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What are the elements of a voice on saxophone (or any non-electric instrument)?

randulo

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If any previous post of mine had a similar bent, forgive me, it's an age thing, repeating yourself. This may touch upon the same ground as "How to be Original", but it's a specific question.

When you listen to a saxophone player,
what are the qualities that make their voice unique, recognisable or a pleasurable to hear?

Here are some of the things I can think of right now, while I write this:

Tone (obviously) - it's a big part of the player's expression. Other instruments, like piano depend on this far less, and with guitar, when effects come in to the mix, it gets very complicated. It's easier to get an electric sound from someone than a sax sound, IMO. It's why I ask for non-electric instruments.

Articulation : including all the specific saxophon-y stuff done with mouth and fingers.

Rhythmic phrasing within the musical context. This is probably the most important quality, after tone. When you consider the packages of sixteenth notes being sprayed out in some jazz situations, you get an appreciation for a story being told by more sophisticated phrasing. One of the most famous rhythmic players that comes to mind for me is Sonny Rollins, but all the truly greats share this. Kenny Garrett is one of my favourites.

Between the notes, incidental phrases. Think of Coltrane's Ballads album. Especially good example in All or Nothing at All. In the second A section, he plays his version of the melody with his typical in-between-the-lines phrases. They're apart of Coltrane's voice.
View: https://youtu.be/thCsu5ZvPlo?t=61

Harmonic and note choice in a given harmonic context. Again, I go to Coltrane who "murdered Summertime". This is how he hears a lot of minor progressions, with a flat II in the place of the V chord. That is, when Am goes to E7, he often plays Bb7b5. You hear it from the first moments.
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NEftw9o1joo


In passing, one very striking harmonic choice is every song Bill Evans ever played.

"Attitude" - this is a quality I read in a Bob Mintzer book on funk and blues. Cool concept. I think the recent post about Yusef Lateef shows that quality.
So does Miles Davis.

Emotion: Dave Sanborn combines a lot of the above with his expressive style.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhdWf4n14zQ


I try to provoke some thought with my posts and I hope you'll be able to come up with other qualities that make a player ultimately listenable.
 
Last edited:

thomsax

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To play the right things at the right time. It's not what you play, it's how you play it. Sax Gordon Beadle told me aboot to play the blues: "I find that many sax players who are into jazz, funk, fusion or pop music end up taking gigs in blues bands because the could use the work and it's considered easy. What most players don't know is that there are many saxophone stylists in Chicago blues that developed unique approaches to group playing either as a small section or by themselves". We were talking about how to play the blues.
 

Wade Cornell

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There's obviously a lot of players who try to sound like a sax hero. Many who are learning are told/encouraged to copy others, not just their technical facility, but their tone, phrasing and style. Although that could be taken as an exercise, many get stuck there. If you're serious about playing music, and especially improvisation, then it ultimately needs to come from you instead of being channeled through an "aped" style of some other player.

I've ragged on about teaching many times on this forum (and others) and generally disagree with systems that don't encourage players to find their own voice. It's ironic that the thing that's admired about many of the players who are copied is that they had a distinctive voice. Why would an aspiring player not wish to also have a distinctive voice? Although we hear, and to some degree copy what's around us, it's naturally synthesized within us so that when we sing most of us still sound unique. If you train yourself to sing like someone famous and practice that continually, it becomes how you sound and you may loose your "natural" voice. The same is true for playing an instrument.

Ideally you should be playing your instrument as you would sing. Otherwise what are you playing? Is there anything of you in what's being played? Is it just a lot of finger memory with cut and paste riffs and arpeggios in someone else's style?

OK, not everybody is a great new talent and many just want to have fun, but it seems that the talented are also being pushed into a mold that will train them out of developing their unique voice. There is no one way to train talent. It must be nurtured and given the tools but not forced into a "one size fits all" style of teaching. Hopefully there are some teachers out there who recognize the failings of recent sax teaching practices and will encourage others to fully develop their individual voice.
 
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randulo

randulo

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To anyone: Any examples of identifiable voices on the instrument? I've mentioned Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Dave Sanborn, Yusef Lateef, who are yours and why?
 
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randulo

randulo

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My favorite players on saxophone or any other instrument for that matter play "musically" and "melodically". Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, and Gerry Mulligan to name a few.
All great choices. I'd add Joe Henderson and Wayne Shorter whom I didn't mention before.
 

Hipparion

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Who has a voice that I may be able to identify (correctly) ? Mmmmh
on bass: Stetson,
on baritone: Mulligan, Cuber,
on tenor: Coltrane, Getz, Brecker,
on alto: Desmond, Adderley, Sanborn, Marienthal,
on soprano: Bechet, Franc, Di Battista, Marsalis, Kenny G (the 'wrong' one)

some of these I really don't like, some of these I really don't care about (I bet you would be surprised who), and some of these I really like.
 

Pete Effamy

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There's obviously a lot of players who try to sound like a sax hero. Many who are learning are told/encouraged to copy others, not just their technical facility, but their tone, phrasing and style. Although that could be taken as an exercise, many get stuck there. If you're serious about playing music, and especially improvisation, then it ultimately needs to come from you instead of being channeled through an "aped" style of some other player.

I've ragged on about teaching many times on this forum (and others) and generally disagree with systems that don't encourage players to find their own voice. It's ironic that the thing that's admired about many of the players who are copied is that they had a distinctive voice. Why would an aspiring player not wish to also have a distinctive voice? Although we hear, and to some degree copy what's around us, it's naturally synthesized within us so that when we sing most of us still sound unique. If you train yourself to sing like someone famous and practice that continually, it becomes how you sound and you may loose your "natural" voice. The same is true for playing an instrument.

Ideally you should be playing your instrument as you would sing. Otherwise what are you playing? Is there anything of you in what's being played? Is it just a lot of finger memory with cut and paste riffs and arpeggios in someone else's style?

OK, not everybody is a great new talent and many just want to have fun, but it seems that the talented are also being pushed into a mold that will train them out of developing their unique voice. There is no one way to train talent. It must be nurtured and given the tools but not forced into a "one size fits all" style of teaching. Hopefully there are some teachers out there who recognize the failings of recent sax teaching practices and will encourage others to fully develop their individual voice.
Come on Wade, that wasn’t really the answer merited by the question this time.
 
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randulo

randulo

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The post asks "what are the elements of your voice on saxophone?". Once again, I messed up the title, it should have been of a "voice", not necessarily your voice. Although your voice would be interesting, I doubt anyone wants to go there.

I wasn't looking to make a list of famous players, in fact maybe I should have thought to limit it to NOT famous ones, but in my initial post I gave some of the reasons why I think these voices are personal and important. What I would like to see hear, are similar logic. I could ask why someone thinks Michael Brecker or Paul Desmond are great. I suppose I am obsessed by analysis as a means to learn. I believe in growing, not by copying, but by listening and understanding why I like a specific solo or artist in general. What are the elements that make this reach me as a potential saxophone player? And what are the elements that reached a non-musician public?

The saxophone is very much associated with jazz, but there is a galaxy of jazz, from dixieland to hip-hop and funk, because to me, jazz is about improvisation, not genre or idiom. And as we've discussed here at infinite length, improvisation isn't chaining riffs you've heard someone else play. At the same time, you can learn the qualities by listening to the greats. As @thomsax said above, "play the right things at the right time", which I agree with 100%. So the final question in this interior interrogation is, does that just happen after you practice for years? Practice is a part of it, to be capable of expressing your musical ideas, but understanding the approach of the greats is more important. Granted, many of the greats were immersed in a musical culture that they grew up with. They didn't need to study these things, it was a part of them from childhood. As this wasn't the case for me, I learned to listen from someone who was a great teacher (who happened to be a drummer!).

If you have a way to express why you feel a musician or singer reaches you, I'd be interested in hearing about it. Here's a final example, Billie Holiday sings one of the most played songs in the history of jazz, Summertime. What did she have that makes her great in the eyes of so many musicians? I think it's her time, the phrasing she used is very much her signature.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYUqbnk7tCY
 

Halfers

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The only thing I'd add to the above list is the ability for the player to 'Speak to their audience' in a voice that they can understand. Players like Kamasi Washington, Shabaka Hutchings, Nubya Garcia, Yolanda Brown, are doing that and bringing Jazz derived music to a new, much younger audience.
 
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randulo

randulo

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Speaking (musically) to an audience is definitely an important quality. And that probably involves a lot of non-music elements, such as beauty, clothes and charisma, and sometimes twerking videos. (kidding!)
 
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randulo

randulo

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Who has a voice that I may be able to identify (correctly) ? Mmmmh
Which elements allow you to recognise any of the sax players?

Hmmm, it occurs to me, too, that another element I forgot was "Choice of material" which would help in recognising many, if they don't stand out in other ways.
 

Halfers

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For me, Bob Reynolds is the modern player that displays most, if not all of the above qualities. He's got one foot firmly entrenched in the History of Jazz, and he uses that knowledge and technique to perform modern, fresh music that harks back to tradition but speaks in modern language. I wouldn't say he's ground breaking in any way, but I don't think he sets out to be. He picks the right people to play with also.
 
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randulo

randulo

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For sure, once you're at a level where you can pick them, your fellow band musicians are crucial. Also, the staging, although that's getting into more show biz than I'd care to think about. I was at a Herbie Hancock Monster Band rehearsal where the manager stopped the tune to tell Herbie he was supposed to come out on the stage from the other side! That was the same rehearsal where I accidentally kicked the extension cord powering all the instruments. Talk about unforgettable, that was like 40 years ago.
 

Pete Effamy

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For sure, once you're at a level where you can pick them, your fellow band musicians are crucial. Also, the staging, although that's getting into more show biz than I'd care to think about. I was at a Herbie Hancock Monster Band rehearsal where the manager stopped the tune to tell Herbie he was supposed to come out on the stage from the other side! That was the same rehearsal where I accidentally kicked the extension cord powering all the instruments. Talk about unforgettable, that was like 40 years ago.
That's like when someone talks to you whilst you are playing telling you that:

(any of these)

- the sandwiches are ready
- make this your last tune
- could the owner of the red car blocking....
 
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randulo

randulo

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I love when they come up and talk to you when you're taking a solo. It makes you feel so relevant and in the moment!
 

Pete Effamy

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I love when they come up and talk to you when you're taking a solo. It makes you feel so relevant and in the moment!
It does indeed. Valued. Like the huge world-wide charity that failed to provide food for the band (in the contract). We watched the caterers et al tuck into a lovely hot meal and eventually we got a bag of packet sandwiches from the petrol station across the road.
 

Ivan

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where the manager stopped the tune to tell Herbie he was supposed to come out on the stage from the other side!
Without knowing the exact details and ignoring a musician's exalted status...there are reasons for stage direction
 
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randulo

randulo

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Alright, getting back to the topic, here's a specific question for anyone who care to respond:

This is McCoy Tyner, live with Coltrane, he takes the first solo.

If you've followed jazz of the period, would you have any trouble knowing who this is?

Here's parts of a solo (different version but live same tour). Look at these "phrase shapes", the video shows very similar ones.
Screenshot 2019-11-22 at 09.15.27.png


View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JRXbvOGQMuk
 
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