In the world of music, saxophone players have played an enormous role in the development of musical genres such as jazz, rock, soul, and pop. A critical instrument in the history of 20th Century music, famous saxophone players such as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman have changed the way that we view different musical art forms. Here are just a few reasons why players such as these are so important to our understanding of modern music.
1. Charlie Parker (1920 – 1955): American Beethoven
In the history of music, few artists have been as influential as saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker. In the mid-20th Century, Parker helped take jazz music in remarkably new directions; as one of the leading lights of “bop” jazz, for example, Parker developed techniques that would help American jazz music come to rival European classical music as an art form.
As an author, beat generation novelist Jack Kerouac changed the course of American literature when he drew inspiration from Parker’s improvisatory style in his novel “On the Road.” (Kerouac even claimed that Parker was as important to the history of music as Ludwig van Beethoven.)
2. John Coltrane (1926 – 1967): Musical Revolutionary
Few saxophone players have achieved as much well-deserved recognition as John Coltrane; inspired by the development of modal jazz under the tutelage of Miles Davis during his time spent with Davis’s band in the 1950s, Coltrane set out to rebuild American music from the ground up. He did so with flair and panache.
As a saxophonist, in fact, Coltrane could perform tender, sweet melodies one minute and launch into fierce, manic musical outbursts the next. Coltrane is perhaps most famous for his revolutionary masterwork album “A Love Supreme”; after the album’s appearance on the prestigious Impulse! jazz record label in 1965, the world of music would be irrevocably changed.
3. Ornette Coleman (1930 – 2015): A Visionary Genius
Among leading figures of mid-20th Century jazz musicianship such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, it is only saxophonist Coleman who has yet to become a household name. But the artist’s breathtaking approach to sonic experimentation with the saxophone puts him in league with some of the most famous saxophone players of all time.
Even the mighty John Coltrane cited Coleman as an influence, and Miles Davis took cues from the musician on his seminal 1972 album “On the Corner.” Sadly, Ornette Coleman has never earned the accolades of his more-famous disciples. That shouldn’t stop saxophone fans from discovering his work.
Through the efforts of musicians such Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman, music in our time has been deeply changed for the better. From George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” to the music of Van Morrison and Nick Drake, the work of the world’s greatest saxophone players has had an enormous impact on our concept of what music can and should do. For that, we should all be grateful for the bold and brave work of these unique players.