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I recently read an article on golfing that may apply to saxophone players. The article stated that in spite of the tremendous advancements in golf equipment (club design, ball material changes, training aids etc.), teaching techniques, swing development, and course design the average handicap of all amateur players who have a registered handicap has not change at all in 50 years. It was 100 50 years ago and still is now. Although a case can be made for improvements made by professional players, the rest of us have not gotten any better than the previous generation of golfers.

My question is; is this true for saxophone players as well? Has the developments in saxophone instrument technology resulted in improvement in playing or is the average saxophone player no better in 2018 than he or she was in 1968 or earlier. Discuss!
 

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I'm not old enough to judge, but suspect that changes to saxes and equipment aren't the only factors at play. Today's amateur musicians probably don't work shorter hours on average than 50 years ago, but they do have more demands on their leisure time, including more music, media, and other consumables to enjoy, along with more money to spend on such distractions. As a result, I'd wager that we spend less time on average playing our horns than folks did 50 years ago.
 

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My question is; is this true for saxophone players as well? Has the developments in saxophone instrument technology resulted in improvement in playing or is the average saxophone player no better in 2018 than he or she was in 1968 or earlier. Discuss!
Interesting question, but I think it's not true for saxophone players. For one thing, saxophone instrument technology has little to do with how good a player is. Plenty of great and not so great players choose vintage instruments.

But pedagogy and available resources can mean that the avarage player has advantages over the old days. But the (near) geniuses will shine whatever.

Golfers can be measured by the score they get, but there is no such equivalent for saxophone players. How do you measure playing ability? Speed of fingering? Loveliness of tone?
 

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I know for a fact that despite the incredible advances in automobile design, the average driver today is every bit as incompetent as 50 years ago.

As for horns - yeah, I definitely bring the curve down.
 

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My answer is yes. Younger players need to know more and can do more due to better training and access to examples of great playing.

You can't compare golf with playing the saxophone unless you ignore all the artistic aspects of playing the saxophone. Young players have an ever increasing number of Masters to learn from and use as a starting point for new concepts.
 

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Could be that all the advances in equipment, pedagogy, internet resources etc. has enabled a lot of folks who wouldn't have even got off the ground, to achieve a solid average. The statistics quoted say nothing of that.
Could be, in music playing, a lot more people have access to quality kit and info; and manage a jolly old time even without exactly excelling (me).
So "average" tells you very little. The distribution of [golf] handicap is unlikely to be symmetrical, but skewed toward bad players with a long tail of pros.... you can't tell if more people aren't less bad.
Also there's the "red Queen" problem. For example building a piano, brass instrument etc increasingly expensive as a high labour exercise; but the $1000 electronic device or far east imports keeps them accessable. Same with teaching and online resources.
So I don't really know what it say about golf which could also be true of sax.
 

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No.

Interesting question, but I think it's not true for saxophone players. For one thing, saxophone instrument technology has little to do with how good a player is. Plenty of great and not so great players choose vintage instruments.

But pedagogy and available resources can mean that the avarage player has advantages over the old days. But the (near) geniuses will shine whatever.

……..
1+
 

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Interesting question, but too subjective to resolve, in my view. It all depends on what YOU like.

Can the youngsters today play blindingly fast? Yes. Are they playing anything that is musical? Not to me, but YOU may think that is great. DAVE
 

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Amateurs of today vs amateurs of the past? I doubt it. Amateurs of the past could effectively be professionals, with many more opportunities to perform easy music and learn how to please a crowd. The average American worked far fewer hours and therefore had more free time to practice. The pedagogy has changed a bit and there are more resources available to learn from, but without a teacher to help develop a consistent approach to practicing and playing, navigating the glut of conflicting information makes it harder to learn, not easier. With a teacher, I'd imagine the potential to learn would be the same.

Average pro vs average pro of the past might be a different story. The bar has been raised to a pretty ridiculous level as far as what's considered average. The average mediocre pro these days is still probably what you'd call a virtuoso player. I think the performance opportunities of the 50s and 60s, though, would still allow a player to grow into a better musician. I think on average, the pros of the past would be more musical and better at working a crowd, and the pros of today might be more technically proficient. Those are just vague notions of the "average," though, and I wasn't around in the 50s and 60s to know for myself, so it's just my BS guess. The very best players of all the generations are such individuals that the notion of "better" goes right out the window, anyway, and it just comes down to whose unique voice a given listener appreciates more.
 

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Amateurs today have access to more options as far as gear and it's also true that instruction is more widely available than it was in the past. However, it's impossible to answer the question as posed because music is an art form and art is by its very nature subjective. Whereas we can use objective measures with sports such as golf (handicaps), there is no similar benchmark to compare musicians of various eras.
 

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They're probably better at an earlier age for all of the reasons given by all who think so. Those of us who remember the vinyl LP remember the frustration of their first transcriptions: pick up the needle, put it down, pick it up, put it down, etc.. Either that or take the capstan off the tape machine and slow the speed down to 1/3 and going back and forth until you got the passage right.

Now, there are inexpensive machines that allow you to slow a tune down to a pretty slow range of speeds and retain the pitch spot-on (or change it), and put the passage in a loop to allow you to continue to hear the same selected passage over and over again without having to do much. (I think that's the Tascam VT-1. Then there are the computer programs). Add to that the general rise in western affluence that makes those tools affordable.

I think that social changes figure into the mix. The various media make music available to more people and more people want to perform. The increase in competition alone will drive people to become more capable. While it's true that genius will shine no matter what, I think that genius is encouraged by the increased value placed upon music by society. I can't cite any statistics, but I'll bet that more people are entering the field (in some way) now than in the past. Fifty years ago, people were more likely to throw their lives away by becoming doctors, lawyers, certified public accountants.

And, of course, at the top of the pyramid are the teachers who themselves have benefited greatly by the many advances in methodology and technology (as well as those who continue to contribute to those advances)..
 

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The average sax player of 50 years ago was better than today's hobby players because they were hearing great sax players all the time - on radio, TV, movies, records and jukeboxes. They learned how to play like these guys as well as they could, and the ones with talent did it to a greater degree. Today, they are in a totally different world where the sax is not really heard that much. The older music is always available, like on You Tube, but so many younger players have an aversion to anything 'old' that their minds are closed. So, they stink and they'll never amount to crap.

Here's a great comparison of the old and new. Listen to Flip Phillips, at the age of 80, blow the young cat off the stage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGWR3Tcpq_4
 

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Its true of about most things I'm around. Thankfully, we have ample evidence in recordings, writings, photography and artifacts.
 

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Amateurs today have access to more options as far as gear and it's also true that instruction is more widely available than it was in the past. However, it's impossible to answer the question as posed because music is an art form and art is by its very nature subjective. Whereas we can use objective measures with sports such as golf (handicaps), there is no similar benchmark to compare musicians of various eras.
I agree. First of all, we'd have to decide what we mean by "better," which is always a dead end. Who's a better saxophist, Johnny Hodges or Ornette Coleman? It depends what your criteria is. But even if we could agree on criteria, you have the problem that being an amateur player typically means there isn't a lot of documentation in terms of recordings. So unless you around 50-60-70 years ago and you attended enough amateur jam sessions around the country to get a sense of what the "average" level of accomplishment was, and you're still attending enough sessions around the country to know what the average level is like today, I don't know how you could make a comparison.

So all we can do is guess. On the one hand, we can say amateur players of the past were probably better because live music was more prevalent, there were more playing opportunities, people worked fewer hours and had fewer home entertainment options, and so maybe they practiced more. And of course, there are going to be people who would say everyone was more genuine back then, there was more honest emotion as opposed to technical showing off, more originality, and they may be right. (On the other hand, you could say that there's more jazz education in schools, more players getting good instruction at an early age, better college programs, higher expectations in terms of technique and versatility, horns and mouthpieces that are easier for amateurs to play, etc. And they might be right. Your guess is as good as mine.
 

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Quanitfying quality would be really difficult....gear doesn't really matter....lots more education now, not sure that's an advantage or a disadvantage....nowadays I hear too many folks playing solos that sound like method books....speed is up, creativity is down...
 

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The average sax player of 50 years ago was better than today's hobby players because they were hearing great sax players all the time - on radio, TV, movies, records and jukeboxes. They learned how to play like these guys as well as they could, and the ones with talent did it to a greater degree. Today, they are in a totally different world where the sax is not really heard that much.
I don't really know the answer, but at a guess I'm inclined to go with something along the lines of what 1saxman says in the quote above. It's possible that there are just as many relative amateur players now who are technically good, maybe even with better technique, but musically, I wouldn't say so, for the reasons 1saxman cites. There is also far less opportunity to see great live jazz than there was even 30 to 40 years ago, let alone back in the true heyday.

And, at least in the jazz field I suspect that also goes for the professional top level players. Back in the '30s, '40s, '50s, it seems like there was far more opportunity to spend many hours every day/night on the bandstand, with numerous clubs and after-hour joints in every major city, and probably a lot of 'backwater' places as well. I've heard stories of jazz musicians who played most of the night, every night for years. No wonder some of those players were so great!

But I don't know how you measure this sort of thing, especially when it comes to 'average amatuer' players.
 

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In my experience, it seems that the percentage of good players may have increased but some players were as good as it they ever were, regardless. And the musicianship in former times was as good as it gets.
 

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The average is the same. There are many great players these days, but a sufficient number of people that sound like crap to make up for the statistical mean.
 

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Fifty years ago it was 1968. For the previous decade, or more, the formula for having a hit song, or being a popular band in your town or county, was to have at least a tenor sax in your band, if not a horn section. This formula created a lot of opportunities for sax players, that are not present today.

A lot of the Motown music had a horn section playing with the Funk Brothers (that didn't seem to get any credit). Janis Joplin had a horn section with a Hammond B3 organ on her big gigs, including Woodstock in 1969.

As an example of the R&B music scene in Toronto, Grant Smith and the Power, with Keep on Running, (check it out on youtube - great song!) had a tenor, bari, trumpet and a B3 organ. They toured in the US as well.

In 1967, I was on tour with The Sheiks, with The Mighty Pope, and we had tenor sax, trumpet and a B3 organ with a Leslie, which was carried on the plane with us!
A little earlier, Junior Walker and the All-stars were playing in a bar down the street from the bar my band was playing in, and he invited me to sit in with his band for a set - incredible experience for me at 20 years old.
From my late teens, I was playing R&B gigs every week that paid good money. These opportunities really helped to improve my playing.

I started out with the high school band (an escapee from classical violin!), so I was certainly your average, amateur player for quite some time. Now, its a very different scene. I would think that one of the ways to improve beyond the "average amateur player" level, would to sit in on a lot of jam sessions in the bars.
 

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I recently watched an interview with the great saxophonist Scott Hamilton.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yx3gx5lR7cQ

He travels around Europe and plays with different local bands. He says the level of musicianship is much higher now than it used to be. (This is among pro rhythm section players in Europe.) As for amateur players it would be hard to measure, especially since there are a lot more people in the world now.
 
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