Rock'n Roll Saxophone
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Rock & Roll Sheet Music|
An Introduction To A Revolution
By Neil Sharpe and John Lull
A revolution triggered by a saxophone solo!
It had never happened before. It may never happen again.
But in 1942…
Until the late 1930’s, writes jazz historian Whitney Balliett, “It wasn’t easy to be an aspiring saxophonist…There had been few choices…about which way to go.” The sound of influential early “pre-jazz” players like "Rudy" Wiedoeft, who had helped to popularize the saxophone using a C-Melody, by the 1930’s had fallen out of popular favor.
“championed an enormous cordovan tone, improvising on chords, a foursquare
rhythmic approach.” Lester Young sailed in another direction, as he
“championed nothing”, his tone light with “causal long-held notes” and
melodic improvisation that matched the “new coolness of Billie Holiday
Teddy Wilson.” Charlie Parker simply “exploded”, passionately ripping
through arpeggios with “avalanches of eighth notes.”
In his wonderful book, "Collected
Works- A Journal of Jazz", Whitney Balliett’s fondest praise is
reserved for Ben Webster (who was first
taught by Lester Young's father) and his “enormous lyrical sound…an easy, embracing
quality that touched you in a way that Hawkins and Young, for all their genius,
Each of these players would influence an upcoming generation of saxophonists who, in the 1940's and 50's, forever changed the world of music. Coleman Hawkins' approach helped to shape the tones of Lee Allen and Red Prysock, King Curtis and Illinois Jacquet pointed to the rhythmic sense of Lester Young, Joe Houston called Charlie Parker his main man, while Jimmy Forrest was a great admirer of Ben Webster.
The blues ran through it all.
“The blues didn’t start in the North…but it started in the South and came out of conditions of oppression and suffering, and it was due to the strength of character of the people that performed it and played it that it is what it is today.” - Joe Louis Walker
Many jazz saxophonists were, and are, great blues men, for example: Johnny Hodges, Hank Crawford, Stanley Turrentine, Gene Ammons, Al Sears, David “Fathead” Newman, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Parker, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, and Cannonball Adderley
note must be made of Sidney
Bechet, an important pioneer in jazz
saxophone, who was described by Duke Ellington as “the very epitome of
jazz”. Bechet’s blues drenched
sound, on songs like “Blue Horizon”, was a
seminal influence on many players including Johnny Hodges.
Blues styles have evolved over the years with the standard 12-bar blues extending back to the early 20th century. As musicians traveled about after World War II and the 1950's, the blues took on a more regional character, moving away from the traditional acoustic roots epitomized by players like Robert Johnson and Son House. Texas blues became largely horn-based. In Chicago, the blues became “urbanized”, and dramatically increased its popularity, as artists like Muddy Waters incorporated electric guitars and harmonica.
May 26, 1942 was the turning point.
During a recording session for Decca records, tenor sax player Illinois Jacquet stepped forward and ignited a spark that would fuel a revolution, with his seminal 64 bar, wailing solo on Lionel Hampton’s Flying Home. While that solo lit the fuse, it was Illinois Jacquet’s “incredible, screaming” performance at the “Jazz At The Philharmonic Concert” in 1944 -especially “Blues Part II”- [this link to the Lionel Hampton website includes sound clips from the concert; scroll down about a third of the page] that creatively set afire a breakthrough generation of saxophonists who helped to invent a surging, gritty, raucous, sax driven music that came to be called “Rock n’ Roll.”
Swing blues artists like Louis Jordan (a critical inspiration for Sonny Rollins and many others) swept the charts with songs like “Caledonia” and “Choo Choo Ch Boogie”. In 1947, Wynonie Harris’ smash hit ”Good Rockin’ Tonight” (featuring Hal Singer on tenor), triggered the “rocking” sound in blues (featuring handclapping to give it a “rockin” rhythm, a long time feature of gospel music), and is now widely credited as the cornerstone of the birth of Rock n’ Roll. Tenor sax man Wild Bill Moore followed with the hit singles "We're Gonna Rock" and "Rock and Roll", Arnett Cobb earned the title the "Wild Man of the Tenor Sax" with singles like "Dutch Kitchen Bounce", and flamboyant, jump blues sax players Big Jay McNeely and "Mighty" Joe Houston, lay on their backs, under blistering strobe lights, and drove rapturous audiences into "frenzy" and "delirium", with explosive, honking, screaming solos.
“To me there is no such thing as black music or white music. If you put the notes on
the paper, what do you get out of a musical note? You get black and you get
white. So together, black and white musicians make the greatest music that the
world, that the whole world has ever known- and that’s the blues. Blues was
born black, but not now. Blues belongs to the world! Blues music is a part of
everyone now. It’s a part of your soul. When you learn and find out what music
is all about, then it’s one of those kind of things that dig deep down within
you if you’ve got anything at all. What we call the blues, it’s the
foundation of all the rest of the music.” - Rufus Thomas
Neil Sharpe is a SOTW Contributing Editor has extensive experience with the emotional and psychological aspects of performance, health, and well being. He is the author and co-author of three professional texts and numerous peer reviewed papers. Neil and his sax have terrified the unsuspecting since the 1950's.