The Top 5 Most Famous Saxophone Players

The saxophone is a relatively new instrument, invented during the 1840’s by Belgian musician and instrument maker, Adolphe Sax. The first orchestral music for saxophone was composed by Hector Berlioz in 1844.  In the ensuing years, volumes of new music included parts for saxophone, but it really came to the forefront in the United States with the development of new musical styles such as vaudeville, ragtime, and eventually jazz.

Any saxophonist or fan of saxophone music has strong ideas about who should be on the list of the most famous saxophone players. There are a dozen or so names that appear on virtually every list, but there is certainly debate over who is or was the greatest ever or who should be in the top three.  To some extent, it is unfair to single out specific players because of the differences in style over the years, for example comparing Charlie Parker who was in his prime during the 1940’s and 1950’s versus John Coltrane who gained fame in the 1960’s. 

The following saxophone players are most frequently listed as being among the best:

Charlie Parker is often cited as the greatest saxophone player in history. Parker, nicknamed Yardbird, or Bird for short, elevated jazz from entertaining dance music to the highest form of spontaneous artistic expression. His insightful genius resulted in the creation of an entirely new harmonic and melodic language, which became known as bebop. Charlie favored the alto sax, playing on Conn M series instruments, Martin, Grafton, and eventually Selmer. The Selmer Mark VI is one of the most coveted vintage saxophones, but Selmer’s Paris Reference 54 Alto Saxophone is an excellent professional saxophone that mirrors the design of the Mark VI.

Listen to the Selmer Paris Reference 54 Alto:

John Coltrane established himself as his generation's greatest virtuoso of the tenor sax through his work with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. His style brought innovation in the use of chord progressions, sometimes described as a cascade of sound.  Coltrane’s music varied, sometimes radically, because of his passion for experimentation. His favored instrument was the Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone.  Tenor saxophone players might want to consider the newly introduced Selmer TS44 Professional Saxophone. Created in a collaboration between Selmer US and Henri Selmer Paris, this saxophone delivers quality construction and outstanding performance at an affordable price.

Listen to the Selmer TS44 Pro Sax:

Sonny Rollins, a jazz tenor saxophonist, is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians the world has known.   Rollins has been called the greatest living improviser and the "Saxophone Colossus". A master at developing a musical motif, he could create countless variations based on one melodic idea.  Rollins’ favorite tenor saxophone was the Selmer Mark VI.  Yamaha Custom Series saxophones have been receiving critical acclaim – check out the Yamaha Custom Z Tenor Saxophone.  Manufactured in the vintage tradition, this saxophone offers expressiveness, response and control.

Listen to the Yamaha Custom Z:

Lester Young rose to prominence while a member of Count Basie's orchestra. He played tenor sax and occasionally the clarinet. Young played with a relaxed, cool tone using sophisticated harmonies. He is also credited with inventing and popularizing some of the jargon that came to be associated with jazz.  Young played a Conn M sax during much of his career. Consider modern Selmer horns or perhaps one by French manufacturer P. Mauriat.  They are the industry leader in modern vintage saxophones, all completely made by hand.  The P. Mauriat PMXT-66RX Influence Model Professional Tenor Saxophone offers superior resonance and increased response.

Listen to the P. Mauriat PMXT-66RX

Stan Getz may be second only to Coltrane as the name most synonymous with the saxophone. He played tenor sax and modeled his playing style after Lester Young, who was his idol.  Getz may be best known for introducing bossa nova to American audiences and for his Grammy award winning “Girl from Ipanema”.  He played the Selmer Mark VI tenor saxophone.

There are at least forty other saxophonists that appear on “Best” lists, but these are five of the greatest. 

If you are in the market for a professional saxophone, browse our full saxophone collection. If you would like advice and assistance shopping for instruments and equipment, our music experts are available to understand your needs and your budget. Call us today! You can also check out our Saxophone Buying Guide for more information.