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Downbeat Magazine used to do this with top pro players! Does anyone else remember Downbeat's "blindfold test"?

I think Christian McBride still does something similar on "Jazz Night in America".
Hmm, I haven't read Down Beat in years, they don't have the blindfold test anymore? I know Jazz Times has their Before and After which is similar.
 

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I guess they’re not really “young players” but I recognize Rich Perry and Ruck Margitza’s sounds immediately mostly because I like what they play. I admire all the players mentioned but they don’t grab my station as much as those two Can.
As great as a sax player Chris Potter is I’ve never of his sound as a strong point. It seems stuffy to me.
As far as sound is concerned that is only a portion of one's identity. Vocabulary being the other half. Almost all players even the masters, have a tendency to repeat certain lines that are immediately identifiable to themselves. That's how we know who the younger players studied up on, not so much from their sound, but from their vocabulary and articulation.
 

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I only started listening to contemporary players beyond Brecker recently. Of those in the list, Potter, Redman, Frahm, Blake, and Branford, and others such as Tommy Smith, Bob Reynolds, Chad LB, and several others mentioned so far, I consider them all very distinct. They are all coming from different places. Although I was recently humbled by @mmichel after boasting I could tell whether Bob Mintzer was playing his Mark VI or his Eastman just by listening (that was a good laugh), I don't think I would be going out on a limb in saying I could name each of these players in a couple of bars (2-4). I'm sure a contest will follow! Looking forward to it :)
 

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So, for the ones I know, yes I could. Some of these guys are modern players and some have been around for a minute and we seem to kind of lump them in together. Not that some aren’t similar ages or haven’t been in the game for a while but it’s who you know.
Redman, for example, is the first person I knowingly transcribed. I was 14. I’ve been listening to him with a specific ear. I can recognize his tone and his phrasing his altissimo. Not saying I can’t do that with everyone I’ve listened to just noting. Hell if I have the album, I can tell you the track. Bob Reynolds, yeah. I started listening to him when people started comparing my playing to his and I just didn’t know what he was all about at the time. After listening to some of his vlogs/blogs, it isn’t surprising though; he and I share a lot of similar influences. Chris Potter, yeah, first album I remember him from was 1992 with Red Rodney, Then and Now. That’s what got me started on him.

Ultimately, it’s about who to look into and study. Who can you quote word for word singing along when listening to them. The most modern of cats, probably not. Why? Because I don’t have enough examples of their playing.There are some, whom I may respect, but, I do not like their playing though as well. That, of course, will limit my exposure as well and thus my ear when it comes to them. I imagine this is true of everyone. Another example of an ear who listens being the most important part, my son can likely recognize almost every Pete Christlieb solo in four notes or less and probably tell you the cut it was. It’s all in what you listen to.
 

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I think this is a very interesting point. By and large I don't think you have as drastically singular voices as you did in the past. I think guys like Coltrane (more so early Coltrane) and Wayne Shorter had sounds that were very unique and I can't imagine someone coming out today with such an unusual sound... Or Steve Lacy. Nowadays most saxophonists I hear have kind of typically beautiful sounds that sort of fit the "school" they're in.

But a couple that come to mind:
Chris Speed
Ellery Eskelin
Mark Shim

Ah a young guy I should check out more with a pretty unique sound, Aaron Burnett.
 

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As far as sound is concerned that is only a portion of one's identity. Vocabulary being the other half. Almost all players even the masters, have a tendency to repeat certain lines that are immediately identifiable to themselves. That's how we know who the younger players studied up on, not so much from their sound, but from their vocabulary and articulation.
Someone else on this thread tried to make this same point earlier. So in other words, you are saying you cannot identify a player simply from their raw, isolated sound (like if they were holding out a note...or just from two or three notes) ... but that you need to hear their playing style, ideas, etc., and THAT'S what you'd be using to identify them.

So your answer is essentially no, I cannot identify them from just their tone alone.

I agree this applies to the modern players mentioned in in the OP, who I feel sound much more alike than the "Masters," who had really distinct, identifiable sounds. So if you're saying this applies to them, I disagree, and feel I could identify Dexter, Sonny and Getz from just a sound sample of one or two notes -- especially a longer note held out.
 

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[Edited out unnecessary personal insult] ...you will see that I mention that the players sound is indeed an identifiable trait but it's only a portion of it. When it comes to sound I can tell you what horn Dexter is playing on. When it comes to Sonny Rollins, his sound was completely different in 1957 then it was in 1985. You know it's Sonny because of his vocabulary, articulation, and cadence. You can ID these guys because you've listened to them a million times, and let's face it, identifying Stan Getz is a challenge for no one.

The real challenge is identifying who today's modern players are coming out of, and to do that you need to listen to their vocabulary.

[Moderator note: Feel free to discuss without getting personal.]
 

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I guess they’re not really “young players” but I recognize Rich Perry and Ruck Margitza’s sounds immediately mostly because I like what they play. I admire all the players mentioned but they don’t grab my station as much as those two Can.
As great as a sax player Chris Potter is I’ve never of his sound as a strong point. It seems stuffy to me.

Absolutely wild how different people perceive opposite things. I find Potter's sound direct and powerful, not necessarily "light and free," but certainly far away from stuffy.
 

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@smoothgroove actually, the I was making is that you can identify newer players but you have to have input first the same as older players... as in, no one knows what Illinois Jacquet sounds like until they hear him but once they do they can use their ear to recognize his voice. In other words, you don’t know anyone until you’ve met them...
 

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Discussion Starter · #31 ·
I think this is a very interesting point. By and large I don't think you have as drastically singular voices as you did in the past. I think guys like Coltrane (more so early Coltrane) and Wayne Shorter had sounds that were very unique and I can't imagine someone coming out today with such an unusual sound... Or Steve Lacy. Nowadays most saxophonists I hear have kind of typically beautiful sounds that sort of fit the "school" they're in.

But a couple that come to mind:
Chris Speed
Ellery Eskelin
Mark Shim

Ah a young guy I should check out more with a pretty unique sound, Aaron Burnett.


I went to college with Chris Speed in the late 80s and we were very good friends. He is such a phenomenal player and sounds so different today than he did when he was in school. He was really heavy into Trane at that point. What a beautiful person and player!!!! Great to hear his name mentioned here at SOTW!!!!

HOPE YOU ARE DOING WELL, JOHN.
 

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I think this is a very interesting point. By and large I don't think you have as drastically singular voices as you did in the past. I think guys like Coltrane (more so early Coltrane) and Wayne Shorter had sounds that were very unique and I can't imagine someone coming out today with such an unusual sound... Or Steve Lacy. Nowadays most saxophonists I hear have kind of typically beautiful sounds that sort of fit the "school" they're in.

But a couple that come to mind:
Chris Speed
Ellery Eskelin
Mark Shim

Ah a young guy I should check out more with a pretty unique sound, Aaron Burnett.
I know of Mark Shim, but am not as familiar with his playing as the other two who I could identify from note one.

I agree with you regarding a lot of the more recent players that play in the straight-ahead vein that there can be a bit of a sameness to their tone. Once I hear some phrasing I know who they are, but the tone isn't as distinctive (with a few exceptions).
 

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Getting back to the OP's question about ease with which one can recognize vintage and modern players from just a short phrase of a well-known std...the clues are in both tone & articulation...Wayne Shorter has an instantly-identifiable means of articulation...so does Getz, Rollins, Trane...if they all simply held a long tone on the same note, it would be harder, not impossible, but harder to tell without any phrasing/articulation. The tone itself relies a fair amount on the mouthpiece/reed combo...& horn to a degree as well...but throw in the phrasing aspect, & it's so much easier. Some of the most famous players in history do not have a particularly beautiful tone, to my ears...but I listen to them still for the ideas, the melodic/harmonic/rhythmic improvisational elements...it's ironic to me, as Getz has forever been called "The Sound," but I don't particularly like it, or his articulation for that matter (sounds most times, to me, like he's got a bad reed, or one that's too hard)...but I have a ton of his records & listen to him a fair amount & thoroughly enjoy it. Wayne is another one I don't love the sound concept (on tenor or soprano), but his improvisations are so compelling, they consistently border on magical. Jackie McLean is another one who I'm not crazy about in terms of sound concept, but again, I listen to him often...that solo of his on "Who Killed **** Robin?" is to die for...

This discussion has seemed to steer clear of the dozens of more avant/free players...here too there are many who have an "abrasive" tone, but one can benefit to be able to get past that (or better, to embrace it) to understand the meaning, the intent (the abrasiveness was often the point, esp. in the 60s)...Ornette, Ayler, Pharoah, Dolphy...distinctive sounds you can recognize in a single phrase...Roland Kirk for one more...sheesh, what can you say?

On a related note, it seems to me that back in the late-80s early 90s, there was a "school of tenor" sound that seemed to be driven by Joe Lovano (I could name a handful of "students" that come to mind, but I'll avoid that as I don't want it to come off as disparaging in any way, as I think that movement was a positive force on multiple levels...& it's just my own observation that could be off base). Seems it had to do w/ adopting an approach to more seamlessly (& effortlessly) tie altissimo into the range. This "school of sound" ripple effect clearly was the case w/ Bird...w/ Hawk...w/ Prez...w/ Sanborn...w/ Brecker...w/ Trane...literally a generation of contemporaneous players leaned heavily into their tone concepts...in the handful of decades through the major phase of the evolution of the handful of jazz styles, each had their pioneers...

So I guess my answer is that (perhaps) it was "easier" to be unique back then, since far fewer players were practitioners (or at least fewer instantaneously reached a large audience the way one can now)...if a guy like Gary Thomas came on the scene in the late 30s w/ a band like Basie...he would likely be considered a major force regarding his tone/sound. But since so many came before him, he kinda gets lost in the shuffle in terms of tone concept influence. They are all just playing saxophones after all, & at the end of the day, there's only so much potential variability regarding the sound one can coax out of these pieces of plumbing...
 

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To address the original question, no, if I only heard the first phrase of a song (or even a 30-second clip) I don't think I would be able to differentiate between many modern players, such as Seamus Blake, Mark Turner, and Joel Frahm, just to name a few.

Most of them seem to try to emulate that Brecker sound, play on hard rubber setups that give them a pure, dark, almost classical sound, and spend a lot of time up in the altissimo. I think at some point (maybe in the '70s?), the sound that everyone started chasing was Joe Henderson's, which has those same qualities mentioned. And then Brecker took it a step further. I think that a lot of these guys fall somewhere in between the two.

The only two that I might be able to pick out are Joshua Redman, who I have successfully identified on the radio, and Eric Alexander, who has a really distinctive tone with a lot of George Coleman in it.
I don't hear someone like Mark Turner to be anywhere close to Brecker's concept...Brecker played high baffle metal pieces, & was about as far from a classical dark sound as one can get. As a matter of fact, that younger generation you mention including Cheek, Speed, McCaslin, etc...they all seemed to try to AVOID sounding like Brecker...
 

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I went to college with Chris Speed in the late 80s and we were very good friends. He is such a phenomenal player and sounds so different today than he did when he was in school. He was really heavy into Trane at that point. What a beautiful person and player!!!! Great to hear his name mentioned here at SOTW!!!!

HOPE YOU ARE DOING WELL, JOHN.
Yes Chris is a great guy! I've had the pleasure of hosting shows for him a couple times in Amsterdam. He even came to check out a gig of mine in New York, which was both nice and frightening...
Actually, I was just at a festival in Bulgaria and I thought the tenor player in the next band sounded quite a lot like Chris. This is another measure of how distinctive a voice is, if you can tell someone is copying it. Anyway I wrote Chris to let him know, and mentioned again that I think he's got one of the most distinctive voices in modern times. I think he appreciated that.

Yeah Mark I'm doing well! Learning how to tour again. I hope you're well as well!
 

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One other thing that came to mind regarding identifying musicians based on sound & phrasing alone...pianists...for example, you can tell Chick Corea from McCoy Tyner in a few notes...even if they were playing at the same festival on the exact same piano...the power of personal style driven by phrasing, articulation, & ideas.
 

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I think a lot of modern players are so used to going to lightning fast speed that they forget you you have to swing. I heard someone today who played a "Jazz" etude but had no swing whatsoever. Yeah, amazing technique, but they totally lost the swing. I find that to be a shame. Now, there are others who can swing their stuff off. People try to practice to be like Brecker but forget that just about everything he played had swing in it.

Starting with McCaslin and Redman, there was a concerted effort to find a different sound than the fusion generation. I think that led to players like Aldana and Wendel who had a ton of projection in their sound but it's also super dark at the same time. Love that they still have a huge core to their sounds. Not everyone who tries to go that route can accomplish that.
 

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I think a lot of it has to do with familiarity, Mark. I can pick out Wayne, Brecker, and Branford in two notes each because I've listened to them thousands of times over the years. In a couple decades, I think people would be able to pick out contemporary greats like Troy Roberts, Tivon Pennicott, and Melissa Aldana within a couple notes as well... as long as any of their records become classics of the repertoire, which is becoming harder and harder to do because of sheer volume of material (and significant changes in technology, society, etc). Even a Monk winner like Melissa will have a tough time making a record that's as frequently listened to as "Speak No Evil" by jazz-heads.

There used to be far fewer records coming out every year, and much easier consensus-building on what were "The Records Everyone Must Hear!" in every genre. We now live in times of overwhelming options, and I think for a while anyway, one listener's classic will be another's unknown!
Totally agree about familiarity even with newer players. I've been listening a lot to Melissa Aldana recently, so I can pick her out quickly due to recent listening. Potter, Redman, and Frahm have been on the scene for more than 25 years now, so I could pick these guys out quickly due to hundreds of hours of listening.
 

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'Modern tenor players'
With a few notable exceptions, they don't have a sound or style.
 

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When does "modern" start ? Something like "post-MB" ? Like many of us stated above, isn't it primarily a matter of being familiar with any musician ? The saxophone seems to have that very strong *transparency", where the musician's signature anyhow shows through.
I also believe the pure "sound wave" isn't that much the signature, except maybe in very specific cases like say Wayne Shorter or Gato Barbieri. The articulation and the vocabulary are much more important.
Dexter Gordon is always stated as sounding big and massive. IMHO, his "lazy" timing and the very specific articulation and limited use of vibrato contribute to that "massive" feeling, as much as the tone itself.
I have to admit I'm just less familiar with most of the "post-MBs", with maybe the exception of Eric Alexander and Josh Redman I heard in live concerts several times, and whom I check pretty quickly even on unknown recordings.
 
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