Merely reading about great sax isn't enough; in this case, hearing really is believing. So here are 20 of the greatest soprano, alto, tenor and baritone solos ever.
"Oh, Lady Be Good." Lester Young with Jones-SmitIncorporated, 1936. From the album "The Essential Count Basie, Vol. 1" (Columbia). The first tenor sax-playing "Prez" in what drummer Jo Jones deemed "the best solo Lester ever recorded."
"Body and Soul." Coleman Hawkins, 1939. From the album "Body and Soul" (Bluebird). A classically swinging, incomparably elegant tenor solo. Modern jazz begins here.
"Flying Home." Illinois Jacquet with Lionel Hampton, 1942. From the album "Flying Home" (MCA). A show-stopper live, thanks to Jacquet's screaming tenor solos, the recorded version remains a classic of blues-driven swing.
"Choo Choo Ch'Boogie." Louis Jordan, 1946. From the album "The Best of Louis Jordan" (MCA). Standing at the intersection of jazz and R&B;, this alto break is a perfect mix of melodic grace and rhythmic drive.
"Relaxin' at Camarillo." Charlie Parker Septet, 1946. From the album "The Legendary Dial Masters, Vol. 1" (Stash). A cool, quirky blues, this bit of Bird-lore finds the great altoist at his most idiosyncratic and inventive.
"Deacon's Hop." Big Jay McNeely & Band, 1949. From the collection "Jump Blues Classics" (Rhino). Proof that a well-honked tenor can generate as much excitement as any electric guitar.
"Hand Clappin'." Red Prysock, 1956. From the collection "Jump Blues Classics" (Rhino). Tunefully indefatigable and rhythmically
irresistible, this tenor solo laid the foundation for R&B; saxophone.
"Yackety Yak." King Curtis with the Coasters, 1958. Just listen to the way Curtis' tenor effortlessly translates rhythm into melody here. A rock and roll landmark.
"Take Five." Paul Desmond with Dave Brubeck, 1959. From the album "Take Five" (Columbia). Between his light, dry tone and wry, tuneful approach, Desmond set the standard for alto sax cool.
"Harlem Nocturne." The Viscounts, 1959. From the collection "The History of Rock Instrumentals, Vol. 2" (Rhino). Harry Haller's languorous tenor makes this the musical equivalent
of a film-noir street scene.
"My Favorite Things." John Coltrane, 1960. From the album "My Favorite Things" (Atlantic). By bringing technical virtuosity and a light, oboe-ish tone to the instrument, Coltrane opened a whole new frontier for soprano sax.
"Yackety Sax." Boots Randolph, 1963. From the album "Yackety Sax." Taking his cue from King Curtis, this Nashville-based tenor man clucks and boogies with the best of them. Who says there's no such thing as country saxophone?
"Desafinado." Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd, 1962. From the album "Jazz Samba" (Verve). Great tone, terrific rhythm and a deliciously lyric approach make this tenor samba irresistible.
"Shotgun." Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, 1965. From the album "Shotgun" (Motown). Walker's soulful phrasing made this a hit, but his ability to push tenor high notes into soprano range made him a sax legend.
"It's the Same Old Song." Mike Terry with the Four Tops, 1965. From the album "Four Tops Greatest Hits" (Motown). Terry's ebullient baritone is the perfect compliment to Levi Stubbs'
"Mother Popcorn." Maceo Parker with James Brown, 1969. From the boxed set "Star Time!" (Polydor). Because Parker pushes the beat every bit as hard as Brown does, this is the epitome of tenor sax funk.
"Brown Sugar." Bobby Keyes with the Rolling Stones, 1971. From the album "Sticky Fingers" (Rolling Stones). Laid-back and dirty, Keyes' sound manages to combine Mick Jagger's phrasing with Keith Richards' groove.
"Young Americans." David Sanborn with David Bowie, 1975. From the album "Young Americans." Sanborn's squalling asides do for alto what Jr. Walker did for tenor.
"Just the Way You Are." Phil Woods with Billy Joel, 1977. From the album "The Stranger" (Columbia). An exquisite blend of jazz ingenuity and pop accessibility from the greatest altoist since Charlie Parker.
"Jungleland." Clarence Clemmons with Bruce Springsteen, 1975. From the album "Born to Run" (Columbia). With the "Big Man" at his most achingly poetic, his massive tenor tone says it all.