Friday, June 22, 2012


Evan Haga, the editor of JazzTimes magazine, came up with an interesting topic for the June cover story. Haga polled a bunch of jazz tenor sax players such as Bob Mintzer, James Carter, Branford Marsalis, Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins, Mark Turner, Chris Porter, and David Murray. Haga wanted them to list  the  five most important albums by tenor saxophone players. Haga also polled some noted jazz critics.

Albums by Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, and John Coltrane were the overwhelming favorites. Surely, the players and critics polled have heard hundreds of great jazz albums by tenor players, and selecting their five favorite was hard. Haga cover story made me think about the great tenor albums I’ve heard during my career as a jazz reporter and a  blogger. Had Haga asked for my five favorite I would’ve selected these five.

1.) the freedom book (Prestige 1963) Booker Ervin
Ervin was one of the key architects of that mammoth sound Texas’ sax players are known for. Ervin made a trilogy of songbook albums. The freedom book was the sweetest.

2.) Jurassic Classics (DIW 1995) James Carter
   This album represents Carter during his formative and rambunctious stage. On jazz classics such as Take the “A” Train and Equinox, Carter was blowing so hard I believed his sax was going to explode.

3.) Gentle Warrior (Criss Cross Jazz 1997) Tim Warfield
 If Coleman Hawkins had a great grandson, he’d sound and behave like Warfield did on this album. This debut album puts Warfield chops on public display. He’s a natural born improviser with a lot of self-control. Gentle Warrior showed Warfield was custom made for the tenor sax.

4.) boss tenor (Prestige 19 0) Gene Ammons
Ammons never receive the press that his peers John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins did. Ammons wasn’t a master improviser, but he was a tenor player with the story telling skills of a prize winning novelists.

5.) A Monk and A Mingus Among Us ( Jazzworks 1996) Donald Walden
Walden was a nationally respected tenor player. In his hometown, Detroit, Walden was a tenor sax deity.  Detroit was known for producing unique jazz piano players. Detroit also manufactured some awesome tenor players. Walden was a special edition. His tenor work on A Monk and a Mingus Among Us could help fledging tenor players on the science of developing a distinct sound.

Bonus album
Setting the Pace (Prestige 1965) Booker Ervin and Dexter Gordon
 This album documented one of the best blowing sessions in the history of jazz. Booker and Gordon raced through tunes without tripping each other up. This album is dangerously beautiful. I had to wear a hardhat while listening to it.
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