John Harle is an Ivor Novello award-winning saxophonist, composer, and record producer, whose work spans across musical genres from classical to contemporary pop.

His early work gained public acclaim with his Saxophone Concertos album on EMI Classics which is widely seen as the definitive recording of the major classical works, and his playing has been the catalyst for an outpouring of new concertos by composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Richard Rodney Bennett, Marc Anthony Turnage, Sir John Tavener, Sally Beamish, Michael Nyman and Gavin Bryars.
John’s performance of Birtwistle's saxophone concerto Panic at the Last Night of the BBC Proms in 1995 was cited by many critics as the most controversial premiere of a new musical work since Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring in 1913.
He has performed with countless orchestras and conductors worldwide and has sold over half a million CDs in the classical field alone.

John is the composer of over 100 film and TV scores, two operas and 50 concert works, including the theme to BBC1's Silent Witness, and the epic score to Simon Schama’s A History of Britain. He is the recipient of an Ivor Novello award and two Royal Television Society awards for Best Music.

John’s tribute album to Duke Ellington, The Shadow of the Duke was followed with 

© Nobby Clark

collaborations with jazz artists such as Herbie Hancock and Andy Sheppard.

He was artistic advisor and producer to Sir Paul McCartney for six years, and other major collaborations have included albums and tours with Elvis Costello and Marc Almond.
A prominent media figure, he is a regular contributor to Radio 4 Front Row, and was a castaway on Desert Island Discs. He also contributes written articles to major publications.

He has been musical director and producer for Moondog, Herbie Hancock, Elmer Bernstein, 

Ute Lemper, Lesley Garrett, Kathryn Tickell, Michael Nyman, Sir John Dankworth and Dame Cleo Laine. He is the founder and producer of Sospiro Records.

John was a Foundation Scholar at The Royal College of Music, London (and the first ever student to receive a 100% graduation mark), and then French Government Music Scholar, studying with Daniel Deffayet in Paris. In 1984 he won the Amcon Award of The American Concert Artists Guild.

John was appointed the youngest ever Professor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, starting the saxophone department at the age of 26, and his teaching has produced many of the leading players of today.
He is now Visiting Professor of Saxophone at The Guildhall School, where he leads a Masters degree in Creative Saxophone Performance, whilst also continuing to teach and mentor saxophonists and composers from all parts of the globe. He is the author of The Saxophone (Faber Music), the definitive reference work on saxophone playing and performance.

He is currently collaborating with Sir Harrison Birtwistle on a contemporary reconstruction of Guillame de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame, and songwriting with Marc Almond for an album of pop torch songs for Sony/BMG. He is the father of writer and curator Dr. Matthew Harle and Columbia Records composer/ producer Danny L Harle.


“Harle is a saxophone legend”

“He must be the most sought-after saxophonist in the world now.”

"I could listen to John Harle play almost anything for hours"

“You MUST see the virtuosity and charisma of Harle as a musician - exciting, edgy performances from the hottest saxophonist around today. Seeing is believing”

“It hit the audience between the eyes - it reached the soul of the saxophone”

“Mr Harle has become an eminent modern musician. He's a dazzling player, with an immense range of tones, and a magnetic musician”

“British-born Harle is one of the most outstanding saxophonists today - a leading classical exponent of the saxophone in Europe and a formidable jazz composer and soloist - he gives the sax new credibility”

"No-one else creates a sound quite like this: apparently floating weightlessly, yet robust”

“A dazzling workout. Technical and emotional mastery - all of which were as child's play for John Harle”
THE NEW YORK TIMES (at Carnegie Hall)

“Thanks to Harle, the saxophone has grown in status in the twentieth century. It may yet emerge as the paragon of wind instruments - their finest singer”

“John Harle adapts to any musical style that comes his way. He plays with originality, intelligence and fire”

“Equally at home in all genres as composer and player, he is one of the most accomplished of that new generation of musicians that has successfully breached music's artificial and still too strictly observed boundaries”

“It was like sitting down for dinner in a reliable restaurant and being presented with an hors d'oeuvre of cold sick. Among others I would have been happy to have chained Harle and Birtwistle, whose work has been called 'sonic sewage', naked to the railings outside as punishment”

© Nobby Clark

“Harle gallops across his musical terrain with the attitude of Axl Rose. Terrifyingly extreme and magnificently audacious, Harle is a powerful force in British Jazz and Pop, and has the integrity, passion and vision to challenge listeners”

“Hearing Harle, you can understand why composers are surprised and delighted by his artistry. His keenly imaginative playing directly echoes the inflections of the human voice, and his fine control of tone eliminates the sloppy wailing of some saxophonists that is such a pain”

“Three gorgeous songs by John Harle sung by a totally credible Elvis Costello are only the most conspicuous highlights of saxophonist Harle's genre scramble 'Terror and Magnificence'. Harle’s own commanding musicianship and audacious composing act as this record's solid cement”

“Harle's style has an integrity all of its own”

“Terror and Magnificence it is very probably one of the finest suites to have come from the pen of a British composer in recent years. Harle is a virtuosic saxophonist but his writing talent is clearly as significant. A triumph all round”

“We all know that Marc Almond can sing but it still comes as a shock to hear his thrillingly drawn-out climax to Harle's "The Arrival of Spring", emoting words adapted from William Blake with operatic oomph”
THE INDEPENDENT (on 'Art Music') ****

“This is the most beautiful alto-playing since Johnny Hodges; and the most beautiful
soprano-playing ever” 

“The music of John Harle is very fast moving, urgently collaborative, often witty, sinewy, ironic and urban”

“John Harle's music is complex, darkly humorous and full of ear-catching quirkiness. You're bowled over by the variety, energy and sheer size of his music. It merits every ounce of the effort put into it”

“He's an omnivorous enthusiast, a truly unfashionable state of mind in a self-conscious age of irony, but something which links him with the late American master, Leonard Bernstein”

“Harle is a renaissance man that defies categorization; there are moments of unearthly beauty - eerie, magical and oddly timeless”

“Harle's compositions are testament to the extraordinary versatility of this brilliant saxophonist”

“This masterful album - wonderfully scary stuff”
THE SUN***** (on 'The Tyburn Tree')

“Beautiful and dramatic music”
INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY (on 'The Tyburn Tree')

“A treat for the ears - epic, sweeping”
MUSIC OMH (on 'The Tyburn Tree')

“Lushly harmonised and ecstatically passionate”

“Harle's rich, extravagant settings could have been written for the late 1960's Scott Walker”
THE ARTS DESK **** (on 'Art Music')

“John Harle's lurid The Little Death Machine, premiered in the late-night Prom, was full of spark as the saxophonist composer's solo soared, blasted and panted over ghoulish riffs, swooping samples and a manic orchestral dance groove. This now formidable creative figure often functions best in mixing genres”

“This is a fascinating and beguiling album. Harle shows no sign soon of losing his magical powers of communication”
JAZZ VIEWS (on 'Art Music')

“Marvelously vigorous, ironic and atmospheric”
THE TIMES **** (on 'The Tyburn Tree')

“A stunning contemporary production”
PROG MAGAZINE **** (on 'The Tyburn Tree')


Ivor Novello Awards

IVOR NOVELLO AWARD for Best Soundtrack 2013 - for 'Lucian Freud - Painted Life' (Blakeway Productions for BBC2).

The Royal Television Society

RTS AWARD for 'best original music for television' 2012 - for 'Lucian Freud - Painted
Life' (Blakeway Productions for BBC2).
RTS Nomination for best music for television 2009 - The Commander (LaPlante/ITV1)
RTS Nomination for best music for television 2005 - Summer in the Suburbs (BBC2)

RTS AWARD for best theme for television 2003 - Silent Witness (BBC1)
RTS Nomination for best music for television 2002 - Defence of the Realm (BBC1)


Grammy Nomination 1999 - Terror and Magnificence

Billboard USA

No.1 Crossover Album 1999 - Terror and Magnificence

Mercury Music Awards

MMA Nomination - 1999 - Terror and Magnificence

UK Advertising Awards

Nomination for Best Original Music - 1999 - Flying (TBWA/Trevor Beattie/Nissan)

UK Dance Charts

No. 1 Position - 1996 - Flying (Remix)

Cannes Film Festival

Best Artistic Achievement in a Feature Film - 1988 - Prick Up Your Ears - with Stanley Myers


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All photo credits: John Harle © Nobby Clark