The 10 Most Famous Saxophone Players Of All Time

Added by Nicola Porrill on Nov 26, 2021
greatest saxophone players

Invented by Adolphe Sax in 1841, the saxophone has become one of the most recognizable sounds in music. These days, the saxophone is synonymous with jazz and swing - there's something about those deep, slurring notes that just makes you want to get up and dance!

Unless you're well versed in the jazz music scene, you probably wouldn't call any saxophonists 'famous', but somewhere in this list there has to be a name or two that you recognize. Even if these are all new to you, prepare to be entertained by the players and amazed by the sounds which can come from just one instrument.


Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson had an incredible musical career which spanned a whopping 40 years. In his early 20s, he actually spent a stint in the U.S. Army, during which he won a talent competition and was chosen to go on a world tour to entertain other soldiers. However, it was on leaving the Army that his career really took off. Over the next few years, he worked with one of the biggest jazz music labels in the world, Blue Note, appearing on around 30 albums, including five in his own name. Clearly an exceedingly talented man, Henderson's music always remains quite calming and soothing, making it wonderful to listen to!


Stan Getz

Of Polish and Ukrainian descent, Getz was born in Pennsylvania in 1927; he started playing the saxophone aged 13, practising for 8 hours per day. As such, it's no surprise that he became so skilled at playing. During his career, he played with some very big names within the industry, including musicians who also played with Charlie Parker. Getz had some struggles with drugs, a problem which started during his teens, and which led to him getting into trouble with the police. However, despite this, the popularity of bossa nova increased rapidly thanks to Getz - it's a Brazilian style of music which is still very popular to this day.


Ornette Coleman

Ornette Coleman is one of the most extraordinary saxophonists I've ever heard. He coined the phrase 'free jazz', as that''s exactly what his music is. His music isn't always easy to listen to with beautiful chords and peaceful harmonies. Instead, Coleman just plays whatever the hell he wants to play. Have you ever heard the phrase 'dance like no-one is watching'? Well, Ornette Coleman plays like no-one is listening. It's an amazing sound to listen to, especially if you want to fire yourself up for something!

Coleman has won many awards for his music; within the last ten years alone he has won a Pulitzer Prize for music, a Grammy award for lifetime achievement, and the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, which is awarded to 'a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life'.


Lester Young

Sometimes known by his nickname of 'Pres' (short for 'President'), Lester Young was a prolific saxophone player who had a very laid back, relaxed style. He worked with some big names, including Billie Holiday and Nat 'King' Cole. He was a master of improvisation, but sadly alcohol took hold of Young, which ultimately led to his premature death at the age of 49.


Julian 'Cannonball' Adderley

'Cannonball': an unusual nickname for a saxophonist, you might think. It actually stems from Adderley's time in high school, when he had an insatiable appetite. The term 'cannibal' came up, which later led to 'cannonball'. Adderley was famous for his amazing improvisations and easy listening music - much of which he performed in bands with his brother, who was also a musician. Sadly, Adderley died from a stroke at the age of 46. The loss is even more tragic when there's so much talent and potential going to waste!

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