Say the words ‘Baker Street’, and what do we all instantly think of?
A fictional Victorian Detective with a passion for the Violin, sure!
But, let’s be honest, what the majority of us allow to pop sweetly into our creative minds is the earthy, sexy, almost moody tone of the Saxophone in the indisputably popular and well-known song Baker Street, created by Scottish Singer-Songwriter Gerry Rafferty in 1978.
Hurtling to the near top of the charts across the known world quicker than anyone could say ‘DISCO’, this heavily performed piece was made arguably most popular by its distinctive and pretty unique use of the Tenor Saxophone.
A popular piece of pop music memorised and performed by musicians literally millions of times around the globe, the incredibly versatile Saxophone has characterised more than simply the iconic Baker Street over the years, and found its true home in the cool and collected genre of jazz in the 1920s.
But, where there are undoubtedly many different types of Saxophone to choose from achieving so many different tones, which Saxophone is the best for jazz?
The different qualities of each Saxophone
Now, particularly if you don’t know much about this most featured wood-wind instrument, it may surprise you to know that there are lots of different types of Saxophone, each with their own special qualities.
Bass or Baritone Saxophones: the gruff, deep, honking sound of the meaty Baritone Saxophone makes it most desirable for its abilities in the lower registers, and popular with beginners who wish bask in the advantage of remaining mobile over & above their Tubaist counterparts; although young players can find the keys difficult to reach.
Alto Saxophones: with its bright and alluring, much higher tones, the Alto Saxophone is best known for its association with classical music. By far the most popular in the Saxophone family for beginners with its closely aligned keys and easy to reach notes, so many skills learnt on the Alto Saxophone can be easily transferred to its siblings.
Soprano Saxophones: whilst it might look like a souped up brass version of a clarinet or similar, the Soprano Saxophone is possibly the most peaceful and elegant of all the Saxophones; producing a light and delicate tone in the higher registers. However, as pretty as it may be, the Soprano Saxophone is well-known for being exceptionally difficult to play.
Tenor Saxophones: Warm, rich, and smooth just like a morning cup of coffee or luxurious chocolate cake, the Tenor Saxophone is probably the best known of all the Saxophone, and the most easily recognisable with its full curves and generous bell.
Which Saxophone is best for jazz?
The most direct answer to this question is simply: the Tenor Saxophone. With its rich and warm tones, and its relatively lightweight body, the Tenor Saxophone is considered the mainstay instrument in the genre, and has been widely associated with some of the world’s most popular jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.
It’s the instrument you’ll hear in cornerstone jazz songs such as Soul Eyes by Coltrane, and Duke Ellington’s Take The “A” Train.
However, although there’s no denying that the Tenor Saxophone is the most popular in this incredibly suave and sophisticated genre, the reality is that all of these Saxophones have a part to play, depending on what a composer (or Singer-Songwriter) wishes to achieve.
For example, although Soprano Saxophones are often heard in concert bands or orchestras, the likes of Coltrane amongst other notable jazz musicians, were known to occasionally use this delicate instrument to expand their tonal colourations.
Not only this, but it also depends on what you - as a musician with your own style and capabilities - feel most comfortable with. It’s not uncommon for musicians to interchange between Alto and Tenor, as they have a fairly similar quality, for instance.
Realistically, the very first thing you should be thinking about is what kind of Saxophone will suit you!