Best Saxophone Players: 10 Jazz Saxophone Players You Must Know

The saxophone was invented by Adolph Sax and since he invented this great masterpiece, many legends in different generations have skillfully mastered and played this instrument to absolute perfection. These great saxophone players innovated different musical styles of playing the saxophone.

Every saxophone music fan has strong feelings about who should make it into the list of best saxophone players. There are dozens of names that appear in every list.

There is a whole lot of argument on who is the greatest saxophone player and who should make it in the top 10 best saxophone players. Here are some of the most frequently listed best saxophone players.


The world has been privileged to see prolific saxophone players play the saxophone from different generations. These skillful legends added different styles in playing the saxophone. These players practiced incessantly went for tours and won the hearts of many as they mastered their craft.

Making a list of the top 10 saxophone players is not easy because there are a lot of skillful players who mastered and played the saxophone very well. Hopefully, this list of the 10 top best saxophone players makes the cut.


Charlie Parker is one of the best saxophonists in history. He was nicknamed the bird. He was a bandleader and composer. He was an altoist and he revolutionized jazz with a style called bebop. Bebop is a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos.

He also introduced more harmonic ideas into jazz such as rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitution, parker plays a clean, penetrating, and sweet saxophone which captures his audience.

He died at a very young age but his influence in saxophone still continues till this day.


John Coltrane was also part of the best saxophone players in history he pioneered modes. He practiced a lot without stopping. He developed the three-on-one approach and sheets of sounds this made him played multiple notes at a time.

He was part of the Miles Davies group during the mid to late ’50s. this group shot him to fame. He also had a successful solo career. He created nice and legendary albums such as my favorite things, blue train, love supreme, and many more.

He sold well both domestically and internationally. His music was always progressing, from hardbop to modal jazz to spiritual jazz and the avarnte grade. He mesmerized his audience with his unique style and he still influences generations after him. He died at the age of 40 from liver inflammation.


Sonny Rollins is a great improviser of the saxophone instrument. He was nicknamed saxophone Colossus for his impressive gift in melodic improvisation combined with good sounds. He remains the only living saxophonist in the saxophone golden era.

In his career which run for seventy decades, he has recorded over 60 albums. His albums include St. Thomas, Oleo, Pent-Up House and many more. He was active until 2012.


Stanley Getz popularly known under his professional name as Stan Getz is also among the best saxophone players. He was a tenor saxophone player. He was a skillful saxophone player who popularized the bossa nova sound a genre in jazz.

He had an impressive career, selling a lot of albums and going on a lot of tours. His nice lyrical code and velvet-smooth style captured his fans and it earned him the nickname The Sound.

He was a very skillful and versatile saxophonist. He could play bop, bossa nova and different genres he songs were so captivating to listen to.


Dexter Gordon was a great tenor saxophone player. He popularized bebop using the tenor saxophone. He was very tall hence his name long tall Dexter.

He was good with ballads which conveyed his emotive tone and incisive lyrics. He was one great tenor saxophonist.


Lester Young was also one of the best saxophone players. He was known as the president of jazz shortly called Prez.

He was a great tenor saxophone player who revolutionized the tenor saxophone for generations to come. His tenor playing influenced greats like charlie parker to Sonny Rollins.

He had remarkable solos, he played in a lyrical relaxed tenor style, he could float about a rhythm when playing the tenor saxophone an impressive skill. His style contains a lot of emotions that won him admiration from many. He is regarded as the poet laureate of the tenor saxophone.


Coleman Hawkins is another saxophone great and undoubtedly part of the best saxophone players nicknamed Hawk. He was the father of jazz, jazz did not have its name until he started playing. He mastered the tenor saxophone.

He helped popularize and establish the tenor saxophone as one of the most important instruments in jazz, he was the first important tenor saxophonist. His recording “Body and Soul” was a masterpiece it had an extended solo. His influence in tenor saxophone is immense.


Art Pepper a saxophone great was an alto saxophone player He played beautiful sounds and his improvisation on alto saxophone was so impressive, to hiHE was a major figure in the 195os west coast jazz. Narcotics and drug-related crimes sent him to prison which took a toll on his career.

His performances were intermittent until the late 1970’s he resumed recording.. He played the alto saxophone with pure brilliance and clarity with bebop roots.

He had success with his recordings. “Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm” and ’Smack up” were some of his recordings that were so good. He added many styles to his play and this made him unique.


Hank Mobley was described as the middleweight champion of the tenor saxophone because of his non-aggressive tone.

He played beautiful tones. He was a member of the Jazz Messengers before he was signed on Blue Note which produced 25 albums.

His soothing style of play was very great cementing him in the best saxophone players in the history of saxophone.


Johnny Griffin was nicknamed little giant due to his short stature and skills in playing the tenor saxophone. HIS improvising style was in a transitional style between swing and bebop.

He is known for his creativity and dexterity in playing the tenor saxophone. He built impressive solos in classic forms while maintaining his instrumental quality. He moved to Europe to continue his career till his death.


Many saxophone players have emerged from different generations some of them forever changed the cause of playing the saxophone. Some invented styles are even used in present days. These legends in saxophone inspire players of saxophone with their impressive skills and dedication to the instrument.

To pick the best saxophone player is not an easy task because the great saxophone players all had specific styles and instruments they were great out. Some indeed stand out considering how they brought ideas and styles that forever enhanced the play of saxophone.

We have the likes of Charlie Parker, John Coltrane Lester Young and so more. These are all great players of the beautiful saxophone instrument.

Charlie Parker stands out amongst the rest, although he had a short career dying at a young age of 34 his impact in saxophone playing is the most impressive. He started playing the saxophone at the age of eleven, when he was 24 he was revolutionizing jazz.

Charlie Parker's Yardbird at the Apollo Theater
Charlie Parker’s Yardbird at the Apollo Theater. (Image credit: Feast of Music from New York City, United States on Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

As the father of bebop his style has impacted a lot of musicians till this day. His bebop style started a new movement around this style, inspiring several other legends in saxophone.

He invented more complex music by disregarding the four and eight-bar standards of jazz this was impressive and takes a lot of skills to do that.

He learned for hours till he perfected a skill, he dedicated his time to always improving his abilities and this made him the best.

His style not only influenced saxophone but other forms of music. Some even call him the best and greatest musician who ever lived.

He was achieving a lot of recognition at a very young age with his enthralling performance. He won many awards including grammy’s lifetime achievement. He did not have a perfect life but that did not stop him from his love for the saxophone.

He could have made a far impact if he lived long regardless of that he left an unmatched indelible impact in saxophone playing which makes him the best saxophone player.


Female saxophone has still not gained the recognition it needs, but this is not preventing great female saxophone players from achieving their goals in saxophone playing women like Melissa Aldana, Via Red, Tia fuller, and many more are making it big time in saxophone playing.

One is standing out by her achievements in just a short span.

Melissa Aldana is the best female saxophone player with her stellar achievement of winning the enviable Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

  • She is a Chilean-born saxophone player composer and bandleader.
  • She is the first female to win it making that achievement more impressive.
  • She gained praise for her 2014 outing Melissa Aldana and the crash trio.
  • She began playing the saxophone at the age of 6 with her dad being her teacher.
  • She won a scholarship to study at Berklee College of Music where she enhanced her talent.
  • She was inspired by her hero, Sonny Rollins she released a song honoring him.
  • She also won the Martin E. Segal Award for jazz.
  • She started her career in 2009, and her stellar achievement just in a short span puts her ahead of her follow female saxophone players.

The saxophone has been played by a lot of legends, not everyone made it to the list and that in no way means they are not great saxophone players. Charlie Parker stands out as the best Saxophone player and Melissa Aldana stands as the best female player.

These folks put in a lot of effort to master their field. One thing we can learn from Charlie parker is. His skill never came naturally he had to work and train hard. The best saxophonist put a lot of effort into improving their play and this makes them the best in their saxophone play.

Who makes it to your top 10 best saxophone player?

The top 10 saxophone players include: Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, Dexter Gordin, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Art Pepper, Hank Mobley, and John Griffin.

Charlie Parker is the best saxophone player.

Melissa Aldana is the best female saxophone player.

Please leave a comment if you have a question.

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About Maggie Holding

Hello! My name is Maggie and I am a proud Editor/Author for PlayTheTunes. Coming From South Carolina, USA, my whole life I've sang and played the guitar and flute! I love music with a passion, and am ecstatic to help others in their own music journey!