The Ten Best Saxophone Blowing Sessions Ever
This guest post is from Sam Sadigursky of SamSadigursky.com
Here’s a list of my favorite records that feature multiple saxophonists locking horn-to-horn. By my definition, a blowing session tends to be a minimally written affair, usually featuring the horn players playing over standards and generally minimally rehearsed. As far as I know, most of these groups were never working bands. These were impromptu studio affairs (not live concerts or jam sessions), either arranged by the leader or sometimes even the label or record producer.
Most of these records wouldn’t really qualify as saxophone battles, an old tradition dating from the early big bands of having saxophonists push one another to their outer limits. Instead, these are great opportunities for us as listeners to hear sometimes very different saxophonists side by side and explore both their common lineages and different approaches. There is a camaraderie to these records that’s infectious – you can really hear how much each saxophonist admires the others while also asserting their individuality.
I’m sure I left out some great recordings, so feel free to comment with some of your own contributions to the list.
1. Tenor Conclave
Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, Hank Mobley, John Coltrane
2. Benny Carter – Further Definitions
Benny Carter, Charlie Rouse, Coleman Hawkins, Phil Woods
3. Dizzy Gillespie – Sonny Side Up
Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt
4. Sonny Rollins – Tenor Madness
Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane (the only time they ever recorded together!)
5. Sonny Rollins – Sonny Meets Hawk
Sonny Rollins, Coleman Hawkins
6. Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan – Quartet
7. Lee Konitz with Warne Marsh
8. Johnny Griffin – A Blowin’ Session
Johnny Griffin, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley
9. Sonny Stitt / Gene Ammons – Boss Tenors
10. George Garzone – Fours and Twos
George Garzone, Joe Lovano
1. Branford Marsalis – The Dark Keys
Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Kenny Garrett
2. Pat Metheny – 80/81
Michael Brecker, Dewey Redman
3. Billy Drummond – Dubai
Chris Potter, Walt Weiskopf
4. Gathering of Spirits
Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman, Michael Brecker
5. Bill Stewart – Telepathy
Steve Wilson, Seamus Blake
6. Elvin Jones – Live at the Lighthouse
Dave Liebman, Steve Grossman
* Many of these don’t fit the definition of a blowing session quite perfectly, either because they were working bands (like Saxophone Summit or Elvin Jones), or the music is not standard-oriented (80/81 and Telepathy), but they are well worth checking out!
December 13, 2010 @ 8:49 am
Benny Carter’s Further Definitions doesn’t meet all your qualifications for a blowing session, as it’s pretty heavily arranged. But it’s definitely a fascinating chance to hear four different approaches by four great saxophonists: Carter, Charlie Rouse, Coleman Hawkins, and a young Phil Woods. One of my favorites!
December 13, 2010 @ 8:52 am
Oops, I was so anxious to talk about Further Definitions that I missed it, right there near the top of your list. Great minds…
December 13, 2010 @ 2:51 pm
Yeah, totally on the same page with you Bret, that’s gotta be one of the most legendary recorded saxophone summits ever.
Great minds indeed… :)
December 13, 2010 @ 7:53 pm
I’m not sure if it was ever officially released, but there’s a mind-blowing bootleg you can probably find on some torrent of Coltrane ON ALTO, with Gene Ammons live in Japan. Almost made me quit when I heard how equally godly Trane sounded on alto.
December 13, 2010 @ 10:13 pm
Wow, that’s crazy, never heard of that one, woud love to hear it since I think that hearing that Coltrane approach on an alto would be trippy and awesome!
February 15, 2011 @ 5:59 pm
No love for Cannonball/Coltrane?
February 15, 2011 @ 8:23 pm
That’s a good point, that is a great blowing session. My guess is that Sam chose not to include this one because it may have been more rehearsed-sounding than the other more jam session-like recordings.
Anyhow, I can’t speak for Sam, so I’ll have to ask him about that sometime and kick his butt if he doesn’t have a good answer!
Thanks for chiming in Micah,
January 19, 2012 @ 9:31 am
I vote for Sonny Side Up. I have been listening to this on and off for about 50 years, and it never ceases to inspire me.
January 20, 2012 @ 7:23 am
Great album – but doesn’t the trumpet not make it quite a “saxophone blowing session?” I mean we can’t have trumpets coming in and mucking up the sonic landscape can we? ;)
January 20, 2012 @ 7:30 am
ah, yes, but Dizzy doesn’t start until after a dozen individual sax choruses plus I don’t remember how many of fours and eights.
January 20, 2012 @ 7:57 am
Well, someone here hasn’t heard the album yet, have they…? OK, guilty as charged, will add it to my “to check out” list. :)
January 20, 2012 @ 9:59 am
well, you MUST. And there is a transcription of the tenor solos (Rollins and Stitt), (but not the trades).
January 20, 2012 @ 10:00 am
Sorry, I should have said, the tune is The Eternal Triangle, I got rhythm with an altered bridge….
January 20, 2012 @ 1:26 am
how about this one with trane and mobley:
January 20, 2012 @ 7:25 am
Of course, you can never go wrong with those two! Pretty darn different playing styles between Trane and Mobley which makes it all the more rich of a listening experience.
January 20, 2012 @ 11:57 am
“Very Saxy”, an LP recorded in ’59. 4 tenors: Jaws/Buddy Tate/Coleman Hawkins/Arnett Cobb
Also Shirley Scott on B3!
Classic wailin what really do belong on this list!
January 20, 2012 @ 7:18 pm
Elvin Jones Live at the Lighthouse. Grossman and Liebman rippin’ it to shreds!!!
January 20, 2012 @ 9:35 pm
Andrew, Theotis, and Mark – all amazing suggestions, each one spanning a different era of jazz music. Thanks guys!
January 22, 2012 @ 7:51 am
All of these are great sessions! I love the Tenor Conclave session in particular. Four great players tackling Rhythm Changes. I loved it so much that I transcribed all four solos (available on my website). Playing along with the recording is a great workout!
January 22, 2012 @ 4:36 pm
Yeah, it those guys are like a never-ending vortex of rhythm changes magic. It’s always great to get those sounds in our ears. If all of us would get in the habit of transcribing this sort of stuff, we’d be 10x better musicians for it.
January 26, 2012 @ 7:52 pm
Nighthawk, 1960 session with Coleman Hawkins and Lockjaw. A nice conversation between those two gentlemen.
April 6, 2018 @ 7:05 am
I would have to add Pete Christlieb Warne Marsh Apogee. Some great blowing on that one.