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So when I was a kids I did a huge report on the early history of the saxophone. I even have Hemke's Dissertation "The Early History of the Saxophone" I know it's a bit strange, not many 15 year old has a college dissertation. In any case, Adolph sax presented the saxophone has having a 4+ octave range. Altissimo was just supposed to be a normal part of performance; however, it seemed to disappear. Sigard Rascher kept the upper register alive (as well as others) in the classical world but aside from a few Rippers - Altissimo was left to the few.

As I was growing up, Lenny Pickett established the TOP - SNL Style of the ripping high note tenor guy. In the 1970's and 80's players (Brecker, Berg, Mintzer) has the Vocalized/Growling ripping style. On the alto side, Sanborn brought in the multiphonic/split tone thing and one can never leave out Marc Russo. But what I find interesting is that younger players (at least to me) like Ben Wendel and Melissa Aldana seem to have returned to the original Sax concept. Upper notes are just part of the sax without novelty or much celebration simply higher notes on the saxophone often used in the melody statement.

Of course, I enjoy the ripping high notes but find myself working more towards the fluency and light touch of the younger players.
 

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Yes, and of course the trend now is to do the altissimo by overtones as much as possible versus 'fingerings' although of course fingerings are still involved. Even I am learning some of this and it has been a revelation. I have used and abused the high tones for 60 years but am more fluent with them now than ever (not saying much, still suck, but I have my moments). :)
I think the one thing the younger players have that is totally different than many of us who started in the '50s is they have never been pressured to play loud and that has never been a factor for them. For me it was everything, and really still is because of loud drummers and guitar players in my kind of music. The younger players play more relaxed and have better articulation because they are not desperately blowing as hard as they can. I know I can use a little of that myself and in fact have been slowly drifting that way for a few years.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Yes, and of course the trend now is to do the altissimo by overtones as much as possible versus 'fingerings' although of course fingerings are still involved. Even I am learning some of this and it has been a revelation. I have used and abused the high tones for 60 years but am more fluent with them now than ever (not saying much, still suck, but I have my moments). :)
I think the one thing the younger players have that is totally different than many of us who started in the '50s is they have never been pressured to play loud and that has never been a factor for them. For me it was everything, and really still is because of loud drummers and guitar players in my kind of music. The younger players play more relaxed and have better articulation because they are not desperately blowing as hard as they can. I know I can use a little of that myself and in fact have been slowly drifting that way for a few years.
Excellent Point! Never have volume a thought.
 

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Some players appear to live in the altissimo range and it is cool if you hear them once, maybe twice and after that it becomes annoying as hell :)
 

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Speaking of volume or being heard through a dense mix of drums and electronics, I'm pretty sure I read an interview with Lenny Pickett where he said he had to go up into the altissimo range in order to be heard. And it's certainly true that those high notes cut right through.

But I agree with lostcircuits that altissimo can get annoying when overused. I look at is as 'spice' and use it accordingly. Just some occasional high notes to spice things up. A little bit goes a long ways.
 

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I learned it to compete with the Maynardite trumpet players.
 

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Some players appear to live in the altissimo range and it is cool if you hear them once, maybe twice and after that it becomes annoying as hell :)
TRUE! In my neck of the woods the fact that my altissimo is pretty much non existent (A3 on a GOOD day) actually makes me sound.....unique. Seems like every other player around these parts leaps up into the stratosphere and never comes down, every solo, all freakin' night....
 

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Wow! I'm embarrassed to admit that, while I've heard of Earl Bostic, I'd never really listened to him.

He definitely doesn't have any issue with facility up there. Those "lip trills" are insane!

Don't forget one of the forerunners in bring altissmo back:

 

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The most obvious reason of the difference between players like Aldana/Wendel, etc compared to Brecker, Sanborn, Russo, et-al is the style of music they're playing. If you'd have Aldana (maybe not as much Wendel) play the same music/style as Brecker and the others, they'd sound ridiculously out of place. 1saxman has an excellent point. Aldana specifically is a completely different player playing a completely different style (more "finesse"?) of music. Certainly doesn't diminish how great they play, but I truly believe you're ignoring the biggest and most important factor in all of that.
 

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I find altissimo very, very challenging and feel inadequate as a player since I can't really figure much of it out. I hope you're right that a person can still be considered a saxophone player even if altissimo isn't a huge part of their playing.
 

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I prefer a dry martini.
 

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I find altissimo very, very challenging and feel inadequate as a player since I can't really figure much of it out. I hope you're right that a person can still be considered a saxophone player even if altissimo isn't a huge part of their playing.
Now that would be Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Dexter, Coleman LOL, I'd be happy to join their ranks if lack or spurious use of altissimo would be a qualifier. I actually find myself accidentally drifting into it and then it is more like finding the next note to make it sound good and pretend it was planned this way and in certain songs it is really a part of playing it (repeat/practice until you can pull it off reliably) but I find that even in a loud blues band, emphasizing the low register and bringing the band down and then play a "slow" solo to accentuate the nervous noodling gets you more attention / love from the audience than trying to hang with the rest of the "too many shrill notes" gang. It does take a bit of "kiss my ***" attitude and Kenny Werner (whatever you play is the most beautiful music ever played) effortless mastery. But even that doesn't mean that I am ignoring altissimo, it is on my practice list but I am neither trying to force it nor do I feel bad that I am not there yet and the more relaxed I approach it, the easier it happens.
 

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With clarinet, there is no "overtone" altissimo method, it's purely fingering (and obviously overtones, but you know what I mean). IMO it's MUCH easier to play altissimo on the clarinet than it is on the saxophone.

I have been working on overtones for a while but haven't been able to get it functional above the 3rd overtone (4th if I'm feeling it). I can get reliably G-A, workable up to D, any higher is faking it.

It's interesting to hear that the initial concept took for granted that altissimo would be a part of the performance practice. i wonder if Mr. Sax thought that it would be overtone based or fingering based.
 

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With clarinet, there is no "overtone" altissimo method, it's purely fingering (and obviously overtones, but you know what I mean). IMO it's MUCH easier to play altissimo on the clarinet than it is on the saxophone.

I have been working on overtones for a while but haven't been able to get it functional above the 3rd overtone (4th if I'm feeling it). I can get reliably G-A, workable up to D, any higher is faking it.

It's interesting to hear that the initial concept took for granted that altissimo would be a part of the performance practice. i wonder if Mr. Sax thought that it would be overtone based or fingering based.
There is always that "hypothetically you can do this" vs. reality. Quite honestly, I don't really believe that Adolphe Sax gave it too much thought, it was something that was within the possibilities of the instrument and somebody would eventually figure it out. But it was good marketing for the versatility of the instrument. Also keep in mind that going from alto to tenor, bari and bass, altissimo becomes increasingly easier, but it is a proof of concept that can be applied the other direction even up to soprano despite the fact that a dog whistle may do a better job as vermin repellant :)
 

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To me, altissimo is something that saxophone players should have in their bag to use when needed, and more importantly should know WHEN to bust it out. It can be very effective in many different styles, but it's something can also be wayyyyy overdone. Like someone said above, it's like using spices when cooking. Under-seasoned food isn't good, but over-seasoned food is terrible!
 

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I try to make use of altissimo be pretty much the same in tone and intonation as the rest of the horn. There are times in R&B that I'll do something up there as kind of an extra-musical effect, but for me it's about being focused, clear, in tune and trying to have as much facility as on the rest of the horn, playing lines. I once had a musical director on a cruise ship that forbade me to play up there, but I wasn't very good at it in those days. My wife occasionally tells me I should play up there less. Everyone else seems to like it okay.
 
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