5 Essential Sax Solos To Learn From Jazz’s Historical Lineage of Great Tenor Players

5 Essential Jazz Tenor Solos

Chris Potter, Melissa Aldana, Kamasi Washington — These are some of jazz’s best contemporary tenor saxophonists. What is something that they all share? They share the fact that their playing is rooted in the rich historical lineage of the tenor saxophonists that came before them. This article lists 5 essential solos from Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane.

This is obviously not a comprehensive list and more than likely you will come up with 5 completely different solos which is amazing! I would love to hear what your top 5 saxophone solos are and what they mean to you! Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

1. Body and Soul – Coleman Hawkins

This is considered one of the most famous recordings of Body and Soul. Coleman Hawkins’ smooth flowing lines through the complex changes hint at a move away from the common cliches of the swing music at the time and hint at the bebop language that is come. Body and Soul as such, has become something of a tenor saxophone rite of passage to play.

Song:Body and Soul
Artist/Performer:Coleman Hawkins
AlbumBody and Soul (compilation)
Original Recording Date:1939
Spotify Link:https://open.spotify.com/track/2xm9ihELo6xwrRKrBbPql9?si=CNMQctEEQa6WMJVmfnOOSA
Jazz Period/Genre:Swing (Early hints of Bebop)
Song Form:32 Bars
Transcription Credit:Carles Margarit
Other Transcriptions:

2. Lester Leaps In – Lester Young

32-bar rhythm changes are one of the essential song forms for every jazz musicians to learn. This solo is a great introduction to some stylistic concepts and jazz vocabulary for any player and can serve as a foundation for beginning to study the lineage of any of the amazing tenor players that follow Lester Young.

Song:Lester Leaps In
Artist/Performer:Lester Young
Album/Recording:Ultimate Big Band Collection: Count Basie
Original Recording Date:1939
Spotify Link:https://open.spotify.com/track/5nT8wQ4q55AzuRhs8qoiQH?si=SQfcP–TSvagG2SLH7YTcg
Jazz Period:Swing/Big Band
Song Form:32 Bar Rhythm Changes
Transcription Credit:Carles Margarit
Other Transcriptions:

3. Cheese Cake- Dexter Gordon

In 2019, Go! was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. For me Cheese Cake was the first full solo I ever transcribed back in high school. It was no easy feat back then and took me what felt like forever but I learned so much from that first solo and I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Song:Cheese Cake
Artist/Performer:Dexter Gordon
Original Recording Date:1962
Spotify Link:https://open.spotify.com/track/367kqaJ8aCvK2wUCEE7oGb?si=POwLXi3KRg-fGLwjiq4LJg
Jazz Period/Genre:Hard Bop
Song Form:A – A – B (56 Bars)
Transcription Credit:Carles Margarit
Other Transcriptions:

4. St. Thomas -Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins’ Solo on the tune St Thomas From from his album Saxophone Colossus is a master class in motivic development. After building through the beginning of the solo with a repeating rhythmic figure, he launches into some superbly tasty hard-bop lines.

Song:St. Thomas
Artist/Performer:Sonny Rollins
Album/Recording:Saxophone Colossus
Original Recording Date:1956
Spotify Link:https://open.spotify.com/track/05LNBtMuc26HSAHh7C6iG8?si=B1wKoqkORO2NU3fJDENSIA
Jazz Period/Genre:Hard Bop
Song Form:16 Bars
Transcription Credit:Carles Margarit
Other Transcriptions:https://youtu.be/tyJ6h8EbfEA

5. Giant Steps – John Coltrane

Giant Steps is one of Coltrane’s most famous compositions and recordings. Considered by some to be the equivalent of jazz acrobatics it is another rite of passage for aspiring jazz musicians out there.

Song:Giant Steps
Artist/Performer:John Coltrane
Album/Recording:Giant Steps
Original Recording/Release Date:1960
Spotify Link:https://open.spotify.com/track/18KSLe1ScEmgFt1XnyRSCV?si=2n_hpyq2TlaHH_cvn1zuvw
Jazz Period/Genre:Hard Bop
Song Form:16 Bars
Transcription Credit:?
Other Transcriptions:

Matt is saxophonist from northern NJ. He has been teaching private lessons for close to 2 decades.

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