Getting to the Roots – Study Who Influenced Your Musical Heroes

I’ve read numerous times and often heard that to understand a player you must understand their mentors or teachers or inspirations. Everybody has to start somewhere and in most cases they haven’t been discovered as the star they eventually become. In the case of most horn players in the pop, R&B, blues, rock and jazz idioms, the roots are dated back to the blues and the very early versions of jazz music.

Some of my early influences were David Sanborn, the Brecker Brothers band Featuring Michael Brecker, Tom Scott and Maynard Ferguson. Starting with Maynard Ferguson’s Big Band, my high school band played songs from his library. So to play my part as best as I could, I would listen intently to the original recordings.

There was no YouTube back then so you had to invest a little to get the recording. Tom Scott and Michael Brecker were my inspiration for a tenor sax sound and they had excellent technical facility. David Sanborn was my alto sax voice. He had a great sound that I loved and technique that worked well for him especially in the altissimo register. Most of all, David had a huge, soulful sound.

To understand where these guys got their education, do a little research online and if you look at their bios, you will discover whom they played with prior to stepping out on their own. What schools did they attend? Did they take lessons? Is there a single person referenced by the player? Who did the teacher or mentor study with?

Look for and listen to any recording you might find of these players and see if you can detect the influence that was passed on. I won’t spoil the search by answering these questions for you here. Do a little Google or Wikipedia search and start with your favorite players.

For those who may be wondering about Maynard Ferguson, I include him not just for his big band but also for his concepts on pushing air through the horn to reach the high notes. It wasn’t about pinching your embrochure but vibrating them faster by putting more air at a faster rate past the lips that got him the highest register.

I know there were other screamer trumpeters before him but again since interviews with these players are rare, due to lack of technology, you might find written books by musical historians. If you care to look it up, check out Cat Anderson. He played lead trumpet with the great Duke Ellington Orchestra.

In closing, if you are taking lessons, ask your teacher who influenced him/her and do a little research to discover what the history will be for you as a player. See how far back you can go, not just discovering names but any audio examples you might find. You might realize your future by digging in the past.

For my “Hero of the Sax” David Sanborn, look at Hank Crawford, Albert King, Little Milton and Paul Butterfield bands. Have a great week!


If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below or message me on my Facebook page!!


-Frank Valdez - MU Columnist


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