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Forum Contributor 2011, SOTW's pedantic pet rodent
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Is it possible to be a good jazz player and a good classical player? I say maybe "no". And please don't say "it depends what you mean by good"!

I apologise if this is an old topic but i'm a new member and i did do a search :)
 

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I would say Yes AND No.

Yes, you could play both Classical and Jazz. More than likely not at an artistic level.

Does Branford do both? Sure, then again, there are many that feel he isn't really all that great at the classical side.

I would propose that a study of Classical and Jazz genres is of great benifit. It would how ever take an enormous amount of time/skil to maintain both at a high artistic level. But then, if you are like me, happy performing on a regional basis go for it all. Just don't expect to win both the Thelonious Monk competition AND the Dinant competition.
 

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Rob Wilkerson. I doubt he plays much classical any more, he tours with Michael Buble and has some awesome small groups in New York, but he could probably hang with just about anybody on the legit side.

Jim Riggs has played with Sinatra and Ella and is a fantastic jazz player, but he's also played concerti with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Wind Symphony, and other orchestras around the country. He is definitely a master at both disciplines. A little crazy, but you'd have to be to be that obsessed with saxophone.
 

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Tim Ries, Tom Walsh, Chris Crevinston, Kelland Thomas, Don Sinta, Jim Riggs, Joe Lulloff, Branford...


It's entirely possible.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Not convinced yet..

Well i've got a lot of listening to do, clearly. And thanks for the names. But i wonder if it's a coincidence that i've heard of almost none of these players before (although I'm ready to admit that some of that can be my ignorance too). It does seem to me that the concepts of tone production and creativity are quite different in jazz and classical music generally (of course there are several exceptions that prove the rule). But I do think that on the whole an improvising musician and a "conservatoire" player are looking for different things. They're basically pointed in different directions. I think maybe that's to do with the history of music and society as much as it's to do with the individual player.
 

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All fine players. Most of those listed by nitrosax are probably a little better than Branford at the classical side but hardly approach him in terms of improvisation and his sheer body of material and transformations as a jazz musician. Another one to add would be Will Vinson. A very fine musician indeed.

I happen to enjoy Branford's and Will's accomplishments as classical players but I could hear how a legit-only saxophonist would not enjoy it. One thing that a lot of classical players are missing is balls. One thing a lot of jazz players are missing is sensitivity. Players like Will and Branford bring a different approach to the table on either side and I really find that I like that.

Something tells me that playing classical music on OTHER woodwinds is a little easier to manage than playing it on saxophone also, as a jazz musician. Probably has to do with being able to mentally differentiate the instrument AND the style of music. Brecker was apparently a gifted classical flutist, as was Dave Liebman (and jazz flute too! he killed it!).
 

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I'll always remember my undergrad prof telling me after I returned from a summer (1964) at Berklee with Joe Viola "You can't play both!" and telling me to transfer to Berklee or NTSU. Several years later, he approached me after a clinic performance at a PMEA conference in Pittsburgh "I was wrong, you can play both!"
That was almost as rewarding as Joe Viola approaching me in Toronto after a WSC performance in the early 70s saying " I'm so glad to see one of my jazzers playing this repertoire at this level!" Joe knew how to play both, too.

It boils down to learning style and technique with the proper discipline in each genre.
 

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The first time I heard Branford playing the Ibert, I couldn't believe it. Finally, someone honoring the tradition instead of just moving on to flashy new techniques and sounds!

That's right - Branford perfectly captured the spirit of the "third stream" music of the late 50's and 60's, like what Miles Davis did with Gil Evans. Something perfectly capable of kind-of satisfying discerning classical and jazz lovers alike.

All joking aside, I've never heard a really good jazz musician play classical music convincingly, or vice versa. I still haven't heard Kelland Thomas or Tom Walsh, and the only jazz I've heard from Gallodoro was from when he was very old, so there's still a shred of hope.

I've always played both, but I've given up on ever being a great jazz musician. I feel that the embouchure and soft palate are way too slow to adjust to the very different positions needed to create authentic sounds in both genres (especially on different equipment).
 

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What about Chris Hemmingway? I'm sure most people know of him, but he's the alto player for the new century quartet and a freelance jazzer up in Pittsburgh. From what I understand, though I've never heard him play anything classically oriented other than with the quartet, he's very well versed in both streams.
 

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I forgot some notable ones! Phil Barham, Trent Kynaston, and Paul Haar. All of them are great jazz and legit players. Also, you have to keep in mind that a lot of the great straight-ahead jazz players have legit backgrounds. Joe Henderson and Yusef Lateef studied with Larry Teal. Sanborn and Branford studied with Hemke. Brecker studied with Rosseau. Joe Allard played a lot of legit and taught his students to do the same. Joe Viola, one of the greatest teachers of jazz of all time, studied with Marcel Mule and had his students work on classical fundamentals. Classical saxophone helps every saxophone student develop concepts of proper tone, intonation, technique, and musicality. When you neglect those things, what do you have?-You've got the mechanized, derivative crap that comes out of a lot of young jazz players. When you ignore fundamentals, you're not going to have good results. Dave Liebman is one of the only successful saxophonists I know of who is derisive of classical saxophone: and he had a classically based education through Joe Allard! In today's market, it's vital for young saxophonists to be able to double and perform and teach with comfort and ease in absolutely any musical genre. You've got to work hard. There's no easier way to make it as a musician.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
saxman_aja said:
Joe Henderson and Yusef Lateef studied with Larry Teal. Sanborn and Branford studied with Hemke. Brecker studied with Rosseau. Joe Allard played a lot of legit and taught his students to do the same. Joe Viola, one of the greatest teachers of jazz of all time, studied with Marcel Mule and had his students work on classical fundamentals. Classical saxophone helps every saxophone student develop concepts of proper tone, intonation, technique, and musicality. When you neglect those things, what do you have?-You've got the mechanized, derivative crap that comes out of a lot of young jazz players. When you ignore fundamentals, you're not going to have good results. .
All very well said and I totally agree as far as the teaching of the instrument is concerned. And I particularly agree as far as "derivative crap" is concerned. Any student needs to be interested in any musical tradition that helps him/her to gain as much command and flexibility on the instument as possible. That said, I still think it's quite possible to play great jazz with a moderate classical technique (think Eric Dolphy on flute) and moderate jazz with an amazing classical technique (Eugene Rousseau). Am I wrong?
 

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definitely

it's definitely possible to be a fantastic classical and jazz player. many have been mentioned so far...but i don't think branford is a good example. his "classical" sound just sounds like a jazzer trying to play classical with his jazz setup. sounds terrible to me....
 

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Everyone has a horn that suits them a bit more than others and for Branford and classical music...it's the soprano...He plays at the alto but he PLAYS the soprano...Listen to Branford's classical soprano playing--It's very nice...That is the playing that will open the hearts and minds of an ordinary joe to "classical saxophone" not Lauba, Denisov and Albright...but that's ANOTHER discussion...
 

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saxman_aja said:
I forgot some notable ones! Phil Barham, Trent Kynaston, and Paul Haar. All of them are great jazz and legit players. Also, you have to keep in mind that a lot of the great straight-ahead jazz players have legit backgrounds. Joe Henderson and Yusef Lateef studied with Larry Teal. Sanborn and Branford studied with Hemke. Brecker studied with Rosseau. Joe Allard played a lot of legit and taught his students to do the same. Joe Viola, one of the greatest teachers of jazz of all time, studied with Marcel Mule and had his students work on classical fundamentals. Classical saxophone helps every saxophone student develop concepts of proper tone, intonation, technique, and musicality. When you neglect those things, what do you have?-You've got the mechanized, derivative crap that comes out of a lot of young jazz players. When you ignore fundamentals, you're not going to have good results. Dave Liebman is one of the only successful saxophonists I know of who is derisive of classical saxophone: and he had a classically based education through Joe Allard! In today's market, it's vital for young saxophonists to be able to double and perform and teach with comfort and ease in absolutely any musical genre. You've got to work hard. There's no easier way to make it as a musician.
You have said very eloquently what I was taught and have believed all my life. Often on SOTW discussions (ok, arguments) are carried out about embouchures, set-ups, makes of instruments, articulation etc. between players in the "Jazz" camp and the "Classical" camp each of whom KNOW they are right in what they believe is true for their style of playing, but don't really understand what is required to play the other style. What better way to bridge this gap than to stress the benefits of studying in both genres.

This often results in an US versus THEM spirit on SOTW and negates the feeling of "WE" that should prevail since "WE" all chose to play the greatest and most versatile instrument ever invented. Wouldn't it be nice if "jazz musician" and "classical musician" could be shortened to just "musician". Wasn't it Duke Ellington who said that there are only two kinds of music in the world....good and bad?
 

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It is certainly possible to play both well, even very well, but often times the standard we are talking about when asking questions like these is "can someone play both genres of music at a level comparable to the finest players on the music scene?". I have yet to hear a classical saxophonist play jazz at a level any higher than a decent, part time regional player...and I have yet to hear a jazz saxophonist play classical at a level any higher than a good college player. The only player I've ever heard that could play in both genres at a world class level is not even a saxophone player and according to him had a hard time doing both at the same time.

Having a background in both styles will make anyone a better player, but trying to split your time between the two equally is very hard to be very good on either one.
 
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