Saxophonist Tony Lakatos Shares His Musical Journey And The Importance of Attitude


At the 2020 NAMM Show, I was fortunate enough to meet the great tenor saxophonist Tony Lakatos at the Gottsu booth. I have been following Tony for quite some time and was excited to finally get to meet and hear him play in person. For those of you who don’t know much about Tony, here is what you need to know:


  • Tony was born in a musical family in Budapest, Hungary.
  • Tony’s father, his father’s father were both all violinists, with Tony’s father becoming a famous gypsy violinist as well as his younger Brother Roby.
  • Everyone in his family played violin (including Tony).
  • When Tony was 16, his father bought him his first saxophone.
  • Tony decided to become a professional musician when he won a national jazz competition in 1977.
  • In 1979, Tony graduated from the jazz department of the Bela Bartók Conservatory in Budapest.
  • In 1981, Tony decided to move to Germany and quickly became one of the most sought-after saxophone players in Germany.
  • To date, Tony has played the saxophone on approximately 350 LP/CD recordings as a leader or sideman.
  • From 1985 through 1996 Tony was a member of the popular PILI-PILI Band lead by Jasper Van’t  Hof.
  • Tony was the first Hungarian musician who appeared on the Gavin Report Top Ten in the American Jazz Music Radio.
  • In 2002, Tony signed an exclusive contract with Skip Records and has been continually touring in Japan with various groups.
  • Tony has given masterclasses at places such as:
    • Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Arnheim Konservatorium (Holland)
    • Fredericksburg Mary Washington Collage (USA)
    • Royal Academy of Music London (UK)
    • Bela Bartok Music Academy Budapest (Hungary)
    • Yamaha School Hamburg (Germany)
    • Ishimori Wind Instruments (Tokyo) & Amsterdam Winds (Holland),
    • Saxophone Society Bangkok (Thailand)


ZS: What interested you in studying music and why the saxophone?

TL: For me it was quite easy to start with music because all my family were musicians. My father, his father, and his father all played violin, so this is going back hundreds of years. Everybody in my family was a violin player and played gypsy music. It was logical that I become a musician, so I started playing on violin when I was 5 and switched to saxophone when I was 16. I was playing classical music on violin as well as gypsy music which I did not like very much when I was a kid. I was listening to Jazz during this time with my father being a big jazz fan. I had a chance to listen to his record collection which included Coltrane and Duke Ellington to name a few. I just wanted to play another instrument because I just was not happy with the violin and so I came to the tenor saxophone somehow (I am not really an alto player). I did not start playing the saxophone earlier in my life because I had to play violin because all my family wanted me to play violin. They did not let me play other instruments but they saw I was not the greatest violin player; to be honest, after a while my father said “Ok, I will let you play saxophone.” When I started playing saxophone I was practicing 8 hours a day and listening 8 hours a day because I loved it. I was crazy for jazz.

ZS: Who are your influences and have they changed over time?

TL: I like all the great players who we all listen to: Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins, Dexter Gordon, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane as well as the modern players like Michael Brecker. I was trying to listen to everybody and understand all the different styles but when I sit down today to listen to music, I am still going back to the old days and enjoy listening to Getz and Dexter playing a ballad. It is not only the saxophone playing but simply listening to music. I think Chris Potter is a fantastic player and someone who is pushing saxophone playing to the next level. Also, I like listening to Seamus Blake, Mark Turner, and Joel Frahm who are just great players.

ZS: Where/Who did you study with and how did you develop your sound?

TL: I was going to school in Budapest when I grew up and studied at the Bela Bartok Musik High school and studied there for 2 years . I never finished school because I was very busy with playing so I did not have much time to study but, it was a very good 2 years where I learned the basics. When I was young, I was trying to copy everybody from John Coltrane to Stan Getz to Dexter Gordon to Jan Garbarek. But I never played like them, I never made it to playing like them, I was just like them a little bit. You can be close to them but you can never be a perfect copy. I was playing along with records and was trying to pick up the style, the timing, some of the notes, but basically the attitude of playing was much more important to me than the notes. If you listen to the same five notes from Dexter, Trane, Rollins, and Getz, they play the same five notes but you can tell immediately who is who because of the sound, timing, and the way they are playing. The attitude or how they play these five notes was and is really important to me.

ZS: What do you find most difficult about being a musician?

TL: It is difficult to be a full time musician but I am very lucky to have a full-time gig with the Frankfurt Radio Big Band (hr-Bigband) lead by Jim McNeely. Playing in the hr-Bigband has provided me financial stability but also allowed me to do my own thing and work on my own projects. We have rehearsal almost every day with the big band, so when I am touring in Asia, Europe, or the U.S., I always need to send a sub.

ZS: Since teaching so many workshops and masterclasses, what have you learned?

TL: I do 2 big workshops every year in Germany, one is in Erlangen which I have been doing for more than 20 years, which is one big workshop working with young saxophone players and combos, as well a 5-6 day workshop in south Saarwellingen – a city that is close to the French border. Besides that, I do quite a few masterclasses. I just came back from Switzerland running a few masterclasses as well as Asia recently. I always try to have a rhythm section for the masterclass so we can play together and if not possible I use Music Minus One or Aebersold. I always try to play music and not discuss too much musical theory. I see a lot of young players have learned a lot of music theory but they don’t know how to play, also because they are not familiar with the history of jazz, which is a very important point for me. I want these players to move away from scales when they improvise and take notes from these scales and really focus on making melodies and rhythms. At these masterclasses I find players ask me generally the same questions about sound, technique, and rhythm. I find it’s very important young and advancing musicians understand the sound of the music because otherwise you can’t learn how to play it. How can you write a book if you never read books….

ZS: What Projects Are You Working On Today?

TL: The last big project I did was called The Gypsy Tenors with Rick Margitza, and another great Hungarian player named Gabor Bolla, who is based in Europe. I also have my own quintet which is made up of trumpet, tenor, and rhythm section with the rhythm section being players from the big band I play with. I am continually being asked to play on so many different projects that being a musician today is not about playing in one band, but being a part of many bands.

ZS: What is your current setup?

TL: There are so many good instruments on the market today that are just as good as the vintage ones. With that being said, I have played plenty of vintage Mark VI & SBA’s that did not play well. P Mauriat saxophones, for example, to me all sound the same – which is good, while if you try 5 Mark VI’s they will all sound different with their own unique soul. I think the most important thing when playing saxophone is the reed. I am not a gear junky, but I am a strange guy because I like bad reeds. I like reeds that you really have to practice and work through.


Saxophone:  50xxx SBA is my main horn at the moment I am playing. It is a re-lacquer which is the only issue but it sounds amazing. In addition I also own 5 mark VI, 3 SBA’s, and 1 BA which I try to play them all a little bit but as you know you can only play one saxophone. I love my P.Mauriat gold Lacquer 66 Tenor which I have been endorsing for many years.

Ligature: Depends on the mouthpiece. I Love the old Otto Link metal ligatures. When playing my Dukoff Hollywood, I like using the Ishimori Woodstone ligature. I remember meeting with Francois Louis and asked about the old Otto Link ligatures and he told me the screw that holds the mouthpiece has to be heavy which might have been the secret with these old Otto Link ligatures.

Reed: D’Addario Select Jazz 3M Filed or Unfiled; but I find the unfiled to be a little bit harder.

Mouthpiece: I really enjoy playing Gottsu mouthpieces:  Gottsu Master 2018 (8*) or The Jazz Soloist (G or H) but I recently picked up an original Dukoff Hollywood (8) a few months back which is a great mouthpiece.

Neckstrap: JazzLab Sax Holder which has greatly helped remedy my back pain.

Case: Rampone & Cazzani Case. I needed a new case for flying that was very small & light but still protective.

Necks: Original Neck’s. Have not experimented too much with aftermarket necks.

For more about Tony, click here to check his website.

Joe Lovano & Tony Lakatos playing Invitation