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Great Players and Great Influences - a personal note

We all know what it feels like to hear a great artist release a sound from their instrument or voice. It has a truly deep and lasting effect on us. The sound has presence, personality and power.The players connect with us in ways we can hardly work out, and we're inspired to try do the same. The saxophone world has been full of these players, from Michael Brecker to Jan Garbarek, Sonny Rollins to Marcel Mule, John Coltrane to Charlie Parker – all players whose musical power has affected us deeply. Their sounds are distinctly individual and powerful.

In addition to those great players, my personal list includes four others (only one of whom has achieved anything near the level of present-day fame of the others) – Johnny Hodges of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, a player of intensely moving ballads by Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. The others are lesser-known in our time, but in my view, are equal players.One is Jack Brymer– a world-renowned English classical clarinettist, but also a soprano saxophone performer of great skill and charisma.

jack brymer

Jack Brymer

Johnny B Hodges

Johnny Hodges (with Al Sears.)

I had seen Hodges and Brymer perform many times in the '60's and 70's as a youth in the North of England, and couldn't work out why I liked both players with a similar enthusiasm – what was it that bound these two players together, despite one being a jazz musician and one a classical soloist?

It was this: both of their sounds had a magical element, floating through the auditoriums with a 'weightless' quality. The sounds in themselves were robust, and had a definite 'core'– but they seemed to be able to get louder and softer without the core of the sound getting thinner or going out of tune. The sound seemed to have none of those 'earthbound' edges that made some other players seem so dull...

In writing The Saxophone, I've looked back at and assimilated my earlier influences of Hodges and Brymer, but have more recently looked to two truly great saxophonists of earlier periods whose approaches I've been intensely influenced by – Rudy Wiedoeft and Kenneth Douse. Wiedoeft and Douse were the charismatic magicians of the saxophone – one achieving outrageous celebrity in the Saxophone Craze of the 1920's as a vaudeville artist, and the other lurking in the relative obscurity of military music.

Rudy Wiedoeft

Rudy Wiedoeft

Kenneth Douse

Kenneth Douse

In order to play with a crisp, clean articulation (as they did at incredible speeds), their whole focus was on sound and breath-support. This breath-support is where my earlier preoccupation with a floating resonant sound of Hodges and Brymer and the crisp articulation of Wiedoeft and Douse meet, and is where this book has its genesis...

This is an extract from a chapter in The Saxophone