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IMO the second alto (or second trumpet, trombone) is the lynch pin of the section. Meaning that the second alto player is the one who can really make the section sound great by being the shoulders on which the lead alto stands.

It's a hard job, and it's really important. And a lot of great lead players struggle on the second book.

As a tenor player in a big band, I can tell you it's very difficult for me to play when the second alto player is not locked-in to the lead. And when s/he IS locked in, it's easy-peasy, and the section sounds great.

My friend Matt Vashlishan (who is as bad-*** an alto player as they come -- he's in Dave Liebman's quintet right now) tells me that he LOVES playing second. He feels like he gets to determine the sound and vibe of the section. And he IS a great second alto player.

This is an underrated skill.
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