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

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randulo

randulo

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How do we know the difference between a major triad and a minor triad? That ability alone is actually pretty amazing when you think about it. At least in the western world, most people can hear the difference, but can't necessarily explain what it is. We musicians know that it's because of the interval between the first and second notes, which differs by a half-step. Isn't it incredible that we can hear that relatively small frequency difference? Is that part of what allowed us to survive and evolve, perhaps to be able to tell the difference between a sabre-tooth tiger and an aardvark in our caves? We know major and minor tonalities have different emotional values in different cultures. Is there an explanation for that?

We humans can also feel and reproduce rhythms. This has sometimes been associated with the human heartbeat. One way or another, we feel the heartbeat all of our lives. In both cases, tonality and rhythm, some people are more accomplished than others at distinguishing them. If one is an excellent sight reader, it is not a given that they have an advanced sense of either. A player's musical personality is perceivable, not limited to just the sound of their saxophone. Part of it might be extended to how they dress, move with their instrument, react with other musicians or an audience. The essential qualities of the saxophone player besides the "voice" (meaning timbre, intonation and sound production including vibrato) that come to mind for me are note choice for embellishments or melodic changes, rhythmic placement, phrase length, density, volume dynamics, timbre dynamics (change the tone during a note or phrase), intonation dynamics (turns, falls, bends).

My whole theory behind all of this is very simple. Experiencing the work of the greats without copying anything they do, taking note of every way they express themselves that stands out as their saxidentity, is a huge step towards developing your own voice. The first BOTM I dared record, That's All, was inspired by this Hank Crawford version. Listen to the first line of the melody, which has four notes. If you get out the aural microscope, you'll hear some things in that phrase that make this Hank Crawford. Where and how many grace notes, bends, where he plays two notes when the melody only has two. There are probably 10 things in the first phrase to reflect upon. That's what I did, anyway, on my eighth month on the sax. I just listened to a part of that, and I don't think there's any resemblance to Hank (for better or worse). But I learned a lot from listening too him.

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX7xcGxcb4M


Vibrato is big in his style.
 

Targa

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Is that part of what allowed us to survive and evolve, perhaps to be able to tell the difference between a sabre-tooth tiger and an aardvark in our caves? We know major and minor tonalities have different emotional values in different cultures. Is there an explanation for that?
No, it was more that sabre tooth tigers were extinct 30 million years before aardvarks appeared and about 40 million before humans.
 
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Wade Cornell

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I listen to guitarists, world music, pianists, and just about everybody but sax players for ideas and inspiration. If you're one with your instrument then you can play whatever you hear in your mental library or try to fit with whatever is happening. The sax has so much more potential than the limited genre to which it's been mostly relegated. If you want to play jazz, then by all means use those sax players as your inspiration. For me listening to someone like Keith Jarrett is much more inspiring (improvisation concerts, not playing standards with a trio). Hearing unusual melodic ideas, poly-rhythms, and a myriad of transitions that link these flows of consciousness gives glimpses of a musical mind's potential.

A specific player's identifiable quirks and analysis of those just don't appeal (to me). Maybe it's a matter of your feeling a need to focus in to those sorts of details before you can expand? Very interesting to hear your thought process. If this is helping you to progress that's good. Whatever works for you is fair, but is' not necessarily a universal.

I know a sax player here in New Zealand who teaches at a University. He was a professional studio player in the UK for some years before coming here. I certainly wish I had his technical prowess, and yet I don't want to play like him. He can sound like Coltrane, Kenny G, or Paul Desmond, but has no identifiable sound/feel of his own. Everything is filtered as though it's "channeled" through that other player. He more than "gets" what made those players sound like they did, but ultimately has no voice of his own. You are...or become what you play.
 

Pete Effamy

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I listen to guitarists, world music, pianists, and just about everybody but sax players for ideas and inspiration. If you're one with your instrument then you can play whatever you hear in your mental library or try to fit with whatever is happening. The sax has so much more potential than the limited genre to which it's been mostly relegated. If you want to play jazz, then by all means use those sax players as your inspiration. For me listening to someone like Keith Jarrett is much more inspiring (improvisation concerts, not playing standards with a trio). Hearing unusual melodic ideas, poly-rhythms, and a myriad of transitions that link these flows of consciousness gives glimpses of a musical mind's potential.

A specific player's identifiable quirks and analysis of those just don't appeal (to me). Maybe it's a matter of your feeling a need to focus in to those sorts of details before you can expand? Very interesting to hear your thought process. If this is helping you to progress that's good. Whatever works for you is fair, but is' not necessarily a universal.

I know a sax player here in New Zealand who teaches at a University. He was a professional studio player in the UK for some years before coming here. I certainly wish I had his technical prowess, and yet I don't want to play like him. He can sound like Coltrane, Kenny G, or Paul Desmond, but has no identifiable sound/feel of his own. Everything is filtered as though it's "channeled" through that other player. He more than "gets" what made those players sound like they did, but ultimately has no voice of his own. You are...or become what you play.
But your sound, vibrato, articulation etc aren't original Wade, ie a different voice to anyone else.
 
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randulo

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Of course we listen to all music that way, but the reason I focus on sax is because it's what I've been listening to forever before ever touching the instrument. Therefore, it's very much like learning the vocabulary (NOT LICKS), the possibilities within what's common like vibrato. The other thing is that playing guitar synthesizer as I have for decades, you also need to learn the idiosyncrasies of each instrument in order to emulate them. That's my process, but it's also interesting to think about hearing, philosophically.
 

Jazzaferri

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Phrasing which I take to be the spaces between the notes, the notes and the attack

I beleive that together with one's voice gives a player his style. In some, it might be their distinctive voice that is the more dominant element in others the phrasing.
 
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randulo

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What makes Sonny Rollins identifiable? It's all that plus the rhythmic "spirit".
 
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randulo

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Halfers

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"In early 1950, Rollins was arrested for armed robbery and spent ten months in Rikers Island jail before being released on parole; in 1952, he was re-arrested for violating the terms of his parole by using heroin. Between 1951 and 1953, he recorded with Miles Davis, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk."
Funnily enough, I wasn't posting in direct response to your post. Just a coincidence of timing. However, when I saw your response to @Jazzaferri , I thought it was just as appropriate.
 

Halfers

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Wade Cornell

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rhysonsax

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What makes Sonny Rollins identifiable? It's all that plus the rhythmic "spirit".
I think that Grant Stewart has probably listened to a lot of Sonny Rollins and on first listening I mistook his playing for Rollins (my very favourite saxophone player).


Maybe the band line up of trio with bass and drums and even the way it was recorded helped fool me for a while.

But the longer I listen to each track on this album the more I miss the real Rollins - not so much for his sound but for his playfulness, risk-taking, imagination and sheer sense of fun. And to me, those are all aspects of Sonny's individual "voice" just as much as his sound, articulation, use of vibrato etc.

Rhys
 
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randulo

randulo

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his playfulness, risk-taking, imagination and sheer sense of fun. And to me, those are all aspects of Sonny's individual "voice" just as much as his sound, articulation, use of vibrato etc.
I feel Sonny shares that with Roland Kirk, and yes, the above reminds me of Sonny in the ways you say. I find the sound is just a little less raw, and that might just be EQ by the producer of the recording. Thanks for finding and relating this, I think it's right there with what I was looking.
 

Halfers

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But the longer I listen to each track on this album the more I miss the real Rollins - not so much for his sound but for his playfulness, risk-taking, imagination and sheer sense of fun. And to me, those are all aspects of Sonny's individual "voice" just as much as his sound, articulation, use of vibrato etc.
You know what, before I read your comment below the video, I was thinking that this tune lacked a sense of humour in relation to Rollins. There's something about the timing as well that's not the same as Rollins. And the tone isn't as rich. I think Rollins was a bit more behind the beat, less strident in nature. That's clearly a disservice in some ways to Grant Stewart as no doubt he's not in any way looking to ape Sonny, but agree it's very much in the Rollins style.

Don't tell him, but I might be starting to see where Randy is coming from here...
 
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