23 Of The Greatest Sax Tracks

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Charlie Oarker Carnegie Hall Library of Congress
Photo: William Gottlieb/Redferns

There are 23 keys on a saxophone… so here are 23 of the greatest sax tracks featuring the very best saxophonists. Every track should be in every collection. But we’d love to hear from you as to what you consider to be the perfect jazz sax solo…

While you’re reading, listen to our Greatest Sax playlist here.

1. Coleman Hawkins – ‘Body and Soul’
This is where it all began. The Hawk sounds so perfect on this, as if every ounce of emotion is being wrung from his saxophone. It may be the most perfect saxophone solo of all time…

2. Stan Getz – ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’
If you are not in love when this record begins, you will be, by the time it finishes. Sheer perfection. Every not is perfect, as though Stan the Man is being directed by some higher being, en route to heaven.

3. Charlie Parker – ‘Just Friends’
Bird + Strings = perfection, and this song is as perfect as it gets. He is cushioned, but he is leading the charge in the softest, sexiest way imaginable.

4.Cannonball Adderley – ‘Autumn Leaves’
This is Adderley with Miles Davis and it is arguably one of the greatest jazz records of all time. So perfect that it sounds different every time you hear it.

5. John Coltrane – ‘Theme For Ernie’
‘Trane loved to play ballads (and it would have been too easy to pick something from A Love Supreme) but this says everything about his deft touch, his lightness of being.

6. Sonny Rollins – ‘St Thomas’
Sonny’s signature piece was included here for the first time on this album. The song is pure swing and pure gold.

7. Michael Brecker – ‘Escher Sketch’
He was taken from us all too early, as this tune testifies

8. Dexter Gordon – ‘Stairway To The Stars’
A standard, yes, but in Dexter’s hands it becomes something so much more than just, ‘a standard’.

9. Lester Young – ‘I Can’t Get Started’
Lyrical, lovely and just plain luscious!

10. Wayne Shorter – ’Footprints’
If you know someone that doubts that Wayne is a genius, just play them this.

11. Duke Ellington with Paul Gonsvales – ‘Diminuendo in Blue’
Classic…’nuff said.

12. Stan Getz – ‘O Grande Amor’
From the very first note you’re hooked. Stan takes us south to Brazil in one of the most evocative solos he ever conjured.

13. Ben Webster – ‘Tenderly’
Quite simply this is perfection.

14. Hank Mobley – ‘Soul Station’ 
His playing is warm, but most of all it’s swinging and lush as well as full. Sophisticated saxophone of the first order

15. John Coltrane – ‘I Love You’
He’s so melodic and at the same time so lyrical.

16. Zoot Sims – ‘Oh Lady Be Good’
If you want to know how hard a saxophone can swing then this is the place to start.

17. Gene Ammons – ‘Canadian Sunset’
A perfect tenor saxophone outing from one of the most underrated players.

18. Johnny Hodges – ‘Indian Summer’
How good is Johnny Hodges? So good he stopped Francis Albert in his tracks…

19. Sonny Stitt – ‘Lover Man’
Often overlooked, but he shouldn’t be. He conjures tones that few others could and this is one of his finest.

20. Gerry Mulligan – ‘Big City Blues’
Of course we all recognise his immense talent, but somehow he gets a little too short shrift from those that should know better.

21. Lee Kontiz – ‘I’ll Remember April’
let’s hear it for the all too over-looked Alto Saxophone and the great Lee konitz.

22. Charlie Parker and Lester Young – ‘Oh Lady Be Good’
It’s 1946, Los Angeles, and two geniuses come together to create a masterpiece at Jazz At the philharmonic.

23. Stanley Turrentine – ‘Little Sheri’
Often overlooked, but never under valued by us. Great tome, great sense of space and time.

Format: Union Jack flagUK English


  1. Bert Peijmen

    September 28, 2015 at 12:02 am

    How about Richie Cole & Phil Woods on “Scrapple from the apple” on their album “Side by side” from 1980? That one always did it for me and still does.

    • bee

      January 23, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      I shared your comment with Richie Cole sitting at a bar on Wednesday night and he wanted to say Thank You!

  2. Diego

    September 28, 2015 at 12:03 am

    I mean, c’mom… Giant Steps is clearly number 1…

    • James

      May 25, 2019 at 10:32 am

      Yes surely can’t believed this was missed

  3. Carole Weber

    September 28, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Totally agree The Hawk is No. 1 with “Body and Soul,” and love all the rest
    but how about adding Gene Ammons’ “Angel Eyes.”

  4. SteveH

    September 28, 2015 at 12:38 am

    You don’t have very many albums, do you? I can’t think of another explanation for anybody making a list like this and not including Rahsaan Roland Kirk OR Ornette Coleman OR Albert Ayler. Seriously, study jazz for a few more years and then get back to us when you’ve listened to enough that you don’t have to fill out your list with two Stan Getz tracks just to reach 23. Sheesh.

  5. Chris

    September 28, 2015 at 1:46 am

    I agree. Strange choices. Not awful. but not particularly definitive, that’s for sure. By the way-no Joe Henderson? Phil Woods? Paul Desmond? BECHET?! With some of them, like Lester,Getz, and Ben and Trane you hardly can go wrong, but I don’t know that any of the pieces selected for these guys would be considered their definitive best- one person’s opinion of course. It’s all good because it’s great saxophone music!

    • Barry Dank

      December 6, 2015 at 7:11 am

      Yes, not including, Joe Henderson is beyond me, of course, Paul Desmond was also one of the best.

  6. Joseph Jones

    September 28, 2015 at 3:42 am

    Where’s Dexter Gordon?????

  7. Harry Walker

    September 28, 2015 at 6:58 am

    No Jackie McLean, Joe Henderson, Pepper Adams, Clifford Jordan, Archie Shepp, Wardell Gray, Charles Lloyd???????????

  8. Gary Hoffman

    September 28, 2015 at 10:06 am

    All the glaring omissions mentioned by Chris and Harry are worthy considerations, not to mention Cannonball Adderley. Pharaoh Sanders, Stanley Turrentine, John Handy, Oliver Nelson, David Newman,, Gato Barbieri, and about 200 more.

  9. Ann Dory

    September 28, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Great choices but where’s Phil Woods?!

  10. kbro

    September 28, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    what–no kenny g ???
    i’m kidding, i’m kidding

    why just 23 ?
    how about yusef lateef, love theme from spartacus ? charles lloyd ? archie shepp ? dave murray ?

    • BassDude

      November 30, 2015 at 3:26 am

      Kenny G is a great sax player. check out his Lorber stuff and first 2 solo albums

      • chuck koton

        January 1, 2016 at 5:17 am

        you better be sarcastic!

      • Charlito Brown

        January 1, 2016 at 7:57 pm

        Can’t stand Kenny G, but I do enjoy his work with Jeff Lorber Fusion. That’s back when he was Kenny Gorelick. I think there’s a difference lol.

  11. luis marques

    September 28, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    Where’s Ornette on the list? The problem with the lists is never to be right


    September 29, 2015 at 12:41 am

    With about 3000 lps plus 500 cds (fmr WEA Rep NYC) Gene Ammons “Hitting the Jug” w/o doubt is the best in my opinion.

  13. Steven Silverleaf

    September 30, 2015 at 11:53 am

    and as always some incredible tracks were by combinations of the above and many more…….and yes where is Desmond …..but that is the problem with lists…….while there were rivalries most people playing jazz were more the merrier.
    The upside is that there might be something here to listen to that one may not have heard before

  14. John Herrmann

    October 3, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Uh, guys — anyone heard of Paul Desmond?

  15. Mark Erickson

    October 4, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    23 spots obviously isn’t enough.

  16. Tom Simek

    October 8, 2015 at 5:24 am

    One classic and one newer: Paul Gonsalvez “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” from Ellington at Newport. 20 choruses that are still electrifying. And Bobby Watson “Appointment in Milano.” Stunning!

  17. Rob Hurley

    November 11, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    What? No Eric Dolphy?

  18. Dave Drasdo

    November 11, 2015 at 8:02 pm

    A reasonable effort, but where is Stanley Turrentine and why 23?? 20 or 25 or even 30, but why 23?

  19. Venky

    November 12, 2015 at 6:53 am

    Bring in the Colossus Mr. Sonny Rollins

  20. Bruce Brewer

    November 12, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    No Brits?….What about Tubby Hayes?

  21. Göran Wassberg

    November 12, 2015 at 6:19 pm

    Lars Gullin, bary, All of me, wit, fantasy, swing and everything connected to good music!

  22. BassDude

    November 30, 2015 at 3:20 am

    who made this list? greatest sax track ever is Ko Ko. It changed the game forever not only for sax but every instrument you blew air into. #2 is Giant Steps

  23. Cjp123

    December 20, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    I think people are still studying Charlie Parker’s break from “A Night in Tunisia”

  24. Jacques M

    December 20, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    John Gilmore (Rocket number nine, Space Aura, Sowhere in Space,….). Not even mentionned in any of the comments.

    • Byron Sigrano

      January 1, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      +++John Gilmore was Trane’s ‘teacher’ during the development of his sheets of sound concept. Also among those missing from this list is Sam Rivers. If both these veer a little to the outside for the ear; Jimmy Forrest should be considered if tone quality is any criterion.

  25. trastour

    December 20, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    i agree but why not don byas laura and the texans illinois jacquet arnett cobb and perhaps the biggest of these chew berry

  26. Tom

    December 20, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    A nice list, but of course many are missed. Two if my favorites: Johnny Hodges, “Warm Valley”, and Booker Ervin on “Goodbye, Porkpie Hat” (Mingus Ah Um). Lots of other great cuts mentioned in other comments.

  27. Martin Davidson

    December 20, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Other jazz saxophonist greats not mentioned in this very limited list and the ensuing comments:
    Pete Brown, Serge Chaloff, Bud Freeman, Johnny Griffin, Joe Harriott, Steve Lacy, Bernie McGann, JR Monterose, Lucky Thompson, Ben Webster, Bobby Wellins.

    (I too used to like Stan Getz, but then I heard Warne Marsh and Lester Young !)

    • Martin Davidson

      December 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Sorry, Ben Webster was on the list – make that Dick Wilson instead.

    • Charlie

      September 25, 2020 at 7:52 pm

      Good points – I think this list needs to be revised and reissued following a bit better research!

  28. Alan Heineman

    December 20, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Awful to omit one of the great solos of all time: John Handy, “Spanish Lady,” from “Live at Monterey.” Goose bumps from beginning to end.

  29. dan frank

    December 20, 2015 at 7:37 pm

    to leave out Illinois Jacquet “Flying Home” is a major crime…DF

  30. susan ward

    December 20, 2015 at 8:03 pm

    While any list is arbitrary by its nature, I wonder why 23, unless it happens to be Michael Jordan’s favorite number. Maybe it would have been better to label the “23 Favorite Sax Solos” rather than use the word “Greatest.” I also find it puzzling that neither Charlie Parker’s “A Night In Tunisia” or “Embraceable You” made the list, or Eric Dolphy’s solo on Round Midnight with George Russell. I also doubt that Stan Getz would have chosen the ones under his name on this list, maybe “Shine” or one of the many versions of “I Remember Clifford” or “Blood Count.” There are so many great sax solos that 23 just seems to be too small a number.

  31. John Markham

    December 20, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    I can’t criticize your list because it is commendable. Two additions which every sax player should hear are: ” If I Loved You” by Rahsaan Roland Kirk from his “Does Your House have Lions” anthology. Also Ben Webster doing “Someone To Watch Over Me” which is the title of his wonderful biography. I agree with others about Paul Desmond. Check out his version of “Emily” on YouTube.

  32. Nelson Combs

    December 20, 2015 at 9:40 pm

    In the wide world of jazz, it is tough to compile a list of “the best” of anything given the variety of all our tastes and listening experience. But I have to add one: Lester’s solo on the early Count Basie recording of “Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie”.

  33. Richard Cutler

    December 21, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    My goodness, not Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan’s “Chelsea Bridge”? That has to be the most beautiful ballad recording ever, bar none.

  34. KRC

    December 31, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Nice list, listening now. Also writing down names I have not heard. Enjoyed reading the comments. As for the two comments who had the nerve to even mention that one person. I am not going to type his name, just too humiliating. Just know that the rest of us are laughing at you.

  35. Bill Happel

    January 1, 2016 at 1:38 am

    Lady Be Good- Lester Young’s JATP concerts
    The Hunt- – One of Wardell Gray’s and Dexter Gordon’s tenor battles
    Indiana-Chu Berry
    Idaho- Benny Carter

  36. Byron Sigrano

    January 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm

    I tend to think of Jug’s and David S Ware’s versions of ‘Canadian Sunset’ as two sides of the same coin.

  37. victor reyes

    January 1, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    John Klemmer’s, “Touch,” does it for me.
    Certainly, many more talented saxophone players, but the song has awfully nice appeal.

  38. H.Tobe

    January 3, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    I’d like to listen this site jazz, is there no way to listen your site in Japan?

  39. M. Demeyer

    March 20, 2016 at 6:29 pm

    I think Ben Webster’s solo on Sophisticated Lady from the 1940 Duke Ellington sessions on Columbia label definitely needs to be mentioned here.

  40. Robert Hiller

    July 21, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    …….. What about Gerald Albright’s Georgia on my mind, … and many by Houston Person, like Everything happens to me, Talk of the town and My Romance…

  41. John Fisch

    January 25, 2017 at 12:48 am

    Not yet mentioned but equally worthy;
    Lou Donaldson – Blues Walk
    This list could also use some Joe Henderson

  42. David Hilgen

    January 25, 2017 at 12:53 am

    No. 24 – “If Ever I Would Leave You,” by Sonny Rollins from The Bridge. Epic.

  43. Chromex

    January 25, 2017 at 3:18 am

    No Eric Dolphy?? How about “The Prophet” from 5 Spot vol 1.
    ALso who can Ignore Trane’s “”Out of This World ” from LIve In Seattle
    Bedria by Pharoah Sanders from Journey to the One
    Pretty much ANY John Gilmore solo from “Nothing Is’

  44. GRBBL

    January 25, 2017 at 5:16 am

    this list ignores almost everything that’s been done in the last 50 years. I love Trane as much as anyone, but this is hard to excuse.

    Sure, go get another Sonny Stitt album. But also check out Chris Speed, Steve Coleman, Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, Tony Malaby, Ingrid Laubrock, Lotte Anker, Darius Jones, Oscar Noriega, ROVA and on and on. This thing is still happening!

  45. Jago

    January 25, 2017 at 11:27 am

    The problem with such a lists is that you can easily name another 23 ommissions that fully deserve to be included. And the next 23 potential additions . Such is en embarras de richesses in Jazz and Saxophone particularly… Some people did it. So just treat it like a nice game and occassion to get to know some unknown music and performers. Have fun. Thanks

  46. Groskel

    January 25, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    What about Kenny Garrett, Larry Schneider, Brandford Marsalis, Phil Woods, Stefano Di Battista, Chris Potter and more recent and great sax players s.a. Braxton Cook, Ben Van Gelder, Logan Richardson and so many others?

  47. Mark

    January 25, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    No Art Pepper?

  48. TomS

    February 2, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Great list! Coleman Hawkins at no. 1 is fitting.

    I would have added Paul Desmond, Take Five.

  49. Olivier Dufresne

    May 8, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    I would like to pay tribute to Lee Konitz for his subtle and delicate game. I also want to express my deep gratitude for its delicate influence on Art Pepper

  50. Nick

    June 2, 2017 at 9:52 pm

    How is Dave Brubeck – Take Five not on here…

  51. Chaz

    July 25, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Too many white people on the list

  52. paul

    August 13, 2017 at 8:18 am

    What no Earl Bostic? virtuoso on the alto…….

  53. The Music man

    February 12, 2018 at 4:01 am

    Tower of power – Live and in living color – Lenny Pickett – KNOCK YOURSELF OUT…. the song title says it all.. and it was LIVE.


    April 6, 2018 at 9:26 pm



    October 23, 2018 at 12:13 am

    How about WE AEW NUMBER ONE?

  56. Steve Butten

    December 11, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    A list like this will always be subjective of course, so my little contribution, alongside all the excellent ones already mentioned, is Elton Dean. With Soft Machine, Centipede and his own combos his playing was a mix of tension, whispered, breathy tickles and towering runs that raised the hackles. Best example: his solo on Part IV of Keith Tippett’s Septober Energy, extended from the same composer’s “Green and Orange Night Park.” Jaw dropping!

  57. Larry smith

    June 19, 2019 at 3:16 am

    Paul Desmond should be in there. I like to play along with Kirk Whalum, Candy Dulfer and this littlle known alto player, David Sanborn. They all solo well, but fill is what I find harder and they do well. Technically, Coltrane, Parker, Hawkins and Mulligan are hard to beat. I also like Scott Hamilton’s work with Joan Chamorro.

  58. T Stockner

    September 13, 2019 at 2:05 am

    Sorry, but none of these – and I’ve listened to them all – can match the brilliant madnes of Charlie Parker’s “Children’s Playground.”

    Everyone has their favorite, but that work defines jazz to me.

  59. Joe Onosko

    December 16, 2019 at 1:05 am

    I would like to recommend Ron Holloway on a live version of Gil Scott Heron’s, Angel Dust, starting at around the 10 min. mark:

    Ron was saxophonist in Dizzy Gillespie’s final band.

  60. Mark

    October 25, 2021 at 3:20 am

    Paul Desmond, Blue Rondo ala turk….. no??…

  61. David Rennie

    July 21, 2023 at 2:00 pm

    spelling ….Gonsalves

  62. David Rennie

    July 21, 2023 at 2:03 pm

    spelling again…Konitz
    How hard was it to edit this article??

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