there as well;
    ben webster pic

Ben Webster  audio sample

This was the first important wave of swing jazz tenor saxophonists and would inspired important ones to come in the 40’s like Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz and Illinois Jacquet... who while playing in Lionel Hampton’s band in 1942 really set off the fuse for the R&B / rock and roll wailin’ sax sound that was just around the corner…

Go to Part 4… R&B/rock & roll saxophone