Curated by Andrew Hadro
I recently created a ‘essential album’ guide to the baritone saxophone for this site. However, many of the regular visitors here are already well versed in the baritone saxophone and are probably aware of those albums. So I wanted to create a ‘deeper listening’ guide for people of albums that are more obscure and they may not have heard of. Because this is so subjective, even more so than the ‘essential’ list, I also reached out to some of today’s prominent baritonists to get their lists as well. Several albums appear on multiple lists, but are represented here in duplicate to give you an idea of how much overlap there can be.
Do you have an obscure, or lesser known album you think people should hear? Drop a note in the comment section below!
For your convenience, use the links below to jump to the deeper listening list for each person:
Notice: All of the album links within this article are associate links. When you buy through links on this site, we may earn an affiliate commission. These fees go towards hosting fees for the website.
Cecil Payne is one of the few baritone saxophonists that originated in the be-bop era and continued to have a long career playing with many different artists. Like many other baritonists, Payne spent time in big bands (Dizzy Gillespie’s among others) but he was a great soloist as well. He certainly doesn’t have the mainstream notoriety that Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams had, but he is very well respected and had a very long career, playing into his 80s.
In this author’s opinion Leo Parker deserves far more recognition than he has. Every serious baritone player I know revere’s him. Ronnie Cuber told me that he can’t listen to Leo Parker otherwise he’ll fall into playing too much like him. His sound and swagger are unmatched, and while he is yet another jazz musician that passed away too young there are still plenty of chances to hear him. Do yourself a favor and check him out.
I jokingly like to refer to Leo Parker as the original Leo P. Nothing against the more recent baritonist though.
Hamiet Bluiett is one of the more unique baritonists I can think of. Stylistically he spent plenty of time in both the main tradition of jazz but also in the more avante garde corners. He performed quite a bit with bassist Charles Mingus and spent many years as part of the World Saxophone Quartet. He is very much known as one of the first people to really expand the range and use extensive altissimo on the baritone. He was also a very strong proponent of the baritone saxophone and had for some years a band with several baritonists in it.
Pat Patrick is primarily known for his work with Sun Ra and his Arkestra. For most people this puts him pretty firmly in the realm of the Avant Garde. And Pat Patrick did certainly excel in this context. He was also known to perform closer to the inside tradition of jazz as well. Here at JazzBariSax.com a few years back we featured an article
about how Pat Patrick’s son, Deval Patrick (former Governor of Massachusetts) gave Harry Carney’s last horn to the Berklee school.
I personally think Pat Patrick laid a solid foundation for a lot of jazz that would stray from the mainstream and also for the baritone saxophone in other genre’s like afro-beat.
Most of the baritone players on this and many other lists claim Harry Carney as a direct influence. Joe had the benefit of actually knowing Harry Carney and also the honor of taking over the duties in the Ellington band after Carney passed. Joe would eventually become the founding baritone saxophonist of Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Joe served as a sideman in many other big bands and was a very comfortable soloist and had a number of albums as a leader as well.
Concerto for Joe
is a suite of pieces written for Joe that Wynton Marsalis dedicated to the longtime baritonist.
There are a lot of baritonists out there making great music, but for me the one that has the strongest foundation in the tradition of the jazz lineage is Frank, hands down. He is definitely in the lineage of Pepper Adams. So much so, that while Pepper invented the style I think Frank has perfected it. Frank is an avid sideman and leader, and incredibly knowledgeable about the history of jazz, especially that relating to the baritone. If you like straight ahead hard swinging jazz, Frank is one of the best out there now.
Thursday the 12th is one of Frank’s albums and its great listening, just that simple.
Morphine was a rock trio popular in the 1990’s consisting of drums, voice/2 string slide electric bass, and baritone saxophone. Dana’s sound, improvisations and great feel are integral parts of what made this band such an undergound hit. If you are a fan of the baritone saxophone and modern rock at all, you’ll enjoy these albums. Dana especially is clearly heavily jazz influenced.
Cure For Pain is probably Morphine’s best known album.
I don’t say this lightly, but Charles has created an album that sounds unlike any other. Its really an album only a baritonist should love, but it fortunately was well received enough to receive 5 stars from Downbeat Magazine – a rare feat! Charles is not a baritonist you will see performing a lot, but he is incredibly serious about the instrument and has put serious work into it. This album is a series of compositions of nothing but baritone saxophone in layers. It utilizes the full range of the baritone (including extreme altissimo) to create stunning sounds. I’m fairly sure most people will not have heard this album, but its worth it.
I have intentionally saved Scott for last, as I can and will go on and on about Scott. Everything he does is interesting and wonderful. Scott Robinson is the musician that every other musician knows and reveres. Everyone in New York City knows Scott, and has something amazing to say about him. Whether its his ability to pick up any instrument or his always unique appearance. And when I say “any” instrument I don’t just mean the every single of the woodwinds. He will put down the saxophone halfway through a solo and finish it on cornet. He is one of very few accomplished theremin players, one of even fewer owners of a contra-bass saxophone, the almost extinct ophicleide, tarogato, sarrusophone, octavin, the list goes on.
Scott is a long standing member of Maria Schneider’s Orchestra, and has played with many of the various incarnations of the Mingus Big Band. I personally think he is one of the most unique baritonists ever. His approach is unlike any other, his use of extreme ranges, breadth of genre mastery, and creative improvisation. Somewhat unfortunately for us Scott does not consider the baritone saxophone to be his primary voice and these days is focusing more on opportunities to perform on tenor or bass saxophones. Still very much worth hearing, though the world is always a nicer place to hear when Scott plays baritone.
Scott was chosen as the baritonist to play at the Smithsonian’s opening ceremony for a personal exhibit for Gerry Mulligan, in which he played Mulligan’s actual horn. The recording I’ve chosen here is also Mulligan related. Bob Brookmeyer originally composed this suite called “Celebration Suite” as a baritone feature for Gerry Mulligan. They had worked together very much over many years. It was performed once but unfortunately Mulligan passed away before it was recorded. Brookmeyer wisely chose Scott to step in and fill the soloist role and I think we are all richer for it.
“A great collection of playing and arrangements by this lyrical baritonist who died too young.”
Bob Gordon – George Redman Quintet, Featuring Bob Gordon
“Gordon could REALLY handle the horn and died very young in a car crash. We never got to see or hear what he could have become.”
“3 tracks by Donald Byrd/Pepper Adams Quintet – This is kind of hard to find on LP, but it’s been issued on CD under the title “The Third World” Donald Byrd/Booker Little.”
“He plays a few tunes on baritone.”
“Previously known as The Connection, Cecil and Kenny Drew composed the music to the ‘new’ off Broadway production”