A G on an alto is a Bb in concert pitch, not an E.While I just accepted this for years, why does playing a G on an alto come out as an E? In other words, why not just call it an E? I never really understood this.
OK, but what does your preference have to do with the historical evolution of these instruments? We are discussing a design feature that developed over hundreds of years, and moved from one instrument family to another. Remember that musical instruments were created primarily with the needs of professional musicians in mind. For example, the main reason that clarinets come in so many different keys, yet all have basically the same fingerings, is that musicians playing primitive clarinets with rudimentary keywork needed horns in different pitches in order to manage all the keys in which they had to play. It was often easier to pick up a separate clarinet than to try to navigate a bunch of sharps or flats on an instrument with premodern fingerings. And saxophones borrowed this tradition.After reading all this, it still makes no sense to me. If I only play alto or tenor sax, why would I care if the fingering is different on different instruments?
Oh dear, dear… You read Bb sheet music for Bb instruments and Eb sheet music for Eb instruments. The note you read on sheet music is tied to the fingering position on the instrument, and not to the pitch of the note. Thus you read "C" on the tenor sax sheet, finger "C" on your tenor sax and it sounds "Bb"; whereas if you read "C" on your alto sax sheet, you finger "C" on your alto sax and it sounds "Eb". If I'm playing tenor and my mate next to me is playing alto and the music requires both of us to play "F concert" in unison, his sheet will have "D" written, while mine will have "G".After reading all this, it still makes no sense to me. If I only play alto or tenor sax, why would I care if the fingering is different on different instruments? While the fingering may be the same, I’d still have to think in a different transposition for every different instrument. It seems like it would be easier to remember different fingering than have to transpose written sheet music.
If you can't read music or prefer not to, you can just play by ear of course — but that presents its own problems, for doublers at least. The tune you are more than comfortable with on tenor can become a nightmare if you switch to alto for the same tune. That's why most saxophonists decide which horn is "their" voice and just stick to it alone.
THIS IS THE DIRECTION I AM HEADING INTO.
One reason why Sonny Stitt is so admired is that he played both alto and tenor with equal facility. (I like him best on baritone, but as his life began to turn into a non-stop world solo tour, he dropped the big horn — obviously because it presented too many logistical challenges.) However, if you investigate his recordings of standards and check the keys he played them in, you will find that he played many of them in the "wrong" key. I can't remember the exact details now, as it's a while since I checked this out, but take the old warhorse "All of Me" for example's sake. It's always played in Bb concert. Now if Stitt learnt that on alto (where he'd be fingering alto G), and he decided to play it on tenor instead, he'd play it in F concert (tenor G), in order to use the same fingering as on alto and save himself the trouble of learning it in a new fingering. You can do that when you're touring as featured solo horn with rhythm section accompaniment. It's a different story playing with other horns, particularly if it's in someone else's band.
EXACTLY, NO PROBLEM WHEN PLAYING SOLO, BUT NOT WHEN WITH OTHER HORNS.
I think you have a point there. But, for me, I like the comfort of knowing that all my saxophones have the same fingerings. And unless I'm reading from a piece of concert pitch sheet music, the music will have already been transposed for me--which is 99% of the time.It seems like it would be easier to remember different fingering than have to transpose written sheet music.
Well, the saxophone was invented as a family, of different sizes, but all with the same fingering patterns (by which I mean, the lowest note is played with all the fingers of both hands down, and an fifth up from that is played with the left hand down and the right hand index finger down, and so on).While I just accepted this for years, why does playing a G on an alto come out as an E? In other words, why not just call it an E? I never really understood this.
In my case I probably work from transposed music about 30% of the time. All my trad jazz, small group, and session playing is from concert key lead sheets, or chord charts, or scribbles on a napkin, or by ear. Only the big band stuff is transposed.I think you have a point there. But, for me, I like the comfort of knowing that all my saxophones have the same fingerings. And unless I'm reading from a piece of concert pitch sheet music, the music will have already been transposed for me--which is 99% of the time.
Except when it isn't; like the singer needs it in another key.... take the old warhorse "All of Me" for example's sake. It's always played in Bb concert...
Real Book appears to have it in C which is where I am usually playing it. A bit of (unverified) internet research indicates that Ella Fitz and Willie Nelson may have recorded it in G, Billie Holiday in C.
Learn how the tune goes and then play it in the key that you're playing it in.
Reminds me of a line from the studio chatter on the album "Chester and Lester":
[Chet] Where's "one"?
[Les] Where "one" is...
[Chet] Now you know, I've always admired you, Les, and you've been a great inspiration to me...but you're playing the damn thing wrong!