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Questions are: Why and When?

I'm REALLY not trying to be flippant or step on anyone's toes. Serious question.
I'm just an old geezer that never played professionally just getting back into it after 25 years off, but I have never had the desire to learn this, yet it seems to be a subject of many "which horn" discussions. The sax has a natural range of 2 1/2 octaves. Are professional charts written with notes higher that F? Did you decide that 2 1/2 octaves is not enough to solo on?
 

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The vast majority of written works do not include any altissimo. But some do. If you want to play those pieces then you'd be SOL when you come to that section. But that is really only the smallest portion of why.

If you never play an altissimo note in your life the studies and exercises for learning altissimo will still greatly improve your tone by adding harmonics (depth) to your sound.

When. For me is in pretty much every solo. It doesn't mean playing the entire solo up an octave. It means having a few notes that I can carve into and shoot for as dramatic points in the solo.

It also means I'm more effectively able to play the styles of music I like to play. Because when I listen to Junior Walker, Lenny Pickett, Willis Jackson, Sax Gordon, all of those guys use altissimo. If I said "Oh, I don't need to be able to play those notes" then I would be doing myself a massive injustice by avoiding learning them.

On the other side of the spectrum. Joshua Redman, Chris Potter, John Coltrane, Kenny Garret. They all use altissimo as well. Much less in the "Now I'm playing a high note" style but more as a fluid connection of the range of the horn.
 

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Questions are: Why and When?
As an arranger and c omposer I was taught to notr write altissimo unless you are writying for a specific player you know is. OK with that. Virtuoso classical pieces will also have altissimo, but only for soloist , I would not think it's something that should ever be written for sections unless 9again) it is a specific bunch of individuals you know.

Check out Jun ior Walker, Gato Barbieri, King Curtis, Earl Bostic...

 

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Write it in every chart; just act like it’s the industry standard and that you’re surprised they aren’t good enough to sight read it.

You’ll slowly raise the bar one horrified Sax section at a time ;)
 

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Wow. Pete, thanks for posting that - I've posted it here too. Its the ultimate Bostic song for high tones. And littlewailer mentioned Jr. Walker, another fave of mine. In fact, I recently discovered his live version of 'What Does It Take' from the Tonight show with Letterman and Paul Schaffer. It is distinctly different from the standard version many of us have been playing for many years, and has a lot more 'zip' to it. I've been working on it and I think we're going to do it at tomorrow night's show.
 

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Up there in orbit by Earl Bostic sets the bar so high I can’t even see it! Fabulous fluidity right across the whole range of the horn, natural to supersonic. One of my favourite listens: apparently, Earl blew Charlie Parker offstage at least once. Shame most folk only remember him for Flamingo...
 

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If you never play an altissimo note in your life the studies and exercises for learning altissimo will still greatly improve your tone by adding harmonics (depth) to your sound.
As someone more in the OPs position ... This.

The work put in for overtones, altisimo, and so on, really leaves you feeling more at home and in control over the whole range.
 

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The trumpet also as a "normal" range, but it is an harmonic instrument, so the limit is basically in the person playing. Maybe if you didn't have octave key second octave would be altíssimo... If you master an instrument, then I think you can and should use everything you can with it if it makes sense to do it in the context. Yes you can play normal range in soprano for altissimo in alto, but the sound is different. Its all about what you want to do and show and transmit to the audience.
 

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Now, who can tell me what song 'Up There In Orbit' is based on? Clue; its a 'round', that is, without a bridge. And once you know, think about how many times you may have dismissed that song as being 'below' you and not worth trying to improvise on.
 

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As an aside. Earl's Grandson Mayhue (who is a great jazz and R/B guitar player) is on FB. He's a cool guy to follow. Especially if you are in for a nice honest discussion about world topics and some of the things going on in the states right now. He never shares anything with his opinion posted he just says "What are your thoughts" and then responds to peoples comments. Nice guy.
 

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Bingo! And look what EB did with it. Genius.
 

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Even people who know nothing about music react to high notes. In this solo at about 3:10 Joel Frahm hits a high F, and gets a "woah" out of the crowd. And a massive clap after his solo, and it can't be only saxophonists in the audience appreciating it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CT4Zadzy28o
That's a great video, I really dig Joel's solo and sound and also the singing. Great.
 

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I think altissimo was at first something impressive when sax was new to the world. Later it probably become standard for every jazz saxophonist. And these days we have Chris Potter playing chorus of Giant Steps above high F.
 

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Questions are: Why and When?
Why : even if you don't use that range, it helps a *lot* on the normal range of the saxophone (sound, intonation, ...). And IMHO it's always good to learn technique on your instrument, like I'm not fan of tapping on my guitar but I learned how to do it.

When : I don't think there is a standard, but usually if you can play the whole normal range of your sax with all dynamics (pp to ff, w/ tongue attack, w/o attack), you can start learning altissimo. If you can't play a high F (or F# if you have a key) clearly, in tune, with or without tonguing, don't try to play altissimo yet.
 

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On a two hour show these day I'm only using altissimo on 3 or 4 songs. It does get an audience reaction, but it has diminishing returns when you try to use it too often. The instrument sounds best in its 'normal' range - Cats that overuse it (IMO) don't sound nearly as good as they could.
 

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In the orchestra I play alto in there are often (F#) G G# and A altissimo notes scored for the 1st part, but I think that is down to the poorly thought out and somewhat lazy arrangements we have second alto is usually playing down a 3rd so no altissimo.
I guess it just depends
 

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Questions are: Why and When?

I'm REALLY not trying to be flippant or step on anyone's toes. Serious question.
I'm just an old geezer that never played professionally just getting back into it after 25 years off, but I have never had the desire to learn this, yet it seems to be a subject of many "which horn" discussions. The sax has a natural range of 2 1/2 octaves. Are professional charts written with notes higher that F? Did you decide that 2 1/2 octaves is not enough to solo on?
Those are valid questions. A couple answers:

Offhand, I can remember only one chart in which the first tenor was asked for altissimo, and even then it would’ve sounded OK if I’d just played it down an octave. Altissimo doesn’t come up often as far as written arrangements go, but you do see it once in a while.

And yes, at some point I did decide I needed to be able to hit altissimo notes for soloing. For a long time, I didn’t care about playing altissimo. Heck, Dexter Gordon almost never did it, so why should I want to? Eventually, I decided I needed to be able to do it, basically just because it seemed like something a decent sax player ought to be able to do. If the guy sitting next to me could do it, I wanted to do it, too! I think a lot of us start working on altissimo based on that kind of competitiveness. Long story short, I started working on overtones with the idea of getting learning altissimo, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that this improved my tone overall, in addition to helping me get some extra top notes. I still didn’t use them much, until I started playing more funk. Playing funk solos, I really started “hearing” altissimo notes, and it seemed natural to go up there more often.

So I guess the moral of the story is that it’s OK to not play altissimo and OK not to want to work on it, but if you do decide to work on it, you’ll probably improve your tone overall, and you may find you need it at some point.
 
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