Twenty Top Tenors – can you identify them all?

Tenor-graphic-inverseI’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.

The tenor saxophone playing style is as distinctive as the human voice, or so I have argued. Time to put that to the test, can you tell who the player is? The idea is to identify the player from his tone, voice, phrasing, vibrato, dissonances, pacing, all that musician stuff.

Of course there are the music period clues, swing, post-bop, avant garde, that goes with the territory, but to remove the clues that arise from the association between the player and the song title, I have chosen a passage of about a minute from less well known pieces. After all, the opening notes of Blue Train…umm…shot in the dark, Coltrane? Same goes for the association between the tenor and the other musicians in the ensemble. So, Miles Davis 2nd Great Quartet, Wayne…. Is that Monk in the background? Charlie R… No help there.

You have about 60 seconds of music featuring the tenor saxophone player at the point of improvisation, rather than the heads of the tune. I’ve tried to find a piece that is representative of their style of playing, not one where they are playing tribute to their influences. They are all ripped from original vinyl 50’s and 60’s a few at the start of the 70’s.

The twenty players listed below in strict alphabetical order are these. By a process of elimination, once you have got the easiest, the ones left are those remaining. That is all the help you are going to get. Think you know your Jazz? Prove it.

Ornette Coleman (on tenor)
John Coltrane
Booker Ervin
Stan Getz
Benny Golson
Paul Gonsalves
Dexter Gordon
Johnny Griffin
Coleman Hawkins
Tubby Hayes
Joe Henderson
Hank Mobley
Sam Rivers
Sonny Rollins
Charlie Rouse
Wayne Shorter
Zoot Sims
Stanley Turrentine
Ben Webster
Lester Young

Each sample is identified as Tenor Number #. No good peeking at the meta data for the rip, there is no answer there. If you want to post your answers, you can copy and paste the above list adding the number rip you think they are. If it’s all too difficult, that’s ok too, its just a bit of fun, test yourself.  It’s not easy come middle of the fold. I’ll publish the correct answers in a couple of days (UPDATE: Dottorjazz has saved me the trouble. His is 100% correct answers in comments)

Off we go: Tenor 1

Tenor 2

Tenor 3

Tenor 4

Tenor 5

Tenor 6

Tenor 7

Tenor 8

Tenor 9

Tenor 10

Tenor 11

Tenor 12

Tenor 13

Tenor 14

Tenor 15

Tenor 16

Tenor 17

Tenor 18

Tenor 19

Tenor 20

So that was easy eh?

Coming soon, try the LJC Hundred Greatest Modern Jazz Triangle Players Ever.

Or maybe the Hottest Hundred Harpists. Trombone might be interesting too, though probably the most telling is the trumpet – with so few controls, the trumpet depends on embouchure, the human factor, most closely allied with the human voice, problem is the artists are all too obvious. My vote is for trumpeters. Could be interesting. In reality it will probably be the top ten altos, half as much work for me. What do you think?

35 thoughts on “Twenty Top Tenors – can you identify them all?

  1. Pianists – that’s a good idea Dott / LJC (whoever originated it: Dott, I think). It would be bloody hard and i would do even worse than i did with tenors… Perhaps the greatest ten rather than twenty (these things must take an age to organise, LJC)?

  2. Posted up to escape the WordPress dreaded drainpipe (LJC)
    on July 16, 2015 at 09:43 said:

    both would be difficult, for me, if LJC leaves out Monk. early Bill Evans isn’t easy to identify, all BN pianists, in their early works; and, for soprano, most players are tenors who later doubled on soprano. the style would be difficult to understand ’cause it was mainly different from tenor. often I disliked great tenor players when they got on soprano. a name for all: Archie Shepp whom I like a lot on the bigger instrument but I hate on soprano.

    Reply ↓

    • True, dot – i’m no great fan of Sheep on soprano. His voice is nowhere near as distinctive as on tenor. And while it’s heresy to suggest such a thing, i feel rather the same about Evan Parker. I adore his tenor playing and do honestly think he revolutionised the instrument… Of course, this is what everyone says about his soprano playing, and it may be even truer that he has revolutionised that instrument, but the fact is i just prefer tenor. Soprano: a little goes a long way. Coltrane never grasped that, i don’t think… (Uh oh, now what have i said?!)

    • I find Lacy to be the most enjoyable soprano. His tone tends to lack the shrillness of others, making it much more approachable. The story goes that Lacy turned Coltrane onto the soprano.

      • Yes, just before heading for the nearest exit, which may be up my rear, let me just agree wholeheartedly with p.cocke: Lacy is the exception – his soprano voice (at least sometimes if not all the time) is less shrill, maybe even more ‘alto-ish’. Right, I’m off…

        • Its a fair cop, I’ve got quite a lot of Lacy and he is one of those exceptions. Anyone who can devote a large section of their career to the music of Thelonious Monk is no ordinary musician. Not to omit the haunting The Seagulls of Kristiansund with Mal Waldron, genius.

          After you depart via the middle doors Alun, I will humbly eat my hat, as an encore.

  3. Good lord – tougher than I thought.

    The only ones I have any kinda confidence on are:

    14 – Trane
    18 – Charlie Rouse
    1 – Lester Young
    3 – Ben Webster

    Embarrassed to say the rest have me half stumped.

  4. My list, always a sobering experience:

    1 Lester Young
    2 Coleman Hawkins
    3:Ben Webster
    4 Zoot Sims
    5 Sonny Rollins
    6 Hank Mobley
    7 Dexter Gordon
    8 Wayne Shorter
    9 Johnny Griffin
    10 Paul Gonsalves
    11Tubby Hayes
    12 Stan Getz
    13 Benny Golson
    14 John Coltrane
    15 Booker Ervin
    16 Ornette Coleman
    17 Sam Rivers
    18 Charlie Rouse
    19 Stanley Turrentine
    20 Joe Henderson

  5. Here goes. Had to guess on a couple. I still confuse the breathiness of Z.Sims for B.Webster. Out of curiosity, I found that recognition software (e.g., Sound Hound) is able to identify some of these solos. Technology.

    Ornette Coleman (on tenor) -16
    John Coltrane – 14
    Booker Ervin – 15
    Stan Getz – 12
    Benny Golson – 11
    Paul Gonsalves – 10
    Dexter Gordon – 7
    Johnny Griffin – 9
    Coleman Hawkins – 2
    Tubby Hayes – 20
    Joe Henderson – 8
    Hank Mobley – 6
    Sam Rivers – 17
    Sonny Rollins – 5
    Charlie Rouse – 18
    Wayne Shorter – 13
    Zoot Sims – 3
    Stanley Turrentine – 19
    Ben Webster – 4
    Lester Young – 1

    • good point about breath but:
      if you listen carefully, Webster breaths at the end of almost all his phrases, even shorter ones. he was the blowerest of all tenors.
      Sims, who was inspired by Ben among others, breaths sometimes only, never after short phrases.
      anyway, since this spring, I’m interested in learning more of Zoot’s works ’cause I started to like him a lot more.
      about the previous list: first I recognized the masters, 8.
      then, knowing the names, I tried to couple them with the style.
      Golson is almost altoist.
      in some instances I got from exclusions.
      for example: I do not know Tubby Hayes’ work and got him the last one.

      • I’ll pull out a couple Sims and Webster albums and look for the breathing patterns. My familiarity with Sims is limited to his latter work on Pablo, a label I really enjoy. Brought new life into the careers of several elder musicians. Prices are reasonable and sound typically is excellent.

  6. Ornette Coleman (on tenor) 17
    John Coltrane 15
    Booker Ervin 14
    Stan Getz 13
    Benny Golson 11
    Paul gonsalves 16
    Dexter Gordon 2
    Johnny Griffin 10
    Coleman Hawkins 4
    Tubby Hayes 8
    Joe Henderson 7
    Hank Mobley 5
    Sam Rivers 9
    Sonny Rollins 20
    Charlie Rouse 12
    Wayne Shorter 19
    Zoot Sims 6
    Stanley Turrentine18
    Ben Webster 3
    Lester Young 1

    I don’t think I’ve done very well on this. It was hard. I think I may have got the numbering of samples mixed up and I got distracted by the bloody sodding auto-correct function on my wife’s iPad… These sound like excuses, I am aware of that. Interesting exercise, LJC.

  7. 1 young
    2 hawkins
    3 Webster
    4 sims
    5 rollins
    6 mobley
    7 gordon
    8 hendersn
    9 griffin
    10 gonsalves
    11 golson
    12 getz
    13 shorter
    14 coltrane
    15 ervin
    16 coleman
    17 rivers
    18 rouse
    19 turrentine
    20 hayes

    • I should have anticipated this: the equivalent to cheating during an exam, copying Dottorjazz answers. His knowledge is profound and astonishing, I am in awe, 100% correct drone-lethal accuracy. Something to respect and aspire to.

      • LJC, pray let us know the exact source of each track. Seems like Gonsalves was in the final stage of his artistry, when he was still somehow able to play though unable to stand upright. Wild Bill Davis at the organ, I guess (NOT one of my favourites).

        • Yes this was later Gonsalves from 1963 Cleopatra Feelin’ Jazzy, on Impulse, as I recall – fairly slurred in his later phases. Dick Hyman on organ. I know I should have written down all the sources but I cut corners to get this done. Surrounded by a pile of fifty odd records, selecting non-signature tunes, switching mono and stereo, adjusting gain, finding a clear minute to rip, stopping and starting Audacity. Sloppy of me, it was more work than I anticipated, I should have stuck to ten.

          From what I recall:
          Coltrane from Africa Brass, Booker Ervin from Space Book, Stan Getz from Steamin’, Dexter Gordon from Dexter blows Hot and Cool, Johnny Griffin from Introducing (s/t), Hank Mobley on Byrd in Flight, Sam Rivers from Fuchsia Swing Song, Wayne Shorter from Kelly Great (VeeJay) Turrentine from Rough ‘n’ Tumble, Ben Webster from Websters Dictionary (Stan Tracey piano) , Tubby Hayes from Jazz Couriers in Concert, Coleman Hawkins from Hawk Eyes, the others are a bit hazy from memory.

          • Thank you so much, LJC. So it’s 1963 – not the later recordings with Wild Bill.
            Gonsalves, according to drummer Alex Riel, “had this disease that made him fall asleep all the time, even on the bandstand” – embarrassingly evident in a 1965 concert video from The Falcon Theatre, Copenhagen. No matter exactly what kind of fatigue he might have been suffering from, his solo performances with Duke could still be top-class at that time. I saw a live concert by the band the same year.

          • LJC, btw, nice job at selecting the tenors. Going with 20 seems to have avoided cries of omitting someone’s favorite. Perhaps a shorter list for soprano sax? Or how about conch shell?

            • Alto Heros: Parker, Mclean, Ornette, Pepper, Adderley, Ayler, Dolphy, Joe Harriot, Konitz, Sonny Red, Stitt, Phil Woods, have I missed anyone? All very distinctive styles.This is an easy dozen, I need something to make it more fiendish.

              • Devilish soprano , now that sounds worth shooting for. But pianists, now for me that’s difficult, so probably that’s the one to go for. I’m never confident with what pianists are doing in the background. Hancock, Kelly, Timmons, Hill, Cecil, Garland, Evans and I’m done. Hey, that sounds like one easy ride,

                We need a Jazz Baccalaureate – pass mark on all instruments, including drums.

                • Now “piano in the background” would be the ultimate challenge – but we feel piano in the foreground would just do.

                  • both would be difficult, for me, if LJC leaves out Monk. early Bill Evans isn’t easy to identify, all BN pianists, in their early works; and, for soprano, most players are tenors who later doubled on soprano. the style would be difficult to understand ’cause it was mainly different from tenor. often I disliked great tenor players when they got on soprano. a name for all: Archie Shepp whom I like a lot on the bigger instrument but I hate on soprano.

      • I deliberately tried NOT to look at Dott’s answers because I was fairly sure he would be not just ‘broadly right’, but chillingly, fatally accurate…

      • I must confess I’ve probably been too lazy to make up my own list, but I’m confident that Dottore’s guesses are very, very close to the truth!

  8. Here goes. I wouldn’t rule out 0/20. I make no claim to be an expert so its ok. .
    Ornette Coleman (on tenor) -16
    John Coltrane-14
    Booker Ervin-17
    Stan Getz-4-
    Benny Golson-11
    Paul Gonsalves-7
    Dexter Gordon- 20
    Johnny Griffin-9
    Coleman Hawkins-2-
    Tubby Hayes-10
    Joe Henderson-19
    Hank Mobley-13
    Sam Rivers-8
    Sonny Rollins-5-
    Charlie Rouse-18
    Wayne Shorter
    Zoot Sims-12
    Stanley Turrentine-15
    Ben Webster-3-
    Lester Young-1

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