The Alto Saxphone
Film and Music
Submitted By Carls0225
The Alto Saxophone
Famous Alto Sax Player, John Coltrane
A revolutionary and groundbreaking jazz saxophonist, John Coltrane was born on September 23, 1926, in Hamlet, North Carolina. Coltrane was surrounded by music as a child. His father, John R. Coltrane, kept his family fed as a tailor, but had a passion for music. He played several instruments, and his interests fueled his son's love for music. Coltrane's first exposure to jazz came through the records of Count Basie and Lester Young. By the age of 13, Coltrane had picked up the saxophone, and it was obvious he had a talent for it. Coltrane loved to imitate the sounds of Charlie Parker and Johnny Hodges.
In 1946, Coltrane proceeded to hook up with a number of jazz bands. One of the earliest was a group led by Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. Later he hooked up with Jimmy Heath's band. Then in the fall of 1949 Coltrane signed on with a big band led by Dizzy Gillespie, remaining with the group for the next year and a half. Coltrane had started to earn a name for himself. But as the 1950s took a shape, he also began to experiment with drugs, mainly heroin. His talent earned him jobs, but his addictions often ended them. In 1954, Duke Ellington brought him on to temporarily replace Johnny Hodges, but soon fired him because of his drug dependency.
A year after losing a position in Ellington's band, Miles Davis asked him to join his group, the Miles Davis Quintet. Davis encouraged Coltrane to push his experimental boundaries. With a new record contract from Columbia Records, Davis led his band into the studio. The next few years were excellent for the band, with albums such as The New Miles Davis Quintet (1955) and 'Round About Midnight (1957). He also played on Davis' seminal album Kind of Blue (1959). In 1957 Davis fired Coltrane, who'd failed to give up heroin. But by 1960 Coltrane had his own band, a quartet that included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. The group, known as the John Coltrane Quartet, produced some of jazz's most enduring albums, including Giant Steps (1960) and My Favorite Things (1961).
In 1964 Coltrane married jazz pianist Alice McCloud, who'd go on to play in his band. Coltrane wrote and recorded a fair amount of material over the final two years of his life. In 1966 he recorded his final two albums to be released while he was alive, Kulu Se Mama and Meditations. The album Expression was finalized just one day before his death. He died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, in Huntington, Long Island, New York.
About the Alto Sax
The history of the saxophone can be traced back over 150 years. Although this seems like a long time, the saxophone is one of the newer instruments in the musical spectrum. It was invented by and named after Antoine-Joseph (Adolphe) Sax. He was an expert instrument maker and talented musician. The saxophone was patented on March 20, 1846. It has since become a necessity in every band due to its tonal beauty and versatility.
Sax grew up in the trade of instrument making, his father was an expert in instrument making and by the age of six, Sax had already become an expert in it as well. Being the musician he was, Sax became aware of the tonal disparity between strings and winds, and between brasses and woodwinds. The strings were being overpowered by the winds and the woodwinds were being overblown by the brasses. Sax needed an instrument that would balance the three sections. His answer to the problem was a horn with the body of a brass instrument and the mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument. When he combined these two elements, the saxophone was born.
The saxophone is a member of the woodwind family even though it is made almost entirely of metal. The sound is produced by a vibrating single reed which is the same sound producing method as a clarinet. The saxophone family has four members: The Bb (B flat) soprano, Eb alto, Bb tenor and Eb baritone saxophones are all widely used. The most popular and best beginning instrument is the Eb alto saxophone. The saxophone is played with the left hand closest to the mouth. The right hand covers the lower keys. Since the saxophone is the only woodwind instrument made of brass, it is capable of very loud sounds by a beginner. With practice, a player can produce a very soft and sweet sound.
The Saxophones Role in Jazz
Of the many members of the saxophone family, the alto and tenor have emerged as its most prominent siblings. From the mid-1920s onward, many big band alto saxophonists have filled a dual role, best personified by the multi-talented Benny Carter, serving as the lead voice in the saxophone section as well as a featured solo improviser. During that same time, Johnny Hodges began to reveal the alto's soulful, sensual character, applying the instrument to both ballads and blues.
Although the tenor may appear to be the most dominant of the saxophones, the alto has played a leading role in the evolution of jazz since the Swing Era. One of the two most influential bebop pioneers of the 1940s was an alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker, whose harmonic innovations helped revolutionize jazz and whose assertive approach opened up new avenues of expression for the horn. At the end of the 1950s Ornette Coleman excited some listeners and musicians, and infuriated others, when he paved the way for the jazz avant-garde by abandoning chord changes and playing his (plastic) alto in a highly idiosyncratic and vocalized manner.
It is not unusual for saxophonists to double successfully on alto and tenor—Sonny Stitt,James Moody, David Newman, and Frank Wess, for example. But at the same time, many others, such as Paul Desmond, Lou Donaldson, Julia Adderley, and Jackie McLean, have chosen to concentrate on this smaller horn, exploring and expanding its unique and diverse expressive qualities. Lyrical, funky, strident—in the hands of modernists like these the alto saxophone has been, and will continue to be, a versatile and ubiquitous contributor to the language of jazz.
June 3 2015