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

Advertisement

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, which means the time has come again for going on another excursion to celebrate the beauty of music in different shapes from different decades, six tunes at a time. This latest installment of The Sunday Six touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the present, and includes jazz fusion, British invasion, Motown soul, alt. country and rock. Ready? Let’s do it!

Wayne Shorter/Beauty and the Beast

Kicking us off today is some beautiful saxophone-driven jazz fusion by Wayne Shorter, a co-founding member of Weather Report, which I featured in a recent Sunday Six installment. By the time he cofounded the jazz fusion band, Shorter already had enjoyed a 10-year-plus career that included playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet. In addition to being a sideman, Shorter started his recording career as a bandleader in 1959 with Introducing Wayne Shorter – the first of more than 20 additional albums he has made in that role. One of these albums, his 15th, appeared in January 1975: Native Dancer, a collaboration with Brazilian jazz musician Milton Nascimento. Here’s a track from that record titled Beauty and the Beast. Composed by Shorter, the instrumental combines saxophone with some funky elements – very cool!

The Dave Clack Five/Glad All Over

Let’s jump back to November 1963 and a song by The Dave Clark Five I’ve loved from the very first time I heard it on the radio back in Germany during my early teenage years: Glad All Over. Co-written by DC5 drummer Dave Clark who also was the band’s producer, and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, the tune first appeared as a single in the UK, followed by the U.S. in December of the same year. It also was the title track of the DC5’s U.S. debut album that appeared in March 1964. In January 1964, Glad All Over became the band’s first massive hit in the UK, knocking The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the no. 1 spot on the singles chart. In the U.S., the tune climbed to no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a hell of a catchy song with a driving drum beat and great vocals – frankly worthy of displacing a Beatles song, and I say this as a huge fan of the Fab Four.

Martha and the Vandellas/Dancing in the Street

I guess Glad All Over has put me in some sort of a party mood, so let’s throw in another great party song: Dancing in the Street by Motown vocal group Martha and the Vandellas, which were formed in Detroit in 1957. Co-written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Joe Hunter, the tune first appeared in July 1964 and became the group’s highest charting single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 2. Dancing in the Street, one of Motown’s signature songs, also did well in the UK where it reached no. 4 on the singles chart. Subsequently, the song was included on the group’s third studio album Dance Party from April 1965. Martha and the Vandellas disbanded in December 1972. After leaving Motown, Martha Reeves started a solo career but wasn’t able to replicate the success she had enjoyed with the group during the ’60s. Reeves who in July turned 80 apparently is still active.

The J. Geils Band/Looking for a Love

Well, now that I mentioned the word ‘party,’ let’s keep it going by turning to a group that has been called rock & roll’s ultimate party band: The J. Geils Band. The group, which was formed in 1967 in Worcester, Mass., originally included J. Geils (lead guitar), Peter Wolf (lead vocals, percussion), Danny Klein (bass), Stephen Jo Bladd (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Magic Dick (harmonica, saxophone, trumpet) and Seth Justman (keyboards, backing vocals). That line-up lasted for a remarkable 15 years until Wolf’s departure in 1983. After the rest of the group called it quits in 1985, The J. Geils Band had various reunion appearances and tours with different formations until 2015. Following his departure from the band, Wolf launched a solo career, released various albums and remains pretty active as a touring artist to this day. Here’s a great track off the band’s sophomore album The Morning After from October 1972: Looking for a Love, a cover of a song co-written by J.W. Alexander and Zelda Samuels, and first released by The Valentinos in March 1962. The J. Geils Band also put this tune out as a single in November 1971. It climbed to no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving them their first charting song in the U.S. It would take 10 more years before they scored a no. 1 with the more commercial Centerfold.

The Jayhawks/Five Cups of Coffee

I first covered The Jayhawks in August 2020 when I included a tune from their then-new album XOXO in a Best of What’s New post. I quickly came to dig this American alt. country and country rock band, and have since featured two of their other songs in previous Sunday Six installments this February and July. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers  (drums). By the time their sophomore album Blue Earth appeared in 1989, Thad Spencer had replaced Rogers on drums. After five additional albums and further line-up changes, The Jayhawks went on hiatus in 2004, before reemerging with a new formation in 2019. Louris and Pearlman are the only remaining original members. Five Cups of Coffee is a great tune from the above mentioned Blue Earth album. It was co-written by Olson and Louris. The band’s great guitar sound and beautiful harmony singing are right up my alley!

Dirty Honey/Gypsy

For the sixth and final tune this week, let’s step on the gas with a great rocker by Dirty Honey. I first became aware of this rock band from Los Angeles in April this year when they released their self-titled first full-length album. At the time, I included one of the tracks in a Best of What’s New installment. Apple Music has compared Dirty Honey’s sound to the likes of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. The band’s members include Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). I was drawn to Dirty Honey right away and covered them again in a Sunday Six post in May. Here’s yet another track from the above mentioned album: Gypsy. Labelle’s vocals very much remind me of Steven Tyler. Great to hear a young band other than Greta Van Fleet embrace a classic rock-oriented sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube