logo palkki Saxophone ForumSaxophone Linkssax booksSheet musicsite map contact
Google SOTW Site Search:

Skip Spratt

Saxophonist Skip Spratt has written several columns for Sax on the Web:
. o Confessions of a Weekend Warrior
o Learning Tunes
o Why so loud?
o More Confessions from a BS Saxophonist

SOTW forum
the greatest Saxophone Discussion on the net
For Beginners
Sax Makes and Models
Sax Mouthpieces
Tech Discussion
Jazz and Improvisation
SOTW Forum Archive

left corner  


The saxophone in popular music – Where did it go?

by Skip Spratt

left corner  

The saxophone has been one of the most widely recorded wind instruments in popular music for decades – until now.

This sounds like the commentary of a fatalist; however this writer is quite the optimist. All music and popularity is circular. What comes around goes around.

Years ago, when I aspired to become the next great studio saxophonist, there were many in the field that were lending their sound and playing to some of the greatest pops songs of the seventies.

The tradition of saxophone in popular music dates back to the Sousa marches only shortly after the actual invention of the saxophone. Following the new hybrid brass and woodwind instrument’s popularity in the marching band came the era of Ragtime, Dixieland and the early Swing Era.

Through the 1930s and 40s the saxophone gained popularity among many as the “electric guitar of its time”. Tex Beneke and Jimmy Dorsey were just two contemporaries who basked in the limelight of saxophone fame during the Big Band Era. This was a time when a guy on stage playing the saxophone was IT.

Move forward several years and the popularity of the Big Bands, along with swing saxophone solos waned. Playing the sax still remained cool as rock and roll bands routinely featured a tenor sax romp in the middle of an otherwise predictable tune.

The sixties saw the popularity of the bossa nova and Stan Getz. Big Bands still dotted the landscape with popular leaders such as Woody Herman, Buddy Rich and Maynard Fergusson still featuring some of the best saxophonists of their time.

The seventies brought funk, disco and still the need for a good 8 to 16 bar saxophone solo. Players like Ernie Watts, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, Pete Chrislieb and Tom Scott made an indelible impression upon the popular saxophone scene of the 70s and through the 80s. Horn bands like Chicago´ and Earth Wind and Fire cemented the sound of saxophone into our commercially attuned ears.

Throughout the 1970s and well into the 1980s anyone turning on AM radio was sure to hear a saxophone solo grace the otherwise mundane popular landscape. Hall and Oates and Huey Lewis and the News were among the last of the popular bands to truly feature the saxophonist within.

Fast forward to the 1990s: Barely a saxophone could be heard among the rap-influenced landscape of popular music.

Now, well into the 21st Century the saxophone has virtually excused itself from popular music. Although “Smooth Jazz” has kept the sound of the sax in our ears, it doesn’t share the widespread popularity formerly enjoyed by Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons.

This does not mean that saxophone has a lesser role in our elementary, middle and high schools. It also has not meant a significantly smaller roll in high school study or college. What is truly at stake here is a common acceptance of the instrument that we all love – the saxophone.

Yes, the popular music industry has not embraced the horn bands or saxophone in recent years. Not to worry. What goes around comes around. What was old is new again.

If not today, tomorrow the saxophone will once again prevail.

About the Author:
Skip Spratt holds a BM with honors in Jazz Saxophone and an MAT in Music Education from The University of the Arts, and a Certificate from Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is the instrumental music teacher at Berlin Community School, Secretary of the NJ-IAJE and has taught saxophone at Rowan University.

Skip is the keeper of The Saxophone Shed (SaxShed.com) He is available for private instruction of all levels in saxophone, flute, clarinet and improvisation in the Philadelphia area. Additionally, SaxShed.com Lessons by Mail are Cd lessons available to students in any region. Just click on the Lessons by Mail link at SaxShed.com

Created: October 4, 2005.
Update: January 18, 2006
© 2005-6, Harri Rautiainen and respective authors