We’ve come to the final day of our Sax Advent Calendar, day 24 and it could be no other person but John Coltrane.
John Coltrane was born on 23rd September 1926 in Hamlet, North Carolina. He grew up in Philadelphia and made his name alongside Miles Davis, before becoming a superstar in his own right. Coltrane, like Charlie Parker has influenced every saxophonist who has come after them, be it in jazz or classical music.
As his career progressed, Coltrane and his music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension. Coltrane influenced innumerable musicians, and remains one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. He received many posthumous awards and recognitions, including canonization by the African Orthodox Church as Saint John William Coltrane and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007. His second wife was pianist Alice Coltrane and their son, Ravi Coltrane, is also a saxophonist.
We’ve two amazing contemporary saxophonists for Day 20 of our saxophone advent calendar, Joshua Redman & Chris Potter.
Joshua Redman was born in 1969 and is the son of free jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman and dancer librarian Renee Shedroff. He grew up in California, graduating from Berkley High School in 1986. He graduated from Harvard and had a place at Yale Law School, which he deferred in order to enter the Theolonius Monk competition in 1991, which he won, (and never went to Law School!) Redman signed for Warner Bros records after the competition and his career has flourished since.
Chris Potter was born in 1971 in Chicago, but grew up in South Carolina. Very much a child prodigy, Potter was picking up gigs aged 14 and moved to New York aged 18, attending the Manhattan School of Music. Whilst studying in New York, Chris joined BeBop legend and former Charlie Parker trumpet player, Red Rodney. He also played with Dave Holland, Kenny Werner, Joe Lovano and Paul Motion. He’s probably one of the most copied saxophonists today and his YouTube videos often go viral amongst saxophone nerds!
Enjoy this joint playlist of two of our best contemporary saxophonists.
Branford Marsalis has had the biggest influence on my life outside of my family. A generous, inspiring musician he is someone who displays incredible integrity both on and off the bandstand.
Born in Louisiana in 1960, Branford is the eldest son of the Marsalis family, one of the foremost musical families in America. His father, Ellis Marsalis is one of the most accomplished Modern Jazz pianists in New Orleans, and one of the most respected jazz educators in America.
Whilst younger brother Wynton was the star of the 1980’s jazz scene, Branford has carved out his own illustrious career, starting with Art Blakey in the early 80s, playing some of the best pop saxophone ever recorded with Sting and The Grateful Dead and then leading one of the most hardworking jazz quartets of the past twenty years.
Initially starting out on Clarinet, (learning from New Orleans master, Alvin Baptise,) Branford was not a jazz fan as a teenager, preferring the funk and soul music of James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and even Elton John! He attended the Berklee College of Music and joined Art Blakey’s band after younger brother Wynton in the early 80s. World Tours with Blakey, Herbie Hancock and others led to Wynton creating his own band, which Branford left in 1985 to join Sting’s first band after the Police.
After spells composing film music, (Mo Better Blues & The Russia House) Branford was the bandleader on the ‘Tonight Show’ before heading back into jazz in the late 90s, firstly with fellow Sting band mate, Kenny Kirkland on piano, then after Kenny’s untimely death, Joey Calderazzo took over on piano. Branford kept the same band together for over twelve years and produced some of the best modern, acoustic jazz of the late 20th and early 21st century.
An outspoken critic of many of the current jazz education programs, Branford is an incredible musician and inspiring teacher, who is worth listening to with or without a saxophone in his mouth!
Jan Garbarek has one of the most distinctive voices on the saxophone.
Born in Norway in 1947, Garbarek has become the ‘voice’ of the ECM label. His trademark sharp-edged, bright tone coupled with his use of minimalism has made him popular with fans and musicians alike.
I first became aware Garbarek in the 90’s through his work with the Hilliard Ensemble, but it was my college sax tutor Mike Haughton who really inspired me to check out more Garbarek. I’ve used Garbarek as an inspiration for work at St. Paul’s Cathedral and Ely Cathedral, (see below for the soundcloud clips.)
Phil Woods is our Advent Calendar number 13 and he was one of the finest Alto Players of the late 20th and early 21st Century.
Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Woods began playing the saxophone at the age of 12, and was at first an admirer of Benny Carter and Johnny Hodges. He had a few private lessons in his mid-teens with the pianist Lennie Tristano, and then attended the Manhattan School of Music and then Julliard, (where he studied Clarinet, not saxophone!)
He got his big break playing with Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band in the 1950’s and then went on to make a number of small band recordings in the late 50’s early 1960’s. A move to Paris with Chan Richardson, (Charlie Parker’s former common law wife) led to a more experimental Avant Garde output. He returned to New York in the late 70s, taking on more commercial work, including the incredible sax solo on Billy Joel’s Just the Way You Are.
A fine teacher, Woods put his efforts into teaching jazz in the 80s and 90s and became increasingly bestowed with honours for his contribution to music.