Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

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A Debut Album I Love

A “Turntable Table Talk” contribution

Fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day is currently hosting Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature where he invites some fellow music fans and writers to weigh in on music subjects. After participating in previous installments about the pros and cons of live albums and the impact of MTV, I was glad Dave invited me back to share my thoughts about a great music debut.

In his own words: I’m calling it “Out of the Blue.”Basically, great debuts that probably took you by surprise. Now, I’m not talking to old debut records by artists you love that you eventually went back to and found, but rather albums or even singles that you found more or less when they came out that you really loved… a surprise great that came out of the blue.  So no Beatles, unless of course you were around in 1963 and had the luck to suddenly hear ‘she Loves You’ or ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and went ‘Wow, who are these mop-topped lads I’ve never heard the likes of?”…in which case, then that would be a great story! 

Well, I wish I would have been around to see The Beatles! Without further ado, following is my contribution:

It’s a pleasure to be back contributing to “Turntable Talk” to share my thoughts on another interesting topic. Thanks, Dave, for continuing your engaging series!

While I can think of many great debuts like Dire Straits’ and Counting Crows’ eponymous starts from 1978 and 1993, respectively, or Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine (1983), I decided to pick something else. Per your guidance, I also didn’t consider any gems that appeared before my active music listening time, such as The Beatles’ Please Please Me (1963), The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut (1964), The Who’s My Generation (1965), Cream’s Fresh Cream (1966) or Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin I (1969), to name a few.

Even though you’d perhaps think the above parameters made picking an album more tricky, it literally took me less than 5 seconds to make my decision. You won’t find it on Rolling Stone’s 2013 list of 100 Best Debut Albums of All Time either. Enough with the teasing. My pick is the self-tiled first album by Southern Avenue, one of my favorite contemporary bands.

Southern Avenue (from left): Evan Sarver, Tikyra Jackson; Tiernii Jackson, Ori Naftaly and Jeremy Powell

Before getting to the album, let me give a bit of background on Southern Avenue. While I’m sure that over the past seven years this near-constantly touring group has gained many other fans, and despite some chart success and industry recognition, it’s still safe to say there’re not a household name.

Southern Avenue blend Stax-style soul with blues, gospel, funk, rock and contemporary R&B. They were formed in 2015 when Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly met Memphis vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson, drummer and backing vocalist. Jeremy Powell on keyboards and bassist Evan Sarver complete the band’s current lineup.

Southern Avenue took their name from a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of Stax Records. While that’s a clear nod to the band’s admiration for the legendary soul label, they have noted they don’t want to be seen as a Stax revival act. That said, their eponymous debut album, released in February 2017, appeared on the storied soul label. In fact, Southern Avenue became the first Memphis band signed to Stax in over 40 years!

I’d say it’s time for some music! Let’s kick it off with the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, which is the album’s opener. This soulful tune, which has a cool gospel vibe, still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. Lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson may be a relatively tiny lady, physically speaking, but she’s a giant when it comes to singing. I also love when she harmonizes with her sister Tikyra Jackson, who as previously noted is the band’s drummer. I should also mention the song was written by guitarist Ori Naftaly.

Let’s pick up the speed with a great soul tune titled Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love – love the horns in this one! The song was penned by George Jackson, an American blues, R&B, rock and blues songwriter and singer. He’s probably best known for co-writing Bob Seger tune Old Time Rock and Roll.

Next up is 80 Miles From Memphis. Penned by Naftali, the up-tempo blues rocker remains one of my favorite Southern Avenue tunes. I just wished they’d keep it in their set these days! Naftali nicely demonstrates his blues chops here. This song just puts me in good mood!

Let’s do one more: No Time to Lose, another original. This tune was co-written by Naftali and Tierinii Jackson. Check out the great guitar riff. I also dig Powell’s keyboard work. And there’s more of that great horn action.

While perhaps not surprisingly Southern Avenue’s self-titled debut missed the U.S. mainstream charts, it entered Billboard’s Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 in February 2017. It also reached no. 1 on the iTunes Blues Chart.

Since their eponymous debut, Southern Avenue have released two additional great albums, Keep On (May 2019) and Be the Love You Want (August 2021), which I reviewed here and here. While this band may not be widely known, they’ve also earned some well-deserved industry recognition, including a 2018 Blues Music Award for “Best Emerging Artist Album” and a Grammy Award nomination for Keep On in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category. To learn more about the group and their ongoing tour, you can check out their website.

Southern Avenue are a compelling live act. Since August 2018, I’ve seen them three times. In case you’re curious, here’s my review from a gig in Asbury Park, N.J. I attended in July 2019. I surely have every intention to catch them again. I’ll leave you with a live rendition of Don’t Give Up, which I captured during the aforementioned show. Typically, it’s the final song of their set.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify