Saturday, February 11, 2012

Give Some Love to the Baritone Sax Players (Part 1 The Past Masters)

I flew a lot this week -- New York to Los Angeles and back, then New York to Ft. Lauderdale and back. Lots of time to tune out the world and listen to my iPod. Listening to a Gerry Mulligan, in this case "California Concerts Volume 2" (Pacific Jazz), recorded in 1954, it reminded me of how nice, round and full a baritone saxophone can sound when in the hands of a master. Without intent to malign anyone, as a bass clarinetist I sat next to the baritone sax for many years, and  never heard its true potential, as for the most part we were confined to our lower registers and give only a few opportunities to carry a melodic line or two.

But in the hands of the masters, the baritone sound is lush and full, and in reality has a large range from its lowest to highest notes. So let's give a shout out to the baritone sax players, not those who play multiple saxes (and do it well), but to those who only played the baritone.

This is part one of a two part series, and describes five past masters. I am sure there are other pioneers of the baritone sax sound, but these five come to mind when I think of the originals:
  • Product DetailsPepper Adams (1930-86) -- His sound was hard and driven, and he propelled many a hard bop band from his seat. He was a leader on more than 20 albums, on which he displayed both his attacking style as well as a warmth on many a ballads. A late recording, "Conjuration" (Reservoir 1990) is a nice summation of his stylings, and features outstanding support from Kenny Wheeler, Hank Jones, Clint Houston, and Louis Hayes.

  • Product DetailsGerry Mulligan (1927-96) -- Probably the best known of all baritone players, he is considered on of the giants of jazz. He revolutionized the sound of the baritone, making it a featured lead instrument on many albums, and demonstrating its sound could be light and melodic, and very close to that of the tenor sax. Not only his sound was revolutionary, but also his rapid fingerings, speed and dexterity. He was part of Mile's "Birth of the Cool" record, and his pianoless quartets with Chet Baker were the essence of the cool West Coast Sound.

  • Product DetailsCecil Payne (1922-2007) -- Acclaimed as one of the best baritone saxophonists by fellow musicians but largely forgotten today, Payne began his career in the bebop era, and spent three years as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's band. He took up the baritone while in his teens, and modelled his approach to its sound after the smooth voicings of Lester Young. After the bebop era, he continued to record both as a sideman and on some as a leader, and his work with Duke Jordan in the early 60s is of special note. Later, he had a number of small group recordings on Delmark which are often wonderful.

  • Product DetailsSerge Chaloff (1923-1957) -- A tragically short career cut off by cancer and disrupted by a heroin addiction, Chaloff  was a fiery baritone saxophonist of the bop era. He came from a family of musicians, studied piano and clarinet, and taught himself the baritone. He played with Jimmy Dorsey and Woody Herman before becoming a key player in the smaller groups led by such tenors as Stan Getz and Zoot Sims. In the late 40s and early 50s, despite his addiction and unreliability he recorded some special albums as a leader, including "Blue Serge" and "The Fable of Mabel", demonstrating his combination of speed, dynamics, and expressive play. A complete discography is included in the Proper Box set "Serge Chaloff: Boss Baritone."

  • Product DetailsLeo Parker (1925-62) -- Another career tragically cut short, this time by drugs and a heart attack at age 37, Parker was known for a big, round attacking sound, but also for his fluidity and bluesy playing. He too worked with Dizzy, and also with Illinois Jacquet, but was largely off the scene in the 50s due to his addiction. He came back strongly with Blue Note in the early 60s, recording "Rollling with Leo" and "Let Me Tell You "Bout It", two lively hard bop recordings filled with a range of bop, blues, and gospel, but never got a chance to record again, passing away in 1962.  

The next installment on baritones will feature today's players, some older players like Ronnie Cuber, Gary Smulyan, and Roger Rosenberg, and some younger ones like Claire Daly, Adam Schroeder, and Lauren Sevien.

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