National Saxophone Day: Euphonious Sax Solos

National Saxophone Day is November 6, which celebrates the birth of the creator of the saxophone, Adolphe Sax. Many of us know about the saxophone in jazz music, or because you’re in band (like me). The saxophone is a woodwind instrument that can vary in size from sopranino to contrabass. You may know of the alto saxophone and tenor saxophone in many popular songs through their features in the form of solos. In honor of #SaxophoneDay, here are some songs featuring saxophone solos you can listen to and appreciate.

1. “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga’s anthem “Edge of Glory” is a great song to jam out to in celebration of National Saxophone Day. Her song features the late Clarence Clemons on tenor saxophone. Clarence was a widely respected member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, a guest musician on Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love,” and he worked on many solo albums. Clarence suffered from a stroke just days after he shot the music video for “Edge of Glory”. Listen to Clarence Clemons’ iconic sax solo below.

2. “Fuzzy Bird Sonata” by Takahashi Yoshimatsu

On the classical side of saxophone music is “Fuzzy Bird Sonata” composed by Takahashi Yoshimatsu. This song is a duet for piano and alto saxophone. This piece is a classical sonata that encompasses modern influences. A sonata is a piece intended for a few instruments that usually has 2 to 4 movements, with each in a similar key but with a variation of similar themes. Go on part one of this musical journey and listen to the first movement of “Fuzzy Bird Sonata,” “Run Bird,” performed by Nobuya Sugawa below. Notice how the piano accompanies the saxophone beautifully in this duet.

3. “Together Again” by Dave Koz

This song may be loosely described by some as ‘elevator music’, but it is in fact categorized under the genres smooth jazz, and funk. Dave Koz is a Grammy-nominated platinum selling saxophonist. He’s also known for being featured in a few of Postmodern Jukebox’s covers on YouTube, including their “smooth” version of “Careless Whisper.” Listen to “Together Again” below.

4. “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty

This 1978 classic is known specifically for its iconic saxophone solo throughout the song. The powerful sound of the saxophone is the highlight of the entire song. In my opinion, it’s one of the best saxophone features in popular music, next to “Edge of Glory”. The song hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for six weeks, thanks to the catchy sax riff. If you haven’t heard this song before, you must listen to it! You’re sure to get up out of your seat and ‘air saxophone’ along to the beat!

 

5. “Careless Whisper”

Last but not least, who could forget “Careless Whisper”? I’d be sure to receive an angry comment from at least one reader if I didn’t include this song on my list of saxophone solos to listen to for #SaxophoneDay. I do realize how overplayed and overhyped this song is, and this is definitely not one of the best saxophone solos ever, but it deserves recognition for bringing what I like to call awareness to saxophones and all their glory. The song features Steve Gregory on saxophone who also played for The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac. Since just about everyone knows the original version of this song, here’s the Postmodern Jukebox cover of “Careless Whisper” featuring Dave Koz on saxophone.

Bonus: Interview with Composer and Saxophonist, Stephen Casellas

I’m a musician; I’ve been playing euphonium for 9 years now. My brother, Stephen Casellas, is the person who inspired me to become a musician in the first place. He’s a saxophonist and a composer. He has a master’s degree in music composition and theory from New York University, and has been playing saxophone for 15 years. In honor of National Saxophone Day, I asked my brother a few questions regarding his experience with saxophone, and anything he wanted to let non-saxophonists know about the instrument.

1. Why do you love playing saxophone?

“It was easy to pick up and play but there are so many different and difficult nuances to playing it that make it unique. It can be percussive, melodic and just plain weird depending on what the composer asks for.”

2. What’s unique about the saxophone when compared to other instruments?

“It's a versatile instrument. Over the years it's been written for in all sorts of genres. It also has a very similar timbre to the human voice.”

3. What’s your favorite memory playing saxophone?

“As I compose more seriously and play only for hobby, my favorite memory actually comes from composing for New York's Youth Music Festival saxophone studio. The oldest saxophonist who performed my piece was 14, and the youngest was 11. My favorite memory involving the saxophone actually comes from working with and teaching them during the festival.”

4. What do you want other people to know about saxophone that they may not know?

“It was created as an orchestral instrument, about 60 years before Jazz. It was intended to mimic a clarinet, but one that can actually be heard outside from far away. Also, Kenny G is not a model saxophone player. The way he always has the mouthpiece in his mouth is the worst technique you can possibly do. Also, stop asking saxophonists to play "Careless Whisper" unless you're paying them. We hate it. A lot.”

Whether you’re celebrating National Saxophone Day by playing saxophone or by listening to some of the saxophone solos I mentioned above, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the art of music. Specifically, the saxophone and its impact in music, especially jazz. Saxophones are a very important part of many ensembles, and people have built careers off of their experience and love for saxophone, including my brother. Support the arts in schools and your community, because they are an important part of our culture and our world. Support music education programs and people’s access to the arts. Without the arts, our world would be boring.

If you’re interested in Stephen Casellas’ work, you can follow him on Soundcloud, visit his website and email him at [email protected] if you’d like to inquire about purchasing one of his pieces to perform. Happy National Saxophone Day, saxy people.