Technique, Tone, Music Business, and More from Saxophone Master, Josh Quinlan

josh-quinlanJosh Quinlan is a saxophonist, composer, and educator based out of  Colorado. Quinlan is currently an Instructor of Jazz Studies at the University of Colorado, music faculty member at Denver School of the Arts, Director of Education for the Colorado nonprofit, Gift of Jazz, Director of the Dazzle Recordings label, and Co-Director of the Telluride Jazz Celebration Educational Program.

Quinlan obtained a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Jazz Studies from the University of Colorado and is a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (BM) and DePaul University (MMA). In recent years, Quinlan has performed and taught in Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia. He has released numerous albums as bandleader, composer and saxophonist including Mountain Time Standards (2012), Open Space (2014), Hear, Here (2015) and is currently finishing production on a new project, Fields of Green that features trumpeter and fellow P. Mauriat endorser, Terell Stafford. Josh is an endorsing artist of P. Mauriat saxophones, Bari Woodwind Mouthpieces and Gonzalez Reeds.

The Interview

Zach Sollitto: What made you decide to pick up the saxophone?

Josh Quinlan: I began playing the saxophone the summer after seventh grade, which was 25 years ago. My brother had studied saxophone for a number of years in school and had recently switched to guitar in the school jazz band, so his saxophone remained in his closet for several months. One day, for no obvious reason, I decided to go in his closet and began playing. I had studied the clarinet for one year and was only mediocre at best, but this new instrument really resonated with me in a way that my earlier studies had not. I became addicted and practiced for hours and hours a day starting at that moment. I remember waking up and rolling out of bed to practice before I brushed my teeth. I found jazz music a year later when my brother played me a vinyl of Charlie Parker Live at the Royal Roost. The rest is really history.

ZS: What teachers helped you progress?

JQ: Hmmm, I have to say that I have had so many teachers and mentors throughout the years that influenced me. My first teacher in seventh grade helped me realize the importance of technique and sound. That was the foundation for me, and crucial to my ideology even today. I really consider myself an improviser more than a saxophonist because of the fact that 99% of what I do is create improvisations and compositions. I think this may be due to the fact that many of my most important mentors were not saxophonists, but teachers of ensembles. These were musicians who thought from a musical and not technical sense. The album I just released this year, Hear, Here, I made with one of my most important teachers, trumpeter Bob Montgomery. Bob has always been focused on the melody and feeling since I studied with him 20 years ago. I have been really fortunate to continue my relationship with him in Colorado where we are both living. This year we have toured the U.S., Australia and soon Europe.

ZS: How did you develop your sound?

JQ: I would have to say the most effective way was through the act of listening and absorbing the qualities of sounds that I love from some of my favorite saxophonists. On alto language-wise I am first and foremost influenced by Bird (Charlie Parker) and on tenor Coltrane, but it is the way that I supplemented those influences with my listening to other players that has resulted in what I hope is an original concept. For instance, on tenor I love the work of Charles Lloyd, Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, and Hank Mobley. Those players were all original and completely different.

Another means to develop sound that I pass on to my students is through the jazz repertoire. It is unbelievably important to learn and memorize tunes and play them in a personal way. When I say tunes I mean standards from the Great American Songbook. I think that developing a personal repertoire is a big part of creating a personal sound and language concept. Of course, I cannot discount long tones, playing with a tuner, and all that we must go through when studying.

ZS: What practice routine have you developed?

JQ: Jazz is a bit different from that of classical studies in this regard. In general, I have not practiced with books from the beginning of playing jazz. Obviously transcription is quite important for learning the language, but to develop the technique on the horn I have constantly created and expanded exercises from memory. This started with triads, then sevenths to ninth, elevenths and on. Then I can always ask myself how can I make this harder? Up, down, inversion, through different cycles, etc. You can approach scales in the same manner and of course patterns. Then working on improvising through the repertoire I mentioned before ties this all together. In this manner jazz musicians develop technique.

ZS: When your students are looking to upgrade their current setup, what advice do you give them when trying out various brands and models?

JQ: Well, as an endorser of P. Mauriat and a lover of the sound of their instruments, I always recommend this brand to my students and I have a lot of students that play their tenors and altos as a result. The horns for me changed my life because the focus of an instrument is sound, and the P Mauriat resonance works best for me. I am playing a System 76 tenor that is amazing and I could not function without it. Mouthpieces are a little more personal and difficult to approach. What works for one player might not work for another. There are so many brands out there that range in price in extreme ways. With my students I help them by letting them know what sounds good and maybe what thing they are missing or need in the quality of sound produced by a mouthpiece. My preference is hard rubber on both tenor and alto because of the warmth possible. I play a Rafael Navarro Bob Mintzer Bebop Special on tenor, Gottsu from Japan on alto, and a Bari mouthpiece on soprano. They all feel very similar to me which is important when playing all of your instruments which are essentially the same yet completely different.

ZS: Who do you find yourself listening to these days?

JQ: In August I played the repertoire of Charlie Parker with Strings with the National Orchestra of Panama in concerts throughout the country of Panama, so I spent a lot of time studying that music. This life is entirely project based and it is through these projects that we progress, whether that is via a concert, school, touring, composing, recording, etc. It is all from the same energy. I love listening to vinyl, so I listen to a lot of jazz players who are not around anymore. James Moody, Stan Getz, Eddie Harris, Frank Foster, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges and all of the people who really developed jazz saxophone and led us to where we are today. I spend even more time listening to classical music and love the music of European composers like Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, Mahler and Tchaikovsky.

ZS: What’s the next musical frontier you’d like to tackle?

JQ: I am busy planning my next move at all times. The job in reality is twenty-four-seven. Sunday hits and I am still working, and of course practicing is a big part. The other part for me right now is even more crucial. This includes the planning of teaching opportunities, touring, composing and recording.

One of my goals is to put out a new album every year or year and a half which, I have had the great fortune to do. I have an excellent model in another mentor, John Gunther, who is the head of Jazz Studies at the University of Colorado where I work and studied. Being active and visible he once told me is incredibly important in being successful.

Also, being a band leader has been a big part of my ability to do these activities and develop my career. Without my bands, I would be just a solo musician and in jazz that flat out does not work. I started booking tours in 2010 for my projects after finishing a doctoral degree and have not stopped since. This summer I have been home very little because of touring in Costa Rica, the U.S., and right now in Panama with plans to tour in Europe in October.

I never really thought this would be possible, but now I know that people everywhere love jazz music. In Panama City there is an unbelievable audience for the music as the people are very sophisticated in their tastes, and of course, the same goes for Europe. The touring and travel inspires more writing and touring, and of course I feel that I am the best when I am playing all of the time. Another aspect that goes hand in hand is the educational side. Two days ago I taught a workshop in Panama City at the Danilo Perez Foundation that was so inspiring for me because of the interest and energy of the kids there.

May was a residency for me at the National University of Costa Rica where I spent one week teaching all of their music classes. I saw the majority of students in the schools in many different classes where I really tried to show the beauty and uniqueness of North American jazz music.

School at the University of Colorado is about to get started, and one of my teaching duties is a class of 350 students on the subject of jazz history. Many of these students develop their ears and learn to appreciate jazz music and find ways to listen to their own music in new ways. This is very special for me, to have contact with so many people at once and hopefully lead them in a positive and cultural direction.

Josh’s Setup


  • Soprano: P Mauriat System 76 2nd edition gold lacquer.
  • Alto: P. Mauriat System 76 2nd edition un-lacquered.
  • Tenor: P. Mauriat System 76 2nd edition un-lacquered.


  • Soprano: Bari .070
  • Alto: Gottsu 9
  • Tenor: Rafael Navarro Bob Mintzer Bebop Special 8*


  • Soprano: Gonzalez Local 627 (3)
  • Alto: Gonzalez Local 627 (3)
  • Tenor: Gonzalez Local 627 (3.5)


  • Soprano: Bonade Silver
  • Alto: Rico H ligature
  • Tenor: Rico H ligature

Josh Quinlan at Dazzle Jazz

Josh Quinlan at Saxquest

Josh Quinlan Website