Friday, April 16, 2010

Jazz Appreciation Month: Clarinet & Saxophone

photo of Benny Goodman playing clarinet with his big band's saxophone section behind him The clarinet and its cousin the saxophone have been two of the most popular instruments of jazz since the earliest days of the style. The clarinet was one of the central players of New Orleans jazz, and continued to be popular through the Swing (or "Big Band") era, when Benny Goodman (above) was its chief proponent. Other clarinetist-band leaders of the Swing Era were Artie Shaw and Woody Herman.

The saxophone came to the fore after the Second World War, especially in small combos of the "Bebop" or "Bop" style. Famous saxophonists of the 1950s had often started their careers in the big bands of the 1940s, or as "sidemen" to trumpet players who led small combos. In bebop combos the players have equal roles, but some saxophonists became stars, eventually leading their own groups. "Bop" was characterized by virtuosic playing by all the members of each group. They often took turns improvising a stanza on a pop tune (or "standard"). Many recordings were the result of producers gathering talented players together for a specific recording session. Norman Granz was a famous producer whose Verve label issued recordings of many bebop musicians.
album cover for Coltrane's Giant Steps
One of the most famous jazz saxophonists of the mid-20th Century was John Coltrane. He began his career in a military band during World War 2, then played in the saxophone section of a big band,. After that he joined the Miles Davis Quintet and eventually recorded as the lead performer with his own "sidemen." He and early bop musician Charlie Parker are considered by many to be the greatest jazz saxophonists of all time.

Other great saxophonists include
Jimmy GiuffreDexter Gordon
Kenny G
Sonny Stitt

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