The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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Measured in terms of quantity or quality, the B Flat tenor saxophone has produced more jazz talent than any other instru­ment except the piano. Many musicians prefer it to the alto because of its deeper, ampler sound and because of its physical proportions (it is larger and its keys are correspondingly farther apart).
In contrast with the ladylike tendencies of the alto, the tenor sax is virile, rugged, plunging to A Flat, a tenth below middle C, rising to D a ninth above middle C; though at times harsh in the lower reaches it sounds full and rich in the middle register and is susceptible to a wide range of tonal approaches. Between two extremes represented by the manly sonorities of a Coleman Hawkins and the milquetoast delicacy of the cool school's sub­zero subscribers there are many gradations. A recent survey listed more than 140 tenor men heard prominently on records at one period or another in jazz history. Of these at least 25 merit some discussion here as major contributors.
Coleman Hawkins, who was the only important tenor saxo­phonist playing jazz when he joined Fletcher Henderson to take his first posterity-bound solos in June 1923, miraculously survived a series of evolutions and revolutions to remain one of the most compelling performers on tenor in the late 1950s. An inspection of his work with Henderson (repugnant to Hawkins himself, whose reaction to anything he recorded more than twenty years ago is a mixture of amusement and self-recrimination) reveals a jumpy, "slap-tongue" technique in which his manner of tongu-98