15 Glimpses Into the Minds of History’s Great Saxophone Players
This week I wanted to do something a bit special. Rather than rattling on with my views on saxophone playing and music in general, I thought I’d leave it to the saxophone greats to share their wisdom and insights with you.
Between all of the combined quotes below is centuries worth of knowledge on topics such as playing the saxophone, originality, improvising, composing, the music business and more. So give it a read and let me know if your concept of music hasn’t expanded at least a little bit.
“The saxophone is an imperfect instrument, especially the tenor and soprano, as far as intonation goes. The challenge is to sing on an imperfect instrument that is outside of your body.”
– Stan Getz
“My dark sound could be heard across a room clearer than somebody with a reedy sound. It had more projection. My sound always seemed to fill a room.”
– Stan Getz
“You can play a shoestring if you’re sincere.”
– John Coltrane
“I understood that if I wanted to work, the saxophone was the main instrument. The clarinet was what we call a double.”
– Lee Konitz
“Play difficult and interesting things. If you play boring things, you risk losing your appetite. Saxophone can be tedious with too much of the same.”
– Steve Lacy
“Saxophone is one thing, and music is another.”
– Steve Lacy
“Its all about finding the right note at the right place and knowing when to leave well enough alone. And that’s a lifelong quest.”
– David Sanborn
“I’ll just sit at the piano a lot an play like through different chord exercises and kind of just throwing my hands down on the piano from one chord to the next to see what happens.”
– David Sanborn
“I like to play things that people understand, or maybe tunes that they could recognize. And so — I play for the people, just as much as for myself. Because, as I say, I still like to play.”
– Ben Webster
“Humans are imperfect. That’s one of the reasons that classical and jazz are in trouble. We’re on the quest for the perfect performance and every note has to be right. Man, every note is not right in life.”
– Branford Marsalis
“When you know the lyrics to a tune, you have some kind of insight as to it’s composition. If you don’t understand what it’s about, you’re depriving yourself of being really able to communicate this poem.”
– Dexter Gordon
“The only element of jazz that I keep is improvisation.”
– Jan Garbarek
“Originality is the thing. You can have tone and technique and a lot of other things but without originality you ain’t really nowhere. Gotta be original.”
– Lester Young
“As long as you’ve got your horn in your mouth, you’re developing.”
– Zoot Sims
“If you’ve only got one horn playing, I still want the sense of ensemble.”
– Gerry Mulligan
Photo by minimoniotaku
November 21, 2011 @ 8:05 am
Very nice! I think I’ll print these out and tape them on the wall of my practice room.
November 21, 2011 @ 8:12 am
That’s awesome Jeff! There are definitely some nuggets here, so hopefully these help keep you even more inspired.
November 25, 2011 @ 5:43 am
These quotes are great. I really like the one by David Sanborn about playing the right notes and learning to leave well enough alone, it really is a lifelong quest. Great site!
November 26, 2011 @ 1:13 pm
Hey there Joe,
If anyone knows how to leave out extraneous stuff from their solos and melodic interpretation, it’s Sanborn.
And so glad that you like the site, it’s always great to get positive feedback.
February 1, 2013 @ 7:19 pm
You know Doron, these viewpoints are really narrow-minded (just jazz? Where’s all the Norwegian death metal?) and I feel like my musical concept hasn’t expanded one bit. You said to let you know.
But seriously, this was just another in a long line of fantastic posts and insights from BSWE. Definitely opened my mind and reminded me of plenty to keep in mind. Keep up the great work!
February 2, 2013 @ 11:12 pm
Oh man, are you another one of those Norwegian Death Metal nazi – like if’s it’s not Norwegian Death Metal it’s not music? I wonder if you even know who the heavies in Norweigian Death Metal are. I mean, when’s the last time you transcribed a Varg ‘Count Grishnackh’ Vikernes of Burzum’s tunes and memorized them in all twelve keys? In case you need a lesson: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_Norwegian_black_metal_scene
OK, I obviously have too much time on my hands for a Saturday night, but I do thank you, good sir, for the kind words, it’s very inspiring to hear. :)
Now back to sacrificing a baby squirrel to make Kjøttboller out of.
February 6, 2013 @ 9:18 am
I love the comedy sketch where the composer approaches the pianist and says, ‘You’re playing all the wrong notes’. To which the pianist replies, I’m playing all the right notes but not in the correct order’.
February 6, 2013 @ 12:48 pm
Sounds like the pianist had a good point!
April 7, 2013 @ 8:33 pm
I think you missed a couple. Here are quotes & songs from my two favorite sax players:
Paul Desmond: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RpfoH0drZ8
“Writing is like jazz. It can be learned, but it can’t be taught.” – Paul Desmond
“I was different, that’s all. Instead of singing with my voice, I sang with my horn.” – Jr. Walker
(Skip to 2:38)
or watch the first 20 seconds of shotgun. Amazing how a 20 second riff can have such a musical influence:
April 7, 2013 @ 8:40 pm
These are great, thanks for sharing, Jon!
Susan Holcomb Sermons
January 4, 2018 @ 11:23 am
Bianca Jaybian Daneel Cloete
January 4, 2018 @ 12:02 pm
January 4, 2018 @ 12:09 pm
January 4, 2018 @ 8:25 pm
I leaned a great leason years ago. Diversity is the key ! Call it what you like but I call it improvisation !