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Thread: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

  1. #1

    Default Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Been listening to a lot of 50's-60's vintage jazz lately, the likes of Coltrane, Rollins, Dex, Parker, Henderson, Stitt, Mobley, Shorter, etc. you know the old greats in bop/hard bop/cool/modal jazz.

    Now, I have long had a nagging hunch that there's a lot of later good mainstream sax jazz out there starting with the likes and styles of "younger-generation" players like Michael Brecker r.i.p. and Jerry Bergonzi, say, from the 90's on. Ending in, I don't know - you say ?

    I'm not a great fan of free or fusion, more of a mainstream and latin jazz guy plus of course 50's -60's stuff out of scope here... Anyways, looking for some new stuff to prove myself that mainstream jazz based on harmony and rhythm is alive and well .

    Names ? Top tracks ? Rising talents ? Spotify links ? YouTube videos ? News from, say, N.Y.C or other major jazz scenes?

    (Note: I know that M.Brecker did his main works in the fusion jazz of the 70's, but I like his later solo acoustic mainstream stuff better. Just to give a picture of the style(s) I'm roughly after...)

  2. #2

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Well, looking at one of the threads below, I guess at least

    - Joshua Redman and
    - James Carter (for the good or the bad)

    can be mentioned... ?

    Of course, the "top 20" is an intendedly ridiculous topic bound to create as many lists as there are users here ...

  3. #3
    ManEast's Avatar
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Last edited by ManEast; 10-17-2009 at 06:48 PM.

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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    I really like are our very own Frank Fontaine (eff eff) and the group Matanza. You can check out Frank's superb rendition of A Love Supreme on youtube or his excellent album Wisdom Rising:

    .

    Also check out Matanza's album Hot:

    or some of their audio clips on their web page here.
    Be cool, be kind, and be well.

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    The most prolific Distinguished SOTW poster, Forum Contributor 2014 gary's Avatar
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    You mean retro, moldy fig players who are stuck in the past but who have a command of their instrument?

    Wynton Marsalis
    Scott Hamilton
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Donny McCaslin
    Steve Coleman
    Ravi Coltrane
    "It's not what you play, it's how you play it." Mary Lou Williams
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  7. #7

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:



    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    Last edited by Swingtone; 10-18-2009 at 12:41 AM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by gary View Post
    You mean retro, moldy fig players who are stuck in the past but who have a command of their instrument?

    Wynton Marsalis
    Scott Hamilton
    Nyuk nyuk

    Not really. Rather, players that are ambitious to do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz. I like harmonic and rhythmic complexity, expression using skill and structure more than sheer pig squeals on a monotonous bulk-funk background. I do like Joshua Redman's style. Maybe one day I'll learn to enjoy James Carter. But this is not the day.

    That said, having listened to bits and pieces of Redman, it sounds to me as if the guy's sound is really in focus and on the spot, but there's little variation in the sound. As a result, the music has a highly produced feel. Take Coltrane or Rollins, they intentionally used _lots_ of different tones of voice to express different kinds of moods. Simultaneously with all the other good stuff in harmony and rhythm.

    A pig squeal can express sentiment too - for me, I pick up the angst of a pig about to be slaughtered. I don't get too much from that as a main device. Maybe someone else will pick up a different angle, but my ear is still too crude for that.

    But really, what I wanted was a longish list of practising post-70's jazz sax players of different styles to check out. Somehow remotely related to the atmosphere of the fogeys I mentioned in the first post.

  9. #9

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Swingtone View Post
    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:

    1. Branford Marsalis
    2. Joshua Redman
    3. Chris Potter
    4. Ravi Coltrane
    5. Eric Alexander
    6. Joe Lovano
    7. Donny McCaslin
    8. Kenny Garrett
    9. Eric Marienthal
    10. David Sanborn
    11. Benny Golson--yeah, at age 80, he's got a new CD out....

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Time-Tet-B...5734813&sr=8-1

    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    Yeap, that list is the kind of a start I was looking for. A few names there new to me. Definitely did _not_ mean smooth jazz or any kind of cliff's-notes-simplified lame stuff made just for the money.

    For instance those guys owe a lot to the tradition in a good way. Playing "your own tradition" only just wouldn't sound that good to the rest of us...

  10. #10
    Distinguished SOTW Member/Forum Contributor 2009 warp x's Avatar
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by Swingtone View Post
    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:

    1. Branford Marsalis
    2. Joshua Redman
    3. Chris Potter
    4. Ravi Coltrane
    5. Eric Alexander
    6. Joe Lovano
    7. Donny McCaslin
    8. Kenny Garrett
    9. Eric Marienthal
    10. David Sanborn
    11. Benny Golson--yeah, at age 80, he's got a new CD out....

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Time-Tet-B...5734813&sr=8-1

    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    So what about Sonny Rollins, Jan Garbarek, Yusef Lateef, Steve Coleman, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Ernie Watts, and, and, and...
    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by warp x View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Swingtone View Post
    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:

    1. Branford Marsalis
    2. Joshua Redman
    3. Chris Potter
    4. Ravi Coltrane
    5. Eric Alexander
    6. Joe Lovano
    7. Donny McCaslin
    8. Kenny Garrett
    9. Eric Marienthal
    10. David Sanborn
    11. Benny Golson--yeah, at age 80, he's got a new CD out....

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Time-Tet-B...5734813&sr=8-1

    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    So what about Sonny Rollins, Jan Garbarek, Yusef Lateef, Steve Coleman, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Ernie Watts, and, and, and...
    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.
    What about that new kid? Phil Woods.
    Kim Richmond and Jesse Davis aren't exactly chopped liver either.
    "Zoot" would a good name for a kid...

  12. #12
    Distinguished SOTW Member BarrySachs's Avatar
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by warp x View Post

    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.
    Right! Are these the top 20 money earners? You know, like the PGA tour list? Or just a list of your favourites? Or the most well-known?

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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by gary View Post
    You mean retro, moldy fig players who are stuck in the past but who have a command of their instrument?

    Wynton Marsalis
    Scott Hamilton
    Quote Originally Posted by TuneUp View Post

    Nyuk nyuk

    Not really. Rather, players that are ambitious to do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz. . . .
    Then why didn't you ask who out there today is "ambitious to do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz"? Why did you ask only about younger players?

    There seems to be a presumption that this sort of ambition and creativity is the province of the young. I think the situation is complicated because some of the most famous jazz musicians don't live long. However, Coltrane - just to pick an example that comes to mind - was innovating in the last years of his life. I would argue the same thing about Miles Davis and Stan Getz, both of whom played with "rock" electric instruments toward the end of their lives. Did they create fundamental new paradigms or genres? I would say no, but neither have the other fine younger musicians cited in this thread. However, the older players I mentioned did IMO "do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz".

    BTW, as you may have surmised, I am a bit concerned about age discrimination, partly because some of our colleagues (not me) have recently reported experiencing its negative effects in the job market. It is not my intent to roast the OP. I just want some clarity on the relationship between age and creativity that the OP seems to have implied.
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  14. #14
    Distinguished SOTW Member piwikiwi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Branford marsalis definitely deserves the nr 1 spot

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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by warp x View Post
    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.
    Yup.

    When I go to visit my family in Copenhagen twice a year, I go into one or two stores dedicated to jazz and leave with some new jazz CDs by local players. No clue how they make a living in a tiny market but they sure know how to play the sax. Of course, they are unlikely to ever be considered to be THE BEST. BTW, what is up with being number 1? I really want to know. I am tired of number 1. I want something else. How about 57?? Would I be bored or annoyed having to listen to number 57???

  16. #16

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by jrvinson45 View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by warp x View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Swingtone View Post
    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:

    1. Branford Marsalis
    2. Joshua Redman
    3. Chris Potter
    4. Ravi Coltrane
    5. Eric Alexander
    6. Joe Lovano
    7. Donny McCaslin
    8. Kenny Garrett
    9. Eric Marienthal
    10. David Sanborn
    11. Benny Golson--yeah, at age 80, he's got a new CD out....

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Time-Tet-B...5734813&sr=8-1

    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    So what about Sonny Rollins, Jan Garbarek, Yusef Lateef, Steve Coleman, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Ernie Watts, and, and, and...
    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.
    What about that new kid? Phil Woods.
    Kim Richmond and Jesse Davis aren't exactly chopped liver either.
    So then why not make your own list, rather than picking on mine? And you're on my friend's list?

    Yeah, later on I realized you bored, time-wasting Web addicts would pounce on my numbered list, though it was totally random and not meant to be a ranking. So you'll be happy to know I went back and changed it to a bulleted list.

    And I would have included Phil Woods but I didn't realize he was still making CD's. And the OP did ask who the TOP (i.e. major) players were, which I interpreted to mean not just performing but also recording on a TOP (i.e. major) label...so yeah, kind of like the Jazz PGA Tour I guess.

    BTW I like Phil a lot and just saw him live for the first time about 4 months ago; couldn't believe how big and full his tone still was, considering how whiny so many aspiring altoists I've heard sound in comparison....

  17. #17

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by warp x View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by Swingtone View Post
    Trad jazz is pretty much withering on the vine--even moreso than it was 5 or 10 years ago, or any other earlier time when it was proclaimed dead. Jazz CD sales are down 80 percent since 2001...and since those who remain are doing their own non-trad things (e.g. Potter's Underground, etc.) it's hard to define anyone as "mainstream" (unless you're talking smooth jazz of course. ).

    But on the sax I'd say it's still the same top guys that it's been for a while:

    1. Branford Marsalis
    2. Joshua Redman
    3. Chris Potter
    4. Ravi Coltrane
    5. Eric Alexander
    6. Joe Lovano
    7. Donny McCaslin
    8. Kenny Garrett
    9. Eric Marienthal
    10. David Sanborn
    11. Benny Golson--yeah, at age 80, he's got a new CD out....

    http://www.amazon.com/New-Time-Tet-B...5734813&sr=8-1

    So if pressed to name the best, my money's on Golson....
    So what about Sonny Rollins, Jan Garbarek, Yusef Lateef, Steve Coleman, Jerry Bergonzi, Steve Grossman, Ernie Watts, and, and, and...
    Just think about how many great players there are and you'll realise how stupid these lists are.
    If that's the way you feel, if you're going to imply that anyone's stupid then why not reserve that term for the person who asked for the list of top players? In any field of endeavor, TOP implies the highest level of success, which almost always implies those who are both 1) the most famous and 2) earn the most. This isn't rocket science.

    But since someone brought up golf, here's an analogy for you. When looking at records and other accomplishments (earnings, etc.), Jack Nicklaus may very well have been the top pro golfer of all time. But even though he is still alive he would not be considered among the TOP pro golfers in the year 2009 because he is no longer active on the pro circuit in the big tournaments that matter.

    Likewise, even though many of the pro saxophonists you mentioned who are still with us may have been at the top of their game back in the 1960s, they are not as active today and so no longer at the TOP of their profession in terms of actively touring, CD sales, etc. Now if you had asked this question back in 1965, then yes, many of them would have been considered top performers for all the reasons given, but not in the year 2009.

  18. #18
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    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Here is an authoritative () list of the 100 greatest saxophone players that I just found on the world-wide wisdom. Now it is just a matter of sifting through to determine who is alive. Number 57 just happens to be Joshua Redman. That's OK with me.

  19. #19

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    Quote Originally Posted by LampLight View Post
    Then why didn't you ask who out there today is "ambitious to do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz"? Why did you ask only about younger players?

    There seems to be a presumption that this sort of ambition and creativity is the province of the young. I think the situation is complicated because some of the most famous jazz musicians don't live long. However, Coltrane - just to pick an example that comes to mind - was innovating in the last years of his life. I would argue the same thing about Miles Davis and Stan Getz, both of whom played with "rock" electric instruments toward the end of their lives. Did they create fundamental new paradigms or genres? I would say no, but neither have the other fine younger musicians cited in this thread. However, the older players I mentioned did IMO "do their own thing and maybe create and combine new things but understand and make use of the tradition that most musicians think of when they hear the word jazz".

    BTW, as you may have surmised, I am a bit concerned about age discrimination, partly because some of our colleagues (not me) have recently reported experiencing its negative effects in the job market. It is not my intent to roast the OP. I just want some clarity on the relationship between age and creativity that the OP seems to have implied.
    Sure. Take Sam Rivers. What's he, 83? Still innovating.

    - Ed

  20. #20

    Default Re: Top 20 mainstream jazz sax players today ?

    1. Thanks for the names, all (come on, let's hear some more? How about the rest of the top 100 ? Surely there was an important one missing)!
    2. Age racism ? Nah. The reason I asked about younger-gen players is that I've long been convinced by Golson and Lateef & co and they're in my shelf and shuffle list. Younger ones I just haven't heard of. Respect and more gigs for the veterans.
    3. See my second post. By your (and my) age we should have enough humor and a life not to take any list of top N too seriously. I took for granted that what it mostly tells about is the likings of each poster.
    4. Mainstream. We all like to be average, mainstream, Joe Q Public etc., right ? No. But that's one vague distinction from happy jazz, swing, "acid jazz", easy listening or smooth "jazz". Stuff that has some more than a single chord and the blues scale. Without the synth string carpet, harps or straw hats. With more skill and still saying something. Give us some better words.

    PS. Do you guys really read the posts before you reply to them with a rant ? I mentioned Bergonzi and Rollins, for starters ... Sure they're practising champions, I'm just interested in hearing more stuff from related talents less known to myself... Don't get me started. I enjoy a good roast every now and then, with a backfire ...

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