Great Sax Players


One of the best ways to learn and create your own playing style is to check out some of the great saxophone players.  By taking the time to listen to as many great recordings as possible you will start to get an idea of what style of playing you like.  The next step of course is to try to imitate their style and sound.  Here are just a few great players as a starting point:



Johnny Hodges

July 25, 1906 - May 11, 1970


Johnny Hodges was  Duke Ellingtons lead alto player and sax section leader for many years and one of the most awesome big band alto sax players.  Hodges has a great sound on alto and is famous for his note bends and wonderful vibrato.  He also has a amazing sense of rhythm and melody.


Horn: Buescher "Aristocrat" / Vito "System" altos

Mouthpiece: Berg Larson / Gayle

Great track: All of Me - Duke Ellington, the great Paris Concert







Charlie Parker

August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955


Charlie Parker was one of the most influential saxophone players of all time. Parker played a leading role in the development of Bebop style which came about in the 1940’s.


Horn: Alto Sax

Mouthpiece: Brilhart Tonalin,Runyon Modele 22 and metal Berg Larsen



Albums to check out:

Now's the Time - The Quartet of Charlie Parker – Verve

Great track: Kim

Dial Records: The Complete Master Takes – Spotlite Records 559 859-2.

Great track: Lover Man




Cannonball Adderley

September 15, 1928 – August 8, 1975

A very exciting and energetic player, Cannonball Adderley was famous for playing with the Miles Davis sextet and on the immortal album Kind of Blue.  Adderley also had great success with his own Sextet featuring his brother Nat on trumpet.


Horn: Alto Sax (King Super 20 / Selmer Mk VI)

Mouthpiece: Meyer #5


Albums to check out:

Kind of Blue - Blue Note

Somethin’ Else - Blue Note






Coleman Hawkins

Nov 21 1904 - May 19, 1969


Coleman Hawkins is often credited as the first really important musician to play saxophone. He has a beautiful lyrical style with an amazing swing feel. Checkout his playing on Body and Soul for a masterclass in melodic playing.


Horn: Tenor Sax by SML

Mouthpiece: Otto Link Metal


Albums to check out:

Body and Soul

The Genius of Coleman Hawkins








John Coltrane

September 23, 1926ᅠ– July 17, 1967


Probably one of the most famous and influential saxophone players of all time, John Coltrane changed the direction of jazz with his approach to improvisation and jazz harmony.  Coltrane played and recorded with Miles Davis in the 1950’s then further developed his own modal free style through the 60’s with his own group.  There really are loads of amazing albums to check out here - get comfortable!


Horn: Tenor Sax - Selmer Mark VI / Soprano Sax

Mouthpiece: Otto Link 5* Metal


Albums to check out:

Blue Trane (Blue Note)

Kind of Blue

A Love Supreme




Stan Getz

February 2, 1927 – June 6, 1991


Although Getz developed his playing style performing throughout the 1940’s  with Nat King Cole, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, his Bossa Nova recordings from the 1960’s are by far his most famous. Getz won Grammy awards for his tracks Desafinado and The Girl from Ipanema which were massive million selling hits and are have become standard jazz tunes played everywhere.


Horn: Tenor Sax - Selmer Mark VI

Mouthpiece: Otto Link 8* Metal


Albums to check out:

Stan Getz and the Oscar Peterson Trio

Jazz Samba (Verve)

Getz/Gilberto (Verve)




Paul Desmond

November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977


Paul Desmond is probably most famous for his playing with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and their greatest hit “Take Five”.  Desmond had a distinctive airy smooth sound on his alto which stood him apart from his contemporaries and helped to define the “West Coast Cool Jazz” style of the 1960s.


Horn: Alto Sax - Selmer Super Balanced Action

Mouthpiece: Gregory 4A


Albums to check out:

Time Out (Columbia)



King Curtis

February 7, 1934 – August 13, 1971


King Curtis is often thought of as the first R&B or Rock and Roll sax player.  His raw and energetic playing have  been the influence for many great players who followed him. Check out his amazing playing with Aretha Franklin   on her Live at Filmore West album.


Horn: Tenor Sax - Selmer MKVI

Mouthpiece: Berg Larsen Metal


Albums to check out:

Soul Twist and other Golden Classics
Memphis Soul Stew

Night Train



Sam Butera

August 17, 1927 – June 3, 2009


Sam Butera was most famous for being Louis Prima’s sax player for many years.  He is one of the best players to check out for the 1960’s R&B / rock and roll style of playing.  A wonderful musician and a great entertainer.


Horn: Tenor Sax

Mouthpiece: Berg Larsen Metal Duckbill 110/2


Albums to check out:

Ultra-Lounge: Wild, Cool & Swingin' - Artist Series Vol 6

The Wildest (With Louis Prima)







Michael Brecker

March 29, 1949 – January 13, 2007


There would be few young saxophonists these days who isn’t influenced by Michael Brecker.  He is regarded as perhaps the most influential saxophonist since John Coltrane.  Brecker’s playing spanned the jazz and pop worlds. He was a prolific pop session player and appeared on more than 700 albums. Brecker also left behind a massive catalogue of jazz albums and his sound and incredible technique inspired a generation.


Horn: Tenor Sax - Selmer MKVI

Mouthpiece: Dave Guardala Studio


Albums to check out:

Michael Brecker (self titled)

Two Blocks from the Edge (check out Delta City Blues)

with Steps Ahead “Live in Tokyo 1986)

Now you See It Now You Don’t

“The Birthday Concert” with Jaco Pastorius Big Band



Plas Johnson

July 21, 1931


No list of players to check out would be complete without the man who recorded “The Pink Panther”!  Plas Johnson.  Since the 50’s Johnson has been a prolific session player in Los Angeles and has recorded with innumerable stars. The Pink Panther theme though is one of the most widely know sax solos.


Horn: Tenor Sax - Yanagisawa

Mouthpiece: Berg Larson 160/2


Albums to check out:

Rockin’ with Plas  (Capitol)

Mondo Hollywood Ultra Lounge (Pink Panther / It Had Better Be Tonight)




Grover Washington Jr

December 12, 1943 - December 17, 1999


Widely considered the founder of the Smooth Jazz movement, Grover Washington Jr wrote and recorded some tracks that have become lasting hits.  Grover was a great melodic player. He had great commercial success with his albums - Just the Two of Us from the album Winelight reached number 2 in the US charts.


Horn: Couf Gold Plated Tenor Sax

Mouthpiece: Berg Larsen 130/0


Albums to check out:

Winelight (Just the Two of Us)

Mister Magic

All My Tomorrows




Kirk Whalum

July 11, 1958


Kirk Whalum was Whitney Houston’s sax player for many years recording the sax solo on her song “I Will Always Love You” featured in Bodyguard.  Kirk has a huge sound and his expressive soulful playing has in my opinion set the standard for commercial pop and smooth jazz playing.  He has recorded a load of his own albums that are a must to check out for this style of playing.


Horn: Keilworth Black Nickel Tenor Sax

Mouthpiece: Sugal Metal / Vandoren hard rubber


Albums to check out:

The Promise

Joined at the Hip (With Bob James)


Gospel According to Jazz Vol 3



David Sanborn

July 30, 1945


Sanborn defined the sound of cross over jazz / pop in the 80’s.  He is another seriously influential player.  Although often thought of as one of the first Smooth Jazz players, Sanborn is perhaps more accurately classed as a jazz/fusion player.  He was one of the most commercially successful sax players in the 80’s - he played the sax solo on the “La Law” theme song (if you remember that one!) and even hosted his own music program in the late eighties.


Horn: Selmer Mk VI Alto Sax

Mouthpiece: Dukoff D7 / D9


Albums to check out:


Straight to The Heart




Kenny G

June 5, 1956


Kenny G is the biggest selling instrumentalist of all time with more than 75 million albums sold around the world. Impressive! Kenny G really defined the modern Smooth Jazz sound.  He may not be your favourite player but definitely worth checking out.


Horn: Selmer Mk VI Soprano Sax

Mouthpiece: Dukoff D8


Albums to check out:

Duotones 1986

Breathless 1992

Heart and Soul 2010



Clarence Clemons

January 11, 1942


Since the 70’s Clemons has been a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E St Band and has also recorded the solo on “Freeway of Love” by Aretha Franklin.  Clemons follows on from the style of King Curtis and is a great pop growl player to check out.


Horn: Tenor Sax

Mouthpiece:Dukoff D9


Albums to check out:

A Night with Mr C

Freeway of Love (with Aretha Franklin)





Other players to check out:

Lester Young

Phil Woods

Ben Webster

Dexter Gordon

Sonny Rollins

Dave Koz

Lee Allen

Maceo Parker

Gato Barieri

Willis Jackson

Tex Beneke


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