The 50 Best Jazz Saxophonists Of All Time

We celebrate the 50 best jazz saxophonists of all time.

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Charlie Parker, one of the best and most famous jazz saxophone players ever
Photo: William Gottlieb/Redferns

There’s no doubt that, if he were alive today, 19th-century Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax would be extremely surprised – and pleased, too, no doubt – at how the saxophone, which he invented and then patented back in 1846, has become universally popular, and was crucial in defining the sound of a 20th-century-born musical style called jazz. Its status as one of the genre’s most important instruments is undisputed; even the most cursory glance at the list of musicians hailed as the best jazz saxophonists of all time is essentially a list of the most famous saxophone players ever. It also reveals a number of one-off talents who have helped take the music in new directions.

Yet when he died in poverty, in 1894, Sax, who invented several other wind instruments besides the saxophone – all of which bore his name – would have seen that the saxophone had been adopted mostly by military marching bands, though his hope that it would feature prominently in classical music orchestras was not to be fully realized.

Though marching band music was part of jazz’s foundation, it was the trumpet, rather than the saxophone, that first took the spotlight. The saxophone (the tenor and alto varieties) only began to play an important role in the big-band swing era, when Johnny Hodges and Coleman Hawkins emerged as one of the best jazz saxophonists of their era.

But it was altoist Charlie Parker who made the biggest impact with a technically challenging and harmonically progressive new form of jazz called bebop, in the mid-40s. Parker’s influence was pervasive and his explorations helped to change the course of jazz, transforming it from dance music to art. In Parker’s wake came a raft of virtuoso jazz saxophonists during the 50s, including tenor heavyweights Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, all of whom took saxophone playing to new, higher, levels of artistry while pushing jazz ever forwards.

Though this tenor trio’s influence (along with Parker’s) is powerful and continues to shape the saxophone’s narrative in jazz today, almost 60 years later, there has nevertheless been a raft of talented horn blowers – and there are many more still emerging – all armed with a unique sound, style, and approach to their instrument.

The saxophone, like the trumpet, remains an iconic instrument in jazz, and one that, through its indelible musical associations, has become totally synonymous with the genre.

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Here, then, is our blow-by-blow countdown of the 50 best jazz saxophonists of all time.

50: Gato Barbieri (1932-2016)

With his raw, wailing tenor sax sound, Argentina-born Leandro “Gato” Barbieri plowed a Coltrane-esque avant-garde furrow in the late 60s before making a more accessible form of music that embraced his Latin American roots. From the 70s onwards, Barbieri leaned towards smooth jazz settings for his music, though his brooding tenor saxophone never lost its visceral intensity.

49: Pepper Adams (1930-1986)

Baritone specialist Park “Pepper” Adams came from Michigan and was a stalwart of the Detroit scene, where he played with Donald Byrd in the late 50s and early 60s. An in-demand sideman due to the deep sonorities and dark textures he created on his baritone sax, Adams was an integral member of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra between 1966 and 1977.

Pepper Adams, Baritone Sax & Clark Terry - "Straight, No Chaser" (T. Monk), TV, Sweden, Aug. 1978

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48: Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1935-1977)

Regarded as an eccentric blind maverick by some for functioning as a one-man band on stage (he could play three horns at once and had a variety of exotic instruments dangling from his neck and shoulders), Kirk’s multi-tasking skills meant that his prowess on the saxophone has been overlooked. He was, though, a superb tenor saxophonist who was at home with both hard bop, modal jazz, and R&B, and easily earns his place among the world’s best jazz saxophonists.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk - Volunteered Slavery (Montreux 1972)

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47: Pharoah Sanders (born 1940)

An acolyte of John Coltrane (with whom he played between 1965 and ’67), tenor/soprano saxophonist and flutist Sanders helped to bring both a cosmic and deep spiritual vibe to jazz in the late 60s and early 70s. A prolific purple patch at the Impulse! label between 1969 and 1974 (which yielded ten LPs) cemented his place in the pantheon of best jazz saxophonists. Sanders’ music also tapped into the music of other cultures.

46: Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996)

Mulligan’s resonant baritone sax appeared on countless recording sessions during his long and fertile career, including those by Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and Dave Brubeck. Mulligan was an astute arranger and skilled innovator too, conceiving a piano-less quartet with Chet Baker, in 1950. He was integral to the more relaxed West Coast cool style.

45: Michael Brecker (1949-2007)

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Brecker was a tenor saxophonist who was raised on a diet of jazz and rock so that, consequently, he never acknowledged musical boundaries. He played on a raft of pop and rock sessions in the 70s (for everyone from Steely Dan to Art Garfunkel), as well as co-leading the funky Brecker Brothers Band with his younger sibling, Randy. Towards the end of his life, he made records with more a straight-ahead jazz feel.

44: Jan Garbarek (born 1947)

This eminent Norwegian composer and saxophonist (who’s a master of both the tenor and soprano varieties of sax) has enjoyed a long and fecund association with the ECM label, where he’s been since 1970. It was largely through his alliance with Keith Jarrett in the 70s (he played as part of the pianist’s European Quartet) that gained him an international audience. His sound is both lyrical and haunting.

43: Joe Lovano (born 1952)

The youngest-born entry among the world’s best jazz saxophonists, Ohio-born Lovano can play a clutch of different instruments, though his name is synonymous with the tenor saxophone. The sound he projects is substantial but also athletic and imbued with a heart-tugging soulfulness. Lovano is a supremely versatile musician who has played in a welter of different musical contexts and whose influences range from bop to African music.

42: Arthur Blythe (1940-2017)

Brought up on a strict diet of rhythm’n’blues, this Los Angeles altoist played in the bands of Gil Evans and Chico Hamilton before making his mark as a proponent of avant-garde jazz in the late 70s. Even so, while his music always looked forward, Blythe never lost sight of the traditions of the best jazz saxophonists before him. As well as having a distinctive and emotionally intense reed sound, Blythe was also a fine composer.

Arthur Blythe Trio - Chivas Jazz Festival 2003 #7

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41: Jimmy Heath (born 1926)

One of three noted jazz musician siblings (his brothers are drummer Percy and bassist Albert Heath), this Philly saxophonist started his career in the 40s and switched from alto to tenor sax to try and avoid comparisons with fellow bebopper Charlie Parker (Heath was dubbed Little Bird for a time). Heath has played with all the jazz greats (from Miles Davis and Milt Jackson to Freddie Hubbard), and continues to perform to this day.

Jimmy Heath & WDR BIG BAND - Bruh Slim

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40: Charles Lloyd (born 1938)

From Memphis, Tennessee, Lloyd got his first saxophone at the age of nine and, by the 50s, was playing in the touring bands of blues mavens Howlin’ Wolf and B.B. King. A move to LA, in 1956, signaled a change of direction for the saxophonist, who, four years later, ended up replacing Eric Dolphy in Chico Hamilton’s group. Lloyd began his solo career at the same time, and his absorption of rock elements helped his music go down well with a wider audience. Still actively performing today, Lloyd’s music is edgier and more exploratory than it was in the 60s.

39: Yusef Lateef (1920-2013)

Arriving in the world as William Huddleston, Lateef pioneered the incorporation of musical elements from other cultures into his music. He was particularly fond of Eastern music and, as well as playing tenor saxophone, which he played in a hard bop style, he was a fluent flautist and oboist.

38: Harold Land (1928-2001)

A member of the trailblazing Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet, this Texas tenor titan was at the birth of hard bop in the early 50s and later based himself in Los Angeles, where he offered a more vigorous alternative to the West Coast’s omnipresent cool sound. He later teamed up with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson for an acclaimed series of collaborations. Like many of the best jazz saxophonists, Land’s brooding tenor sound, with its intense level of expression, was indebted to Coltrane.

37: Lee Konitz (born 1927)

Unique among the best jazz saxophonists to come up in the late 40s and early 50s, Konitz was one of the few altoists who wasn’t infected by Charlie Parker’s bebop sound. Instead, he elected to plow his own distinctive furrow. An ingenious improviser who weaved long, flowing skeins of melody while inserting subtle accent changes, Konitz was initially viewed as a cool school adherent, but in later years explored the avant-garde.

36: Illinois Jacquet (1919-2004)

Famed for his staccato honking sound and catchy riffs, Jean-Baptiste “Illinois” Jacquet was an alto player from Louisiana who was raised in Texas and then moved to LA. It was there, in 1939, where he was recruited by bandleader Lionel Hampton (who persuaded Jacquet to swap his alto for a tenor sax). Jacquet’s rambunctious wild solo on Hampton’s “Flying Home” is widely perceived as representing the first manifestation on record of what would develop into rhythm’n’blues.

35: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis (1922-1986)

From Culver City, California, Davis – given the name Lockjaw because his saxophone seemed almost glued to his mouth during his ultra-long solos – could play in a range of styles, though his calling card was a driving, blues-drenched hard bop. In the early 60s, he made a slew of combative but affable duet albums with his musical sparring partner, Johnny Griffin.

34: Al Cohn (1925-1988)

Alvin Cohn enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with fellow tenor Zoot Sims – and, together, the pair were considered by Jack Kerouac to be among the best jazz saxophonists of the 50s, and were asked to play on his 1959 poetry album Blues And Haikus. Cohn gained notoriety playing alongside Sims and Stan Getz in Woody Herman’s Second Herd during the late 40s, and, despite being born and raised in Brooklyn, he came to be associated with the West Coast cool sound. Cohn’s signature was a bright but full-bodied saxophone tone out of which he poured rivulets of mellifluous melody.

33: Benny Carter (1907-2003)

Harlem-born Carter’s main instrument was the alto sax, but he was also adept on the trumpet and clarinet. He made his recording debut in 1928 as a sideman, but, by the 30s, was leading his own swing band for which he was writing sophisticated charts that resulted in him doing arranging for the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie. A master of the swinging saxophone.

32: Gary Bartz (born 1940)

From Baltimore, Maryland, Bartz plays both alto and soprano saxophones. Making his recording debut with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in 1965, he was already recording as a leader for Milestone when Miles Davis recruited him in 1970. Though in the early 70s Bartz’s style gravitated to a more exploratory kind of jazz, his records became smoother and funkier as the decade progressed. He will be remembered among the best jazz saxophonists for being a soulful player who combines flawless technique with emotional depth.

31: Sam Rivers (1923-2011)

Unique among the world’s best jazz saxophonists, Rivers was a multi-talented instrumentalist who played bass clarinet, flute, and piano besides excelling on tenor and soprano saxophones. He appeared on many jazz fans’ radar when he played with Miles Davis in 1964. After that he recorded for Blue Note, moving from an advanced hard-bop style that later edged towards the avant-garde.

30: Ike Quebec (1918-1963)

With his breathy, intimate tone, New Jersey native Quebec is mainly remembered as a seductive ballad player whose career started in the 40s. He spent a long time playing with Cab Calloway and also cut sides with Ella Fitzgerald and Coleman Hawkins before joining Blue Note in 1959, where he recorded some fine albums before his premature death from lung cancer, aged 44.

29: Lou Donaldson (born 1926)

This North Carolinian, Charlie Parker-influenced tenorist started to make his mark in the 50s, where his bluesy, soulful, and increasingly funkified hard bop style resulted in a slew of notable LPs for the Blue Note label. Donaldson also sat in as a sideman on notable sessions by Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, and Jimmy Smith.

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28: Stanley Turrentine (1934-2000)

Though he was dubbed The Sugar Man, there was nothing sickly sweet about this Pittsburgh-born tenor man’s robust and earthy style, whose DNA revealed blues cries, gospel cadences, and the influence of R&B saxophonist Illinois Jacquet. Turrentine played a mixture of hard bop and soul-jazz in the 60s at Blue Note; later, in the 70s, at CTI Records, he fused bop with Latin and pop music. Even among the best jazz saxophonists, few could play as soulfully as Stanley Turrentine.

27: Paul Desmond (1924-1977)

A key member of the Dave Brubeck Quartet between 1951 and 1957 (he wrote the group’s most famous tune, the big crossover hit “Take Five”), this San Francisco-born alto saxophonist’s light delivery helped to define the West Coast cool sound. Amusingly, Desmond once likened his saxophone sound to a dry martini.

26: Earl Bostic (1913-1965)

From Tulsa, Oklahoma, alto saxophonist Eugene Earl Bostic got his big break in vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s band just before World War II. His fat, earthy tone and fluid, blues-infused style had a huge impact on a young John Coltrane, who cut his teeth in Bostic’s band in the early 50s. Bostic was extremely popular in the field of post-war R&B, racking up several US hits.

25: Sidney Bechet (1897-1959)

Born in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, Bechet started out on the clarinet and impressed at an early age before switching to the then-unfashionable and rarely heard soprano saxophone after discovering one on tour in a London junk shop in 1920. Soon after, he made his first recordings and caught the ear with his reedy soprano blowing, which had a tremulous vibrato and emotional intensity. The only entry in this list of the best jazz saxophonists to have been born in the 1800s, Bechet has the distinction of being the first significant saxophonist in jazz.

24: Eric Dolphy (1928-1964)

Though Dolphy died at a relatively young age (he was 36 when he tragically succumbed to a fatal diabetic coma), the reverberations from his pathfinding music can still be felt today. He was a virtuoso of the flute and bass clarinet but was also a fabulous alto sax player with a unique approach, and first came to the attention of the wider public when he began playing with Coltrane in the early 60s. Dolphy’s Blue Note LP, Out To Lunch, remains a touchstone of avant-garde jazz and his influence has extended beyond the genre.

Out To Lunch (Remastered 1998/Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

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23: Albert Ayler (1936-1970)

This Ohio free jazz and avant-garde saxophonist (who played the tenor, alto, and soprano varieties) didn’t live to see his 35th birthday, but today, almost 50 years after his death, his music and influence still casts a huge shadow in jazz. Drawing on gospel, blues cries, and marching-band music, Ayler patented a singular saxophone style that was raw, raucous, eerie, and driven by a primal energy.

Ghosts: Ghosts: Variation 1

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22: Zoot Sims (1925-1985)

Californian tenor maestro John “Zoot” Sims took Lester Young’s sleek and mellow approach to jazz improv and fused it with the language of hard bop while filtering it through a cool West Coast sensibility. He played in many big bands (including those of Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich) and was always conducive to working on collaborative projects with other saxophonists.

21: Gene Ammons (1925-1974)

Dubbed The Boss, Windy City native Gene “Jug” Ammons might have been the scion of boogie-woogie piano meister Albert Ammons, but he was drawn to the tenor saxophone and began his career in the 40s. An adherent of hard bop but with a style packed with blues feeling, Ammons was a prolific recording artist who embraced funkified soul-jazz in the 70s.

20: Benny Golson (born 1929)

At 88, Benny Golson is still going strong and blowing hard. The Philly-born tenorist made his mark with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the late 50s, and, as well as being noted for his sublime, hard bop-inflected playing, he was a fine composer, responsible for the classic tunes “I Remember Clifford,” “Killer Joe” and “Along Came Betty.”

19: Cannonball Adderley (1928-1975)

Florida-born altoist Adderley caused a sensation when he visited New York in 1955, and was soon snapped up to record the first of many albums during the next two decades. Like a number of the best jazz saxophonists of his era, he was a disciple of Charlie Parker, but nevertheless forged his own style, a soulful amalgam of bop, gospel and blues influences. He played on Miles Davis’ iconic modal jazz manifesto Kind Of Blue in 1959, but thereafter became a purveyor of soul jazz. In the late 60s and early 70s, Adderley’s music became more exploratory.

18: Hank Crawford (1934-2009)

A Memphis-born musician, Benny “Hank” Crawford, was one of the premier soul-jazz alto saxophonists of the 60s and 70s. His big break came when he joined Ray Charles’ band in 1958 (where he originally played baritone sax), which helped to launch his solo career at Atlantic Records. Crawford’s expressive, blues-inflected sound exerted a profound influence on a contemporary alto great, David Sanborn.

17: Sonny Stitt (1924-1982)

Dubbed the Lone Wolf, Boston-born Stitt started out as an alto saxophonist and began his recording career at the dawn of bebop during the close of the 40s. His florid, mellifluous style has often been compared with Charlie Parker’s (many accused Stitt of copying Parker), but he began to develop his own voice after switching to the tenor sax. A fearless improviser.

16: Ben Webster (1909-1973)

Though he was affectionately called The Brute, Ben Webster’s forceful style of playing was tempered with a high degree of tenderness, especially on ballads. With its breathy timbre, virile tone, and broad vibrato, Webster’s bluesy tenor saxophone sound is one of the most readily identifiable in jazz. He spent several years as a featured soloist in Duke Ellington’s Orchestra, an important group that also nurtured great saxophonists like Kenny Garrett.

15: Wayne Shorter (born 1933)

This Newark, New Jersey, composer and saxophonist (who alternates between soprano and tenor) enjoyed mainstream fame as part of fusion giants Weather Report between 1971 and 1986. Schooled in Art Blakey’s “hard bop academy,” Shorter then played a significant role as a composer/player in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet between 1962 and 1968. His sound is powerful yet elegant.

14: Ornette Coleman (1930-2015)

Texas-born Coleman caused ructions in the jazz world when he arrived in New York in 1959, armed with a plastic alto saxophone with which he unleashed the revolutionary concept of free jazz. Though he liberated jazz both melodically and harmonically, Coleman’s crying alto sound was always steeped in the sound of the blues.

Lonely Woman (Mono)

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13: Jackie McLean (1931-2006)

With its lissom Charlie Parker-influenced inflections, McLean’s sinuous alto saxophone style caught the ear of Miles Davis in 1951, and the trumpet legend included the then-16-year-old saxophonist on his Dig! LP. From 1955, McLean started recording under his own name, impressing as a young exponent of hard bop. As the 50s led into the 60s, McLean began to expand his expressive palette and musical horizons by venturing into more exploratory, avant-garde territory. His legacy remains one of the most important among the world’s best jazz saxophonists.

12: Johnny Hodges (1907-1970)

Johnny Hodges made his name in Duke Ellington’s band, which he joined in 1928. His smooth, soulful alto saxophone sound, with its wide, emotive vibrato – which Ellington once claimed “was so beautiful that it brought tears to the eyes” – was featured on a raft of the Duke’s recordings, including “A Prelude To A Kiss.” Both Charlie Parker and John Coltrane were fans.

11: Joe Henderson (1937-2001)

Henderson’s tenor sound was unmistakable: loud, robust, and virile. Originally from Ohio, Henderson first made his mark as an exponent of hard bop at Blue Note in the early 60s, and also recorded with Horace Silver (it’s Henderson’s solo you can hear on Silver’s “Song For My Father”). Henderson also added Latin elements to his music and, in the 70s, embarked on a freer, more exploratory mode of jazz.

10: Johnny Griffin (1928-2008)

Though diminutive in terms of his physical stature, the Chicago-born Griffin’s prowess on the tenor saxophone earned him the nickname Little Giant. A major exponent of hard bop, Griffin began his solo career in the 50s and eventually moved to Europe, where he stayed until his death. He was a fearless improviser with an imposing but mobile sound.

9: Hank Mobley (1930-1986)

Born in Georgia and raised in New Jersey, Mobley came on the radar of jazz fans in the early 50s as a charter member of The Jazz Messengers, before embarking on a solo career that produced 25 albums for Blue Note. Less belligerent in his attack than Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, though not as smooth or silky as Stan Getz, Mobley’s sonorous, well-rounded tone earned him the title The Middleweight Champion Of The Tenor Saxophone.

Dig Dis (Remastered 1999/Rudy Van Gelder Edition)

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8: Art Pepper (1925-1982)

A leading light of the post-war West Coast US jazz scene, Pepper’s rise to stardom began with stints in the bands of Stan Kenton. Like so many jazz musicians that worked in the 50s – including many of the best jazz saxophonists of the era – Pepper’s career was blighted with drug addiction. But even several spells in prison couldn’t taint the lyrical beauty of his distinctive alto saxophone sound, whose roots were in bebop.

7: Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)

Nicknamed Bean or Hawk, this influential Missouri-born tenor saxophonist was crucial to the development of the saxophone as a viable solo instrument. His 1939 recording of “Body And Soul,” with an extended solo that improvised on, around and beyond the song’s main melody, was a game-changer that opened the door for musicians such as Charlie Parker. Though he was associated with big-band swing, Hawkins played in more of a bop style from the mid-40s onwards. His sound was big, breathy and beefy.

6: Lester Young (1909-1959)

From Woodville, Mississippi, Young – a hipster who spoke in his own “jazz speak” argot – rose to prominence during the swing era of the 30s, playing with Count Basie and Fletcher Henderson. His smooth, mellow tone and airy, lightly flowing style was hugely influential, inspiring tenor players that followed, including Stan Getz, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Young is regarded as the Poet Laureate of the tenor sax.

5: Dexter Gordon (1923-1990)

Standing at a towering six feet six inches, it was no wonder that this Californian doctor’s son was dubbed Long Tall Dexter. Gordon was the first significant bebop tenor saxophonist and began his recording career in the 40s. Though he could swing with aplomb, Gordon’s forte was ballads, which allowed his rich, emotive tone to convey a poignant lyricism.

4: Stan Getz (1927-1991)

Though originating in Philadelphia, Getz became the pre-eminent tenor saxophonist of the US West Coast cool school scene of the 50s. His alluring, beautifully lyrical tone, combined with his velvet-smooth, effortless style – à la Lester Young – earned him the nickname The Sound. A supremely versatile musician, Getz could play bop, bossa nova (which he helped to take into the US mainstream, not least on the album Getz/Gilberto with its iconic hit “The Girl from Ipanema”) and fusion, and also guested on pop records.

3: Sonny Rollins (born 1930)

A form of lung disease has silenced Rollins’ tenor saxophone since 2012, but he remains the last great saxophonist of jazz’s golden age. Born Walter Theodore Rollins in New York, his career took off in the 50s and his big, robust sound, combined with his gift for melodic improvisation, gained him the nickname Saxophone Colossus.

2: John Coltrane (1926-1967)

Coltrane rewrote the book on tenor saxophone playing and also helped to popularize the soprano version of the instrument. Starting out as a bar-walking blues player, he emerged as the most significant jazz saxophonist after Charlie Parker. Coltrane rose to fame with Miles Davis’ group during the mid-to-late 50s, while enjoying a parallel solo career that eventually produced A Love Supreme, one of the most iconic jazz albums of all time. His florid, effusive style was often likened to “sheets of sound.” Coltrane’s music was always evolving and progressed from hard bop through to modal, spiritual jazz, and the avant-garde.

1: Charlie Parker (1920-1955)

Topping the list of the best jazz saxophonists ever is the man fans referred to simply as Bird. If he had lived beyond 34 years of age, who knows what he could have accomplished. This Kansas City altoist was one of the principal architects of the post-war jazz revolution known as bebop, which emerged in New York in the mid-40s and would shape the trajectory of the genre for years to come. Parker’s ornate style and prodigious technique, which combined melodic fluency with chromatic and harmonic ingenuity, proved profoundly influential. Though he’s been dead for over six decades, no saxophonist yet has eclipsed him in terms of importance.

All The Things You Are

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  1. Greg L

    October 24, 2017 at 12:45 pm

    No Steve Lacy, the greatest soprano sax player of all time, makes this list a joke.

    • nicolas havouis

      December 9, 2018 at 5:10 pm

      So many greats are missing, especially mainstream players. How could they forget: Buddy Tate, Don Byas,Hershall Evans, Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Lucky Thompson, Serge Chaloff and so many others? These lists are ridiculous.

      • alexander heydel

        December 15, 2019 at 10:51 am

        And what about Archie Shep????

    • flosqis

      February 4, 2019 at 5:38 pm


      • Ferran Prat

        January 11, 2020 at 2:39 am

        It must be. Any professional sax player will put Brecker at number one or number two.

        • Clyde waters

          May 23, 2020 at 5:48 am

          Not in the top 5

      • jay wineteins

        April 18, 2021 at 3:44 am

        holy good god yusef lateef ranked higher than Michael this guy is on crak!!! what a joke

    • BOB

      August 5, 2019 at 7:30 pm

      How many of the one’s with an opinion play sax. I agree with a lot of the choices, But you missed on of the greatest and that is KING CURTIS.

    • Tino

      August 12, 2019 at 10:41 pm

      No Harry Carney, Sidney Bechet,Serge Chaloff and Steve Lacy

      • Christopher Nowak

        September 14, 2019 at 11:33 pm

        Sidney Bechet is number 25

    • Stephen C Blakeney

      August 18, 2019 at 8:21 pm

      Flip flop Coltrane and Parker and I’ll accept 1 and 2. The order of the rest is subjective though IMO there are some on this list that don’t belong and and some that were left off. Wayne Shorter, Pepper and Cannonball should be higher up. Where’s Chris Potter? Or Pete Christlieb or Phil Woods?

    • John Sibley

      November 24, 2019 at 5:47 am

      There were, and are so many. I didn’t know who Steve Lacy and Teddy Edwards were ten years ago, and I’m still learning. I was pleased to see Dexter Gordon and Gerry Mulligan on the list. My role model is Charlie Rouse. Rouse used the whole range of the tenor from the bottom up, well into the altissimo. And, if you want to hear him get away from his cutting / reedy / bright timbre that I love, listen to his subtone on When Sunny Gets Blue for a change-up. Wish I had met him. He and Monk had something special. I’d love to interview his family.

    • Mix

      January 3, 2020 at 5:51 pm

      Damn, where is CHARLIE ROUSE?

    • Charlie

      August 3, 2020 at 12:30 pm

      Whats goin’ on!! Where’s Frank Strozier?

    • Charlie

      August 3, 2020 at 12:34 pm

      Or Charlie Mariano???


      December 28, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      THANK YOU,


      April 19, 2021 at 12:40 am


  2. Charles Drago

    October 24, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    All thinking, caring lovers of jazz are obliged to boycott these ludicrous lists — paeans to the eviscerated, lobotomized American pop culture that jazz exposes and refutes.

    • D Martin

      October 25, 2017 at 6:32 am

      Lockjaw and especially Paul Desmond — the alto God — can’t possibly be listed lower than Stan Getz, for crying out loud.

      • Ken Lewis

        November 2, 2017 at 7:36 pm

        Agreed, 100%!! This list is a sham.

      • Chris Carter

        November 24, 2017 at 7:40 pm

        Are you in uk? Read my reply to Charles Drago, although I cannot see it has been sent. Jaws was the best, and there are many here, Pepper, etc, who are no way as good as the list is saying. One cannot determine whether Pepper is playing or anyone else. Check my reply to Charles about the top 8.

      • Chris Browning

        March 31, 2018 at 4:52 pm

        I came here to say just that. Paul Desmond should have easily made the top 10!!

        • Sam Chell

          August 16, 2019 at 10:37 pm

          Of course. Didn’t he?

          • Christopher Nowak

            September 13, 2019 at 2:56 pm

            Nope. Paul Desmond is #27.

    • Chris Carter

      November 24, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      Charles, I wish we could meet. I agree what a ludicrous list, that for example, al Cohn could be above Jaws. The greatest 8, were, and I should know, for look at my email which is not a joke, it is because I play like Jaws, Jaws, Ben, Griffin, Dexter, Zoot, Jacquet, Rabbit, Cannonball

  3. Lindo

    October 24, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    Joe Lovano
    Joshua Redman
    Maceo Parker
    Steve Coleman
    David Sanchez (from Puerto Rico)

  4. J P Cavanaugh

    October 24, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    You guys have short memories. Frank Trumbauer? Harry Carney? Herschel Evans? Chu Berry? Bud Freeman? Frank Foster? Frank Wess? Charlie Ventura? You have glossed over jazz’s foundations.


      March 31, 2018 at 12:30 am


    • Kevin Thorbourne

      November 30, 2019 at 8:14 pm

      Charlie Parker talked about Frank Trumbauer being an inspiration.

    • The Rev. bIGhIG

      March 6, 2020 at 9:18 pm

      Excellent point. No historical perspective from the young hipster/listers.

      (Check out some of the greatest movies lists – # 1 The Matrix!)

  5. Thomas G A Smith

    October 24, 2017 at 1:20 pm

    What happened to Phil Woods (should be in the top ten), Charlie Rouse, Booker Ervin, Tubby Hayes, Clifford Jordan. Interesting selection though – top 4 spot on! Gerry Mulligan is top 20 material, surely. Great to see Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin and Jackie McLean so highly thought of (3 of my particular favourites – often overlooked). I would urge everybody to check out one who didn’t get in – the little-known Tina Brooks on Blue Note. One is never going to agree with these lists – but they are great fun – keep them coming!

    • Bob Mynors

      October 24, 2017 at 7:09 pm

      Thanks for remembering Tubby Hayes

    • John Draffin

      October 25, 2017 at 4:02 am

      I agree – Include Budd Johnson and Curtis Amy please…Gerry Mulligan way better than Al Cohn or Johnny Griffin or Dexter G.
      : My 4 yr old daughter, listening to a Mulligan solo, says ” It’s like he’s telling a story daddy, isn’t it?”

    • Chris Carter

      November 24, 2017 at 7:45 pm

      Thomas I should have placed Tubby in the top 10, rather than listing my top 8, and therefore leaving him out. As Eddie did say to me, people were playing with technical ferocity which left out TONE, which is essential to emotion, soul, mood. Jazz is not just a succession of notes played in a particular way.

    • grant marcus

      May 12, 2019 at 11:24 am

      you guys are all old timers. I think Grover Washington, who was one of the best live improvisers, and john klemmer deserve the list. U was glad the jug, Gene Ammons squeaked into the top 25. Mulligan played too close to the book and his vest for my taste. Too much happy jazz selections. And Hank Mobley is overrated albeit there were some memorable recordings. But thank you for mentioning Tina Brooks. i have his blue note collection and really love his sound. Not a big fan of Pepper Adams; and Brubeck shouldn’t Have got top billing to Desmond. Art Pepper would have Been far more worthy if his years weren’t stolen from him. But who can argue about Parker and Coltrane, or Coltrane and Parker?

      • Christopher Nowak

        September 26, 2019 at 2:22 pm

        I remember reading two novels when I was a kid (about 45 years ago):
        1) GO BOY-Roger Caron
        2) STRAIGHT LIFE-Art Pepper.
        Both are very sad stories.

  6. Ian Smith

    October 24, 2017 at 1:32 pm

    No John Gilmore or Marshall Allen?? I understand it’s all down to personal taste but these two are huge omissions.

    • grant marcus

      May 12, 2019 at 11:45 am

      And warne Marsh, and Oete Christlieb; or the new bopper Steve Brogdea (name spelling). And what about Archie Shepp?

  7. Jack Spencer

    October 24, 2017 at 1:37 pm

    Spot on. Everyone has there personal favorites of course, but if you truly know jazz, than this list is the Canon of Sax platers.

  8. Carl Kaehler

    October 24, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    I wish they would stop these lists. Greatest how? In terms of virtuosity? Merely influence? I don’t think Trane himself would have put himself at number two either way. Lester Young should have been two. Jerry Mulligan and Benny Carter are way too low.

  9. lew webb

    October 24, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    What about Gerry Muligan


    October 24, 2017 at 1:47 pm


    • King Femmo

      October 24, 2017 at 3:04 pm

      I agree that number 25 is much to low a ranking for Sidney Bechet.

      • King Femmo

        October 24, 2017 at 3:15 pm


  11. Norm Johnson

    October 24, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Hank (rock and roll r&b genres) above Cannonball Adderly???? What is wrong with the world

    • Dana Scott

      October 24, 2017 at 6:47 pm

      Hank Crawford is hardly just a rock/R&B player (not that there’s anything wrong with that), he’s the real deal just as much as Cannonball if not more.

  12. Michael Lamprecht

    October 24, 2017 at 2:59 pm

    Paul Desmond wurde zu niedrig platziert.

    • inthedark82

      March 29, 2020 at 4:31 am

      One notable omission for me is Bennie Maupin… he belongs on this list. Featured prominently on nearly every significant jazz album from the late 60s through the 70s – Miles Davis, Horace Silver, McCoy Tyner, Lee Morgan, Woody Shaw, and Herbie Hancock among others. And his own album “Jewel in the Lotus” is an underrated masterpiece. Glad to see Yusef Lateef and Pharoah Sanders on here too. All 3 were very unique, avant-guarde musicians and saxophonists who changed and expanded the role of jazz sax.

  13. King Femmo

    October 24, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Given his technical skill, the emotional depth of his playing, and his importance in the early development of jazz, Sidney Bechet should definitely be nearer to the top, perhaps in the top ten.

  14. Jan van Leersum

    October 24, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    Earl Bostic is a joke, not a jazzplayer, No Arnett Cobb is a big mistake, Paul Desmond is only famous for Take 5.

    • grant marcus

      May 12, 2019 at 11:52 am

      My favorite stuff by Paul Desmond does not include Take 5. I suggest you listen to the CTI album, “Skylark.” It’s a gem, and verifies Desmond’s unique fluid delivery.

      • Rich

        April 18, 2021 at 4:19 pm

        All of the above. That is the beauty of this music. There are some innovators and many great players. It’s melody, harmony, and individuality. It’s feeling, tone and spontaneous composition that are just some of the essential elements. It’s the ability to solo and follow: As Duke said, “If it sounds good, and feels good, then it is good.” Much of it has to do with how our backgrounds and exposures affect what touches us most. So all of you are right. Surprisingly, I saw no mention that Lou Donaldson played alto (that’s what he played when I saw him) on many of his albums and live performances. If he also played tenor, someone please share the album title(s).
        Also missed was the inaccuracy about Jimmy Heath’s brothers: Percy was the bassist (notably his long association with MJQ) and Albert “Tootie” is the drummer.
        After all that self-righteous rhetoric, I think Don Byas and Lucky Thompson should be on the list or expand it!!!

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 14, 2019 at 11:43 pm

      Paul Desmond played MANY nice songs other than Take 5 Example: BLUE RONDO A LA TURK with Dave Brubeck.
      I remember transcribing one of Desmomds’ solos on BLUE RONDO A LA TURK and it was very hard to play on guitar note for note

  15. Mr Mason

    October 24, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Why no British players? Courtney Pine, Andy Sheppard, Tubby Hayes?

  16. Clate

    October 24, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Bullshit list and chronologically provincial. I count four saxophonists from the pre-swing era, although you bootlickers probably fap off to that meandering shit that’s been known as “jazz” for the past seventy years. Yeah, forget the contributions of Adrian Rollini, Jimmy Dorsey, and Frank Trumbauer. Probably too white for you effite pansy-asses.

    • Chip

      February 16, 2018 at 2:30 pm

      Or maybe the rest is “too black” for your “effite pansy-ass”.. Idiot

  17. Matthew DeMaio

    October 24, 2017 at 7:10 pm

    Paul Gonsalves? Lucky Thompson? Johnny Griffin? George Coleman? Benny Golson?

    • John Draffin

      October 25, 2017 at 4:05 am

      Yes!!! Paul Gonsalves!!!

    • grant marcus

      May 12, 2019 at 12:17 pm

      Good additions. You know, Moody wasn’t bad either. Neither was gil Melle, or Nick Brignola (I was trying to think up earlier) or Sonny Criss, Joe Farrell, Scott Hamilton, or Bud Johnson, Paul Quinchette, or Pharoah Sanders

  18. George Seletas

    October 24, 2017 at 11:33 pm

    Bob Berg. His album “Short Stories” is still as amazing as it was the first time I heard it. God rest his soul…

    • Mark

      November 18, 2020 at 7:37 pm

      Great Bob the powerful Saxophonist of this last 40 yrs

  19. Leon

    October 24, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    Ornette Coleman and Booker Ervin two big omissions. Roland kirk should have been much higher up the list

    • Leon

      October 25, 2017 at 12:14 am

      Sorry i see ornette is there

  20. Leon

    October 25, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Ornette is on the list. Didn’t see earlier

  21. landshark

    October 25, 2017 at 2:01 am

    15 to 20 of them don’t belong on the list. You guess ehich ones are wrong. You DO NOT know what a true Jazz Master. Stupid lists

  22. Stosh

    October 25, 2017 at 2:34 am

    Uh, go listen to James Carter… please

  23. Stosh

    October 25, 2017 at 2:36 am

    Listen to James Cartera… please

    • Hari Mwell

      October 26, 2017 at 7:44 pm

      I agreeee ! He’s the Sonny Rollins favorite

  24. Johnny Thorn

    October 25, 2017 at 2:53 am

    Thanks for posting. We all have our favourites, but I find it sad with the vitriolic comments.

  25. Robert Hiller

    October 25, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Houston Person & Phil Woods deserve to be on the list before a number of others that are on here.. You sure you know jazz?

  26. Shakey Levak

    October 25, 2017 at 5:28 am

    What’s funny is that Tex Beneke of the Glenn Miller band won most of the jazz magazine polls. He also did very well in the singer pollls. Of course, after Miller died, he took over the band. He often spoke about how he wasn’t in the same league as the others but you have to admit he did a great “Chattanooga Choo-choo.”

  27. William Kats

    October 25, 2017 at 7:25 am

    Don Byas!

  28. Ricky Murray

    October 25, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    What, about John Gilmore?

  29. elliemae byas

    October 25, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    what about DON BYAS

  30. Michael Bruns

    October 25, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    No David Murray? Seriously? There’s a whole lot of other mess on the list. Nature of the beast. Roscoe Mitchell? And, yes, Hank Crawford just above Cannonball Adderley? Hmm? Love Lovano, but on a given day, I’d rather hear Chris Potter, Joshua Redman or David Sanchez.

  31. Arbmay Semaj

    October 25, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Seriously, no James Carter? There’s a few on this list I would trade out for James Carter

  32. Ken

    October 26, 2017 at 1:30 am

    It’s news to me that the saxophone is a brass instrument. As for the list: one person’s opinion; nothing else.

  33. Bob

    October 26, 2017 at 11:37 am

    John Gilmore? Steve Lacy? Anthony Braxton? John Carter? Frank Lowe? Peter Brötzmann? Evan Parker? John Zorn? David Murray? Marshall Allen? Peter Brötzmann? Jimmy Giuffre? Archie Shepp?….?

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 26, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      All of your suggestions are good choices.
      They should definitely expand this list to TOP 100!

  34. Doug

    October 26, 2017 at 5:51 pm

    Where is Klaus Doldinger?

  35. Hari Mwell

    October 26, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Brandford Marsalis and James Carter please, mostly on soprano sax… And I am a big fan of Dexter Gordon too

  36. Dex

    October 27, 2017 at 5:28 am

    Marion Brown & John Surman? Tied for first should be LesterYoung & Charlie Parker, Albert Ayler third.

    • Dex

      October 31, 2017 at 3:13 am

      it would be worse if everyone had the same opinion I believe

      • grant marcus

        May 12, 2019 at 9:22 pm

        When you’re talking about art, which is what creating music is, it is subjective, and between the ears and eyes of the beholder, and so all opinions are uniquely different. One man’s Kenny G is another woman’s, John Coltrane. That’s where the curators step in to validate or invalidate the taste of what we consider art left in our mouths and minds. And that’s to say the curators, at some primal level, have equally been influenced, if not a stake in that influence. The longevity of the artist, for example, has significance. But those who are moved in the now tend to ignore that. People like Armstrong was the Mogdigliani of the trumpet– or Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins were the Van Gogh’s and Monets of the saxophone. Just something to consider. And I say this as an appreciator of art who has also been moved by Dave Koz. Art has something to do with both tradition and talent.

  37. Davit Stepanyan

    October 27, 2017 at 9:07 am

    Charles Gayle? Anthony Braxton?

  38. Bill Russo

    October 28, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    I have four words to add to this list Sam, Butera, Rudy, and Pompilli.
    Rudy’s creds could come from his time with Ralph Materie’s band or with Bill Haley’s combo – take your pick. Sam Butera is always under rated except by the people in Las Vegas where Louis Prima and Sam Butera had the hottest act on the strip, even way ahead of Wayne Newton.

  39. jack zucker

    October 29, 2017 at 12:52 am

    Brecker at 45?!? lol.

    Can you say “Rolling Stone best guitarists of all time”?

  40. Lou Ciro

    October 29, 2017 at 1:39 am

    Gato Barbieri does not belong in this list. Som many others that were omitted do.

  41. dios

    October 29, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Michael brecker in the 45? OMG

  42. Pancho el piojo

    October 29, 2017 at 1:21 pm

    Joshua Redman? James Carter, Paquito d Ribera, Ed Calle, Eric Mariental… Etc?

  43. Christian Piens

    October 30, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Such a list is always subjective. For me, number two is Lester Young : much to say with a minimum notes. In this list I
    did not find Jimmy Giuffre. Liste to The Train and the River : splendid.

  44. Joachim

    October 31, 2017 at 8:27 am

    Where is Archie Shepp?

  45. Ken Lewis

    November 2, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    These lists are worthless and worthy of simply being ignored. Period. Desmond…27!! You’ve GOT to be kidding. So many of the others are very badly skewed. WORTHLESS!

  46. reginald reid

    November 7, 2017 at 10:39 am

    I love every min of this show.

  47. jason browne

    November 22, 2017 at 5:19 am

    decent list, but Coltrane should be number 1. and Hawkins higher then Getz.

  48. John Hart

    January 10, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    What a joke! Phil Woods missing? Archie Shepp? According to the vapidness of a lot on this list, you should have included Kenny G and Boots Randolph as well. What a complete farce. Your expertise and credibility are nil.

  49. Zack V.

    January 17, 2018 at 12:45 am

    Ummm…Where the hell is harry carney???????

  50. Matteo

    January 29, 2018 at 2:13 pm

    I am glad (as much as I am surprised) to see Hank Mobley, one of my favourite, scoring so high.

  51. JD

    March 5, 2018 at 8:31 pm

    I guess Chris Potter doesn’t exist.


    March 31, 2018 at 12:26 am


  53. Sanford Josephson

    September 5, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Gerry Mulligan only #46? R u kidding?

  54. Lucas Kuys

    September 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm

    How about Candy Dulfer.

  55. Ubeyde Cimen

    October 23, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Sonny Stitt, John Klemmer, Rusty Bryant, Ronnie Cuber!!!

  56. Sterling Anderson

    November 28, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    No matter what you do you can’t satisfy everybody. Maybe next time expand the list to a hundred. Placement of the musicians will always be a never ending disagreement. I like Stan Getz but in the top ten I dont’t think so. Good job.

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 26, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      I already suggested TOP 100 but now I am thinking TOP 125!

  57. David Rosser

    December 1, 2018 at 2:48 pm

    Agreed- Chris Potter is one of my faves. And what about possibly the smoothest and technically wondrous Per Christlieb? Go back and listed to “Time Check” by Louis Bellson’s Big Band album 150 mph and FM by Steely Dan as examples of the breadth of his chops

  58. Richard Leigh

    December 8, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    I like most of the players listed, and regret some omissions. Just to think about some of the music mentioned puts me in too good a mood to carp, and certainly makes all the effing and blinding of some of the comments irrelevant. But I must remind you that leaving out a true giant like Hermione Barnsfather is INEXCUSABLE. Just for her solo on “It’s as if you’d been There”, she ought to be top of ANYONE’S list. And as for some of the choices – whoever compiled the list should be hanged, drawn and quartered, and have his pocket-money stopped, etc etc etc….

  59. Don Frese

    December 9, 2018 at 3:57 am

    Not a very good list; Phil Woods, Serge Chaloff, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Wardell Gray, Booker Ervin, Cecil Payne, Steve Lacy, Bill Perkins, Chu Berry, better than at least 13 of your choices.

  60. Allan Kronzek

    December 9, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    This list has one huge omission – Warne Marsh. Marsh was one of the most creative and original improvisers of all time.

    • Charlie

      August 3, 2020 at 12:23 pm

      Definitely – if not no1, then top 10!

  61. Elliot Burstein

    December 9, 2018 at 9:01 pm

    I would have put Gerry Mulligan at LEAST in the top 10.
    Good to see Hank Mobley on list.
    Also Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter closer to top!
    No Sonny Stitt or Phil Woods???????

  62. ProfessorB

    December 9, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    This list is mired in a rather parochial hard-bop sensibility. Hank Mobley (#9), Johnny Griffin (#10), Joe Henderson (#11), and Jackie McLean (#13) are all fine musicians, but significantly overrated here. Gerry Mulligan (#46!), Paul Desmond (#27), Sidney Bechet (#25), and Johnny Hodges (#12) are vastly underrated by comparison.

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 26, 2019 at 2:45 pm

      Does ProfessorB stand for music Professor Bob Witmer (York University, Toronto, Ontario).
      I think that he would say the same thing.

      • Christopher Nowak

        September 27, 2019 at 12:51 pm

        Sorry folks. I forgot the “?” after the first line in my last statement.

    • Ephraim Lawrence

      January 2, 2020 at 2:46 pm

      Desmond and Mulligan aren’t in the same league as the aforementioned. Especially the likes of Henderson and McClean. Joe Henderson was probably THE Hard bop/ Blue note Saxophonist of the 60s, no one really came close to him during that period not even Coltrane. His place is very much deserved. Mulligan is overrated I would have him further down the list. Desmond is to the saxophone as what Guaraldi is to the piano, nice within a very specific context/aesthetic- once you get out of that aesthetic everything else is meh.

  63. geo

    December 12, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Let’s translate the title: the 50 best who took advantage of the US publicity machine, thus leaving out many deserving players elsewhere, thus a jive endeavor – although it got me thinking about the Bird: what did he have that other 49 didn’t? I’d suggest strong in all parameters; no weak link in his chain of genius.

  64. Tina S

    December 21, 2018 at 10:29 pm

    mulligan must be much higher. Revolutionary. How about Sonny Criss. Glad to see Stitt recognized, as well as Jackie Mac. So many you either left out or never heard. Us old folks do not forget

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 15, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      You should check out TINA S on youtube.
      She is a virtuoso electric guitarist that actually plays full symphonies on the guitar.

  65. Gary Davidson

    December 27, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    Would note that Jimmy Forrest is a candidate for the list, even though recordings are few. Would also include Steve Lacy. Glad to see Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter on the list, as they don’t get enough acclaim. I think Coleman Hawkins doesn’t get enough credit as he was one of the few greats that successfully made the transition between two styles of music (in his case Swing and Bebop.)

  66. Donald Antal

    March 13, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    WHERE IS PHIL WOODS – ARE YOU KIDDING????????????????????????????????

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 26, 2019 at 2:49 pm

      I AGREE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      He does a great version of YOU MUST BELIEVE IN SPRING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  67. M Pinto

    March 16, 2019 at 9:12 am

    James Moody, Oliver Nelson, Sahib Shihab, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, Sal Nistico, Charlie McPherson?

  68. Rob Rietberg

    March 24, 2019 at 7:09 am

    Please, listen to Max Ionata. This list is worthless.

  69. Al de Baran

    March 30, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    No John Gilmore? The list is a joke, indeed. Typical anti-Sun Ra bias, though.

  70. Grover, III

    April 21, 2019 at 8:26 pm

    Obviously this list is not a list of best saxophonist, but best straight ahead jazz saxophonist. While my Father never liked the term ‘smooth jazz’, he played everything from be-bop to pop to fusion to r&b to soul to gospel and then some. Its still a shame that being the ‘creator’ or ‘godfather’ of smooth jazz doesn’t earn enough respect.

    • Kofi

      October 12, 2019 at 1:55 am

      Are you talking about (and related to) Grover Washington, Jr? If you are, I totally agree with you. Ask ANY “casual listener” today to name a Gene Ammons song. They won’t. Ask any garage band or casual listener to play or hum Mr. Magic or Winelight, and they will…those songs are known worldwide. I personally thank your father for his innovation and influence, and I’m pretty sure HE had some Coltrane influence (I hear it in his riffs) and took it to a different place. He gave his life for music, and influenced countless younger sax players. I’m not sure why he and folks like him (Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber, etc) are never included in these lists, since their impact is beyond comparison!

  71. Dwight Browne

    April 29, 2019 at 6:28 am

    What about Steve Colemen or Anthony Braxton

  72. fred

    May 22, 2019 at 3:34 am

    Michael Brecker (3/29/49) played with his older brother Randy (11/27/45)—not his younger brother as written above.

  73. DA

    July 5, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Just do your list in alphabetical order. “Top” rankings are just STUPID!

  74. Abdus Saabur

    August 24, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    Pharaoh Sanders at # number 47 really that is a joke don’t know who came with this list but no way

  75. Christopher Nowak

    September 14, 2019 at 11:46 pm

    Check out: GIANLUIGI TROVESI .6 Verano on YOUTUBE

  76. Christopher Nowak

    September 15, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    ALISON YOUNG and COLEEN ALLEN from Ontario, Canada.
    I figure that at least a few females should be known.

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 15, 2019 at 2:34 pm

      Sorry. COLEEN should be COLLEEN.

  77. Christopher Nowak

    September 15, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    I saw him play in Kitchener, Ontario in the 1970s.
    I heard that he moved to New York but have not heard his name in awhile.

  78. Christopher Nowak

    September 15, 2019 at 8:39 pm

    The leader and one funky saxaphone player from THE SHUFFLE DEMONS!
    I went to school with Richard at York University and have seen him numerous times at the Jazz Fest in Waterloo, Ontario.

    • Christopher Nowak

      October 18, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      Sorry folks. I meant SAXOPHONE.

  79. Christopher Nowak

    September 17, 2019 at 8:41 pm

    Ross Wooldrige, Mike Murley, Kirk Mcdonald?
    They are from the Toronto, Ontario area.

    • Christopher Nowak

      September 17, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      Sorry Folks. I meant ROSS WOOLDRIDGE.

  80. Howie S.

    September 21, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    Phil Woods, Bird, Cannonball,
    Desmond!Best Alto players!

    • Samuel Chell]

      October 10, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      How many times did you hear John live after McCoy and Elvin had split? After Coltrane had completed “A Love Supreme,” he used the brief time left him to test the limits of total freedom, which is total chaos, uproarious cacophony, a void of self-indulgent bloat. At the Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago’s Soldier’s Field, I witnessed people by the thousands heading for the exits during the Coltrane set. A black man in front of me took off his white T shirt, waving it as a flag of surrender. When he left, my wife turned to me and said: “It’s him” (referring to Trane) “or me.” She headed for the exit, followed shortly afterwards by me (it was just as well during another Archie Shepp sonic assault.).. Next time I would go alone, but the phenomenon was the same. Trane emptied the theater in Madison, Wisconsin’s UW Student Union.(I was one of several to last it out. Both of these concerts even were widely reported–angry letters to “Down Beat” and the Madison papers by disillusioned Coltrane fans. Trane had betrayed his art, ignoring the language of music while trying to locate spiritual ectasy through the vibrations of a sonic field devoid, even, of musical notes. He carried two drummers, two bassists, and another performer. The shrieking and screaming was as piercing and insane as anything I had heard. I caught him with Shep, then Pharoah Saunders (the loudest of all), and finally Eric Dolphy (in a Chicago Southside bar that had been filled when Stitt and Ammons were there but with Trane and Dolphy (no piano–or bandstand–for McCoy), the audience was small and indifferent to the music which, though tolerable, failed to communicate with the all-black Southside audience. Coltrane’s sense of “lostness” was unmistakable when he struck up an alliance with Ornette (a rank amateur in terms of technique compared to Coltrane). John was even making verbal statements about going exclusively with soprano sax because of its more “spiritual sound. He had reached his peak, imo, during his cadenza on his final recording of the Billy Eckstine hit, “I Don’t Want to Talk About You.” He recorded it with Red Garland in the ’50s and, in a striking revision, at the old Birdland in ’63 (with his classic quartet). Had he stopped right there, I’d agree that he was the best of Hawk and Lester as well as an important shaman, maybe an angel or a saint. as Elvin once told me. But the painful ugliness of the sound he made on 4 different occasions was enough to detract from the beauties of “A Love Supreme,” the ingenious harmonic revisions of “Giant Steps,” and the multiphonics in the cadenza of his favorite tune, “I Want to Talk About You” (played on practically every Coltrane session I attended). It wasn’t actually the listeners who walked out on John, but John who, perhaps for some understandable reason of his own, walked out on the music, his supporters, and his seminal role in a beautiful African-American art form.

    • Samuel Chell]

      October 10, 2019 at 11:06 pm

      Mobley is the guy I go out of my way to listen to because he never wears out–always soulful, inventive, the supreme melodist. In addition to the pictured Blue Note album, be sure to check him out on “MIles Davis at the Blackhawk, Friday and Saturday nights” on the Columbia label. His solo on “Bye, Bye Blackbird,” on which he doubles the number of choruses by Miles, is at once beautiful beyond words yet heartbreakingly sad when he offers the prize to an indifferent boss (Miles never spoke an encouraging word to him). After 1965 Hank tried to please the Blue Note owners by composing and recording hits–which most sounded forced, weak, and wooden. He at least was recorded and published, which is more than the Blue Note execs did for Tina Brooks, perhaps the best of the Coltrane challengers with something original to say. — As for the excellence of Sonny Stitt, his qualifications should be immediately clear to anyone attentive to his battle with Rollins on “The Eternal Triangle.”

  81. Christopher Nowak

    September 26, 2019 at 6:28 pm


    • Christopher Nowak

      September 26, 2019 at 11:37 pm

      Sorry Folks. It should be PAT LABARBERA.

  82. Christopher Nowak

    September 27, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    The late Jim Galloway from Canada?
    He was great on both saxophone and clarinet!

  83. Brad

    September 30, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Where’s Hans Dulfer? Or his daughter Candy Dulfer? Unbelievable

  84. jaye

    October 3, 2019 at 5:45 am

    any sax list without grover washington isn’t worth the 1’s and 0’s it’s printed on…

    • Christopher Nowak

      December 1, 2019 at 6:53 pm

      I AGREE!!
      I remember transcribing and playing WINELIGHT as well as the saxophone solo.
      Grover should definitely be on this list!!!

  85. Christopher Nowak

    October 15, 2019 at 11:40 pm

    Tim Moher from my home town of Kitchener, Ontario?
    Not only is he a great player but also a great organiser.
    If you are in the area, check out the BELMONT BESTIVAL every September.
    He is also playing at THE JAZZ ROOM in Waterloo, Ontario in early February of 2020 (The group is called THE CLIFFS OF MOHER).
    He plays with incredible feeling.
    Check out AUTUMN IN MUSKOKA by googling THE CHRIS NOWAK PROJECT Vol.1 on YOUTUBE (just saxophone and piano).

  86. Christopher Nowak

    October 16, 2019 at 2:14 pm

    Sorry folks. His band is called THE CLEFS OF MOHER which is a spoof on the CLIFFS OF MOHER (Ireland).
    Tim combines Irish music with jazz which is quite interesting.

  87. Danny Strunk

    October 27, 2019 at 4:57 pm

    Greatest lists are subjective , take them less seriously than some do here There are no greatests there are progenitors and influences…if they inspire no matter who they are, they have done what musicians have done for countless generations.

  88. Mark

    November 2, 2019 at 1:26 am

    Putting Gato Barbieri at 50 is a crime EUROPA is the sexiest song ever played on a sax.

    CANDY DULFER is the sexiest person to ever play the sax and can outplay this entire list. Her live version of “Pick Up The Pieces” is the best anywhere.

    • Christopher Nowak

      December 1, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      I have played EUROPA (Carlos Santana-right?) recently with my Dad (a piano player) but I never imagined it with a saxophone.
      Now that I think of it, that instrument would fit in nicely with this song.
      I also played PICK UP THE PIECES (The Average White Band-right?) many years ago in a group.
      I shall definitely listen to CANDY DULFER playing her version and compare.

    • Christopher Nowak

      December 2, 2019 at 2:05 pm

      Candy Dulfer is good but I do not agree that she CAN OUTPLAY THIS ENTIRE LIST!
      However, her version of PICK UP THE PIECES is better than THE AVERAGE WHITE BAND’S.
      I especially liked her modulations in her improvised solo!!

  89. Kennyd

    November 13, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    Not even a peep about grover Washington jr,wow

  90. Thomas G A Smith

    November 15, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Gerry Mulligan should be in the top twenty! What about Booker Ervin?


    December 1, 2019 at 2:02 am

    Stan Getz ahead of Lester Young is just idiotic

  92. Christopher Nowak

    December 1, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    BUD SHANK?!!

  93. Christopher Nowak

    December 2, 2019 at 1:01 pm

    ALEX DEAN from Toronto, Ontario?!

  94. Christopher NowalBFA MLIS

    February 8, 2020 at 2:25 pm

  95. Rev. bIGhIG

    March 6, 2020 at 9:27 pm

    Candy? C’mon!

  96. Jay Collins

    April 13, 2020 at 10:16 pm

    Eddie Harris. To leave him out is pretty silly. He did things on the saxophone that nobody ever did.

  97. Tom Salcius

    April 21, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    I can’t imagine how Charlie Ventura and Jimmy Dorsey were not on the list.

  98. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    June 18, 2020 at 1:17 pm

    I think that there may be a case for BOOTS RANDOLPH!!

  99. George Ferrick

    June 21, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Frank Trumbauer, Bud Freeman, Ernie Caceres, Seems the list is top heavy with Modern Jazz


    June 21, 2020 at 8:00 am

    Ernie Watts?????????

  101. Mike Papero

    June 24, 2020 at 7:16 am

    Not only is he not mentioned on the list, he is not mentioned in any of the replies. Who? Sonny Criss. I’ve listened to them all and Criss is as good as anybody. Period.

  102. Blake Lucas

    July 3, 2020 at 7:28 am

    It seems like Charlie Rouse is doomed to be underrated forever. That’s a shame–I never get tired of him, and given my devotion to Monk, I’m glad Rouse was the tenor player for so long in that quartet. He understood Monk’s music so perfectly. To say he was so great there, given that Rollins, Coltrane and Griffin had been so inspired when they played with Monk, speaks eloquently of Rouse’s gifts.

    Otherwise, I take lists as what they are, subjective however knowledgeable, and there are probably no absolutes even if we are all passionate in our tastes. It’s in that spirit I chimed in on the piano list earlier.

    For saxophonists, I don’t usually compare alto players with tenors, baritone, soprano, though I guess one can. Despite regretting that Rouse is not there (and glad to see I am not alone with this), I was very happy to see Griffin rate so well, and even more Hank Mobley. I just love listening to Mobley anytime–he does every kind of piece well, especially in his peak years. Lee Morgan rated well on the trumpet list too–on records they are on together I think of Mobley and Morgan as The Dream Team.

    I will just say my top three (all in the top 6 here), definitely in this order:

    1) Sonny Rollins
    2) Charlie Parker
    3) Lester Young

    Coltrane would come in soon after that. I’ve always loved him and listened to him a lot, though that’s partly because of Davis and Monk records he is on that have a strong share of his best work. He falls back just a little on his own, though his quartet with Tyner and Jones (and mostly Garrison) was superb and certainly one of the most creatively intense jazz has known.

  103. Charlie

    August 2, 2020 at 8:53 pm

    Warne Marsh should be in the top 10. What about Phil Woods, Anthony Braxton, Booker Ervin and Grover W….???

  104. Thomas

    August 4, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    Sonny Stitt and Tubby Hayes were absolute prodigies; nobody, but nobody, played the instrument better. Parker and Coltrane were the most creative and groundbreaking.

  105. Bill Doeksen

    August 30, 2020 at 6:56 am

    This is a lame list. No Grover Washington Jr? I think that Boots Randolph should be on the list. I know some say he’s not jazz. Not fitting of Memphis jazz clubs, but yes he is still of the greatest jazz sax players ever.

    • Chris Nowak BFA MLIS

      September 14, 2020 at 11:59 am

      Read my comment up above Bill!
      My guess is that you have heard the music on the video many times.
      BENNY HILL was a funny show as well.

  106. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    September 14, 2020 at 12:11 pm

  107. Marcelo

    September 24, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Mo Paquito d’Rivera?!?! Give me a break!

  108. Pearlbitch

    October 3, 2020 at 9:18 am

    A list like this is always highly debatable and a matter of personal taste.
    I miss the likes of Vido Musso, James Moody, Oliver Nelson, Tina Brooks, Charlie Rouse, to name a few.

  109. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    October 23, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    The Paul Desmond influenced ERNIE KALWA??!!
    Every note in his solo is perfectly placed!!

  110. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    October 28, 2020 at 5:15 pm

    ANDY KLAEHN from my hometown of Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario??!!
    Here is playing “Spiderman” with guitarist KEITH MURCH:

  111. Vas

    February 21, 2021 at 3:35 pm

    Sonny Stitt is way too low on this list. Also, repeating he copied bird shouldn’t be synonymous with his name. Stitt has some of the most beautiful playing, articulation, and sound ever on a saxophone. Get your ears checked and your facts right.

  112. Jeff

    April 16, 2021 at 2:18 am

    Understand some commenters disdain for top lists but I do think it creates a great discussion as evidenced by 175 or so comments above and also may lead some to check out players they aren’t familiar with (either on the list or suggested by others). Agree with a few folks at the omission of Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods and Archie Shepp. Also believe Michael Brecker should be higher, for sure. In that jazz is art, so very subjective, one person’s opinion is just that, their opinion which makes “ranking” nearly impossible. An option could be to rate a given musician’s influence on their instrument and / or the music – how many players on this list are disciples of Bird, Coltrane, Prez, etc. IMHO that is a true sign of greatness and legacy – Bird Lives!

  113. Don

    April 26, 2021 at 4:14 pm

    no Serge Chaloff. Baritone???? You can’t be taken seriously after that omission!

  114. lido

    February 5, 2022 at 5:00 pm

    not a single woman! on this entire list.

  115. Mark

    February 13, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    What about Eric Kloss!

  116. Elle

    May 3, 2022 at 7:20 pm


  117. Peb Conrad

    August 3, 2022 at 6:17 am

    Where is Rudy Wiedoeft? Known as the”King” in his time! He had more influence on more
    future saxophonist than any of the 50 listed. Check out his career.

  118. Christopher Nowak BFA MLIS

    September 14, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    How could you possibly leave out AVERY DIXON???????????????????!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  119. Mike Friedman

    September 24, 2022 at 4:19 pm

    This list is far from comprehensive or representative. How can a list of the supposed 50 top saxophonists of all time not include Phil Woods? And while I’m at it, where’s Charlie Rouse, , Gigi Gryce, Herb Geller, Charles McPherson, Bobby Watson, Sonny Criss, Frank Strozier, Clifford Jordan, Jim Snidero or Gene Quill?

  120. Ken D.

    November 16, 2022 at 3:14 pm

    Lists of this sort are pointless, as they are merely one person’s opinion. This reminds me of the idiotic liner notes to a DVD set that featured a program with NEA Jazz Master Phil Woods and David Sanborn playing together and the anonymous liner note writer said Sanborn “was considered one of the greatest saxophonists of all time.” What a joke!

    A better idea is to rank artists on their primary instrument, though a number of them doubled frequently on others. But this ranked list leaves a lot to be desired, Woods easily eclipses the likes of Ornette Coleman and Hank Crawford, while the high rankings of Earl Bostic (not really a jazz specialist) and Ike Quebec is puzzling.

  121. Rainer Pusch

    May 10, 2023 at 3:16 pm

    I am Mad about this best Players bullshit! Jazz is a Personal Expression, or should be! Who is better Ella Fitzgerald or Joni Mitchell? What is better Green or Red? Stop please this competition Madness! You comparinging Apples and Oranges

  122. Jack Niblet

    May 16, 2023 at 9:46 am

    Ella Fitzgerald obviously. And green is a far superior colour than red – you can see it from space for a start!
    Not a fan of oranges.

  123. Merrell B Chittenden

    May 29, 2023 at 10:05 pm

    Dexter Gordon listed above Sonny Stitt is, well, laughable…

  124. Gnurps

    June 20, 2023 at 12:01 pm

    Another vote for Phil Woods. I count 13 of us who note his incredible absence from this list.

  125. ronald nelson

    July 29, 2023 at 11:23 am

    great list, you can’t pleases everybody some people just like to complain, you didn’t included kenny G for that i’m grateful that wouldn’t been a disaster

  126. Michael Gonzalez

    September 5, 2023 at 2:32 am

    Leaving Grover Washington, Jr. off this list is a travesty, obviously made up by 100+ year old people who never listened to the progressives.
    Future such lists better be ready to include up and coming Avery Dixon.

  127. Barney

    November 7, 2023 at 1:56 am

    never any respect for Sun Ra’s players………Gilmore tutored ‘Trane !

  128. Richard Walker

    December 12, 2023 at 3:28 pm

    where is David Sanborn who could outplay anybody?

  129. Anthony B. Hargis Jr

    January 17, 2024 at 12:27 am

    Not one person with all of the recommendations made of terrific sax players mentioned Woody Herman’s guy, Sal Nestico. He and Dexter are the two most underrated players of all time. Of course, I only have 40 years of commercial sax playing with R&R, R&B, and Jazz Standards. How did Gato Barbieri get on this list? My name should be on this list too if he belongs here. I saw a list with Candy Dulfer as the best. People are tone deaf, stupid, can’t hum Twinkle Little Star, and want to tell you who is the best. It is more of a list of who is your favorite than who is the best. Scott Hamilton isn’t on this list and neither is Eric Marienthal, Chris Potter, Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, and many more. Whoever made up this list doesn’t know jack about Saxophone musicians.

  130. Ed Mari

    January 19, 2024 at 9:49 pm


  131. Pete B

    February 2, 2024 at 4:42 am

    I agree that Phil Woods should be in here. I’m a player and one of his solos is best I’ve ever heard!

    Also, what about Wilton Felder of the Crusaders???

  132. Frank Cain

    February 8, 2024 at 12:26 am

    It wouldn’t do for a list to come out of concert saxmen because if Freddy Gardner was not shown as the list leader, I would believe the compiler’s next analysis would be the best people to change the axis of the world. Listen to the glissandi throughout and at coda of Valse Venite, composed by one of your former sax guys, Rudy Weidoeft. I doubt if many players could be all over the instrument for that style.

    But as one of your readers indicated, it’s a purely personal thing, as is no doubt mine about Gardner. What makes his case, somewhat off the beaten path, is that his entire career in music, from the first saxophone, to his death, spanned 15 years.

  133. Frankie Molina

    March 4, 2024 at 7:54 pm

    Gato Barbieri way too low, he belongs in the top 20-30. Some no name schmucks here projecting & ego tripping, think they could outplay him. Scuse me while I laugh at their silliness & incompetence. Agree with those saying this list is laughable, there’s like 10 big name omissions maybe more. Too many names on this list just don’t belong. Sorry to say this but I found it too Americano(and I mean US-)centric. Shame.

  134. Jonathan Edwards

    March 28, 2024 at 4:44 pm

    Your list is missing some of the important, modern players; What about Paul McCandless and/or Charlie Mariano?

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