What I have been listening to and some of my biggest influences...
Most recently I have been checking out saxophonist Chris Potter and the track "Boogie Stop Shuffle" from his album Lift: Live At the Village Vanguard. He does a solo intro to "Boogie Stop Shuffle" (the track before the actual song) that really highlights his command of the instrument, harmonic language, and ability to groove. He can really do it all! Also more recently I have been listening to Joe Lovano. His quartets album titled Live At the Village Vanguard is incredible. I especially like listening to the opening track (on the double CD) titled "Fort Worth". The ensemble is bass, drums, tenor sax, and trumpet (Tom Harrell on trumpet) so there is no straight up harmony player on the first disc. This instrumentation really allows the soloists and accompanying players to stretch and go for things they probably wouldn't have if a harmony player was present. The solos on "Fort Worth" are full of energy.
There are two players that I have been paying attention to that branch out from the traditional swing feel. Both Donny McCaslin and Ben Wendel are younger saxophone players that are really causing ripples and perhaps even some waves. Donny McCaslin's group and sound has inspired a lot of my writing. Like his band, my band plays with a lot of energy and seems to always be looking to take the energy to the next level. Donny's band doesn't play any swing grooves on his most recent album and instead plays more modern straight eighth note and rock grooves. They really are doing their own thing so it's hard to describe. I've listened and studied their track "Glory" from McCaslin's album Beyond Now. It's a beautiful tune that breaks away from traditional jazz forms. Donny's band which primarily includes Mark Guiliana on drums, Jason Lindner on keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on electric bass, and Nate Wood on guitar is also the band that recorded on David Bowie's last record Black Star minus Lindner on keyboard and Wood on guitar.
Ben Wendel is an Eastman School of Music graduate as am I. His album What We Bring really has a lot of variety. His first track "Amian" has a great energy that clearly draws from the jazz idiom both groove and harmony wise. There are some really great harmonic sounds being playing on this track. A clear departure from the more perhaps serious tone of "Amian" is his track "Song Song". This is a more simple sounding song with a jovial almost lullaby melody. Like most tracks I get into, I've listened to both tracks many many times for several months almost exclusively.
My biggest influence however is John Coltrane. I've spent many years listening to his music (and many more to come) trying to understand as much of what comes out of his horn as I can. Nobody can play the way he did—with that sound and intensity in his tone. He really changed the face of jazz and in many ways. He influenced the direction of may music genres. A few of my favorite tracks of his are from his earlier recordings: "I Hear A Rhapsody" (Lush Life), "My Shining Hour" (Coltrane Jazz), and "Straight No Chaser" (from The Miles Davis Sextet: Jazz At The Plaza Vol. 1, 1958). All of these tracks are steeped in the bebop tradition and his solos are straight up vocabulary. They are real studies in the bebop language and his language really. On "Straight No Chaser" he is really going for it! If you listen closely you can hear him working out many of the same ideas over the harmony. You can actually hear him practice while he performs! That's what I love about live recordings. You can hear what players are working on and the energy is so much different than in the studio.
I have had many great teachers. Walt Weiskopf was my primary saxophone teacher at Eastman. I learner a great deal on how to practice getting around on the horn from him. His sound has also had a big influence on me. We would spend 20 minutes or so every lesson trading choruses on a tune I was studying. Hearing his huge sound and his vocabulary is still in my ear to this day. Gary Keller at the University of Miami was a tremendous influence. He really taught me how to play the reed and not the saxophone. I practice many of the warm-ups he introduced me to every day as well as my own exercises. Gary taught me the things that I always wanted to know about how to play the saxophone that I had not been able to find from any other teacher. My classical saxophone teacher at Eastman, Chein-Kwan Lin, not only helped me build my technique but also inspired me to concentrate on more than the notes. He is a truly gifted player and teacher. Phil Perry, my first saxophone teacher, was with the Air Force Falconaires for many years. There are too many things to list regarding what I learned from Phil. He would bring me to concerts, introduce me to other local musicians, and let me sit in when he could. I can’t say enough about him and how he is such a great person. There are too many teachers to give thanks. These are just a few that directly helped my saxophone playing.
As far as my music goes—the title track "Socrates' Trial”, which is also the band name for one of my projects and debut album title, has tons of energy and musical freedom. I decided to go with no harmony player during the beginning of each solo to really open up the options for the soloist as well as bass and drums. The rest of the album is also very harmony heavy in terms of always having something present. Having no harmony at the top of the solo allows for lots of tension to build and when the harmony comes in there is a nice release even if it's temporary.
Another track to consider is "The Things Up Above". This is really a hymn and an anthem. I often refer to it as a power ballad. Classical harmony and progressions really influenced my ear when writing this tune.
Here are some other saxophone players on the scene now that I enjoy. There are so many great players!
Troy Roberts (New York)
Josh Johnson (Los Angeles)
Danny Janklow (Los Angeles)
Rich Perry (New York)
Bob Reynolds (Los Angeles)
Bob Sheppard (Los Angeles)
Bob Mintzer (Los Angeles)
Tivon Pennecott (New York)
Lucas Pino (New York)
Will Vinson (New York)
Kim Richmond (Los Angeles)