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309 voters

The Best Saxophonists in the World

Updated May 8, 2020 2.1k votes 309 voters 8.4k views49 items

List RulesVote up your all-time favorite saxophonist who's alive today.

The saxophone is one of the most popular and diverse musical instruments in the world. It's permeated through dozens of genres of music, lending itself to help create some of the most moving and emotional pieces of music in history. The people on this list are masters of reed instruments and are considered giants in the musical world.  

Whether you recognize these musicians or not, they've all carved a place out for themselves in the music world and have become influential and prominent figures in the industry. If you love geeking out on music, we definitely recommend finding some of their music. 

This list is votable and rerankable, so take a look through and vote up your favorite saxophonists. If you don't see someone on here who should be, feel free to add them, but this list is for living musicians only.
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    Charlie Parker

    Portrait, Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve

    Genres (Music)Jazz, Bebop

    Charles Parker Jr. (August 29, 1920 – March 12, 1955), also known as Yardbird and Bird, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Parker was a highly influential jazz soloist and a leading...  more

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    John Coltrane

    A Love Supreme, My Favorite Things

    Genres (Music)Avant-garde jazz, Hard bop, Post-bop, Jazz, Bebop

    John William Coltrane (September 23, 1926 – July 17, 1967) was an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Working in the bebop and hard bop idioms early in his career, Coltrane helped pioneer the use...  more

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    The Best John Coltrane Albums of All Time#137 of 525 Which Artist Would You Bring Back From The Dead To Write One More Song?

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    47
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    Sonny Rollins

    Sonny Side Up, Planet Jazz: Sonny Rollins

    Genres (Music)Hard bop, Jazz

    Walter Theodore "Sonny" Rollins (born September 7, 1930) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist who is widely recognized as one of the most important and influential jazz musicians. In a seven-decade...  more

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    29
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    Joe Lovano

    I Have the Room Above Her, Symphonica

    Genres (Music)Hard bop, Post-bop, Jazz, Modal jazz

    Joseph Salvatore Lovano (born December 29, 1952) is an American jazz saxophonist, alto clarinetist, flautist, and drummer. He has earned a Grammy Award and several mentions on Down Beat magazine's...  more
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    22
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    Johnny Hodges

    Everybody knows Johnny Hodges, Compact Jazz

    Genres (Music)Ballad, Swing music

    Cornelius "Johnny" Hodges (July 25, 1907 – May 11, 1970) was an American alto saxophonist, best known for solo work with Duke Ellington's big band. He played lead alto in the saxophone section for...  more
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    Lester Young

    Billie Holliday With Lester Young: Lady Day & Prez 1937-1941, The Quintessence

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959), nicknamed "Pres" or "Prez", was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and occasional clarinetist. Coming to prominence while a member of Count...  more
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    Branford Marsalis

    The Majesty of the Blues, Crescent City Christmas Card

    Genres (Music)Classical music, Post-bop, Jazz

    Wynton Learson Marsalis (born October 18, 1961) is an American virtuoso trumpeter, composer, teacher, and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. He has promoted classical and jazz music, often...  more
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    James Carter

    Chasin' the Gypsy, At the Crossroads

    Genres (Music)Avant-garde jazz, Smooth jazz, Jazz fusion, Post-bop, Jazz

    James Carter (born January 3, 1969) is an American jazz musician. He is the cousin of jazz violinist Regina Carter....  more
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    Ornette Coleman

    The Shape of Jazz to Come, At The "Golden Circle" Stockholm

    Genres (Music)Avant-garde jazz, Jazz fusion, Free funk, Jazz, Free jazz

    Randolph Denard Ornette Coleman (March 9 or 19, 1930 – June 11, 2015) was an American jazz saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter, and composer. In the 1960s, he was one of the founders of free jazz, a...  more

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    David Sanborn

    Lethal Weapon 3, Another Hand

    Genres (Music)Pop music, Rock music, Smooth jazz, Jazz fusion, Rhythm and blues

    David William Sanborn (born July 30, 1945) is an American alto saxophonist. Though Sanborn has worked in many genres, his solo recordings typically blend jazz with instrumental pop and R&B. He...  more

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    Pharoah Sanders

    Karma, Jewels of Thought

    Genres (Music)Kozmigroov, Avant-garde jazz, World fusion music, Hard bop, World music

    Pharoah Sanders (born Farrell Sanders, October 13, 1940) is an American jazz saxophonist. Saxophonist Ornette Coleman once described him as "probably the best tenor player in the world". Emerging...  more
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    Benny Golson

    Complete 1957-1958 Quintet & Sextet Sessions, Terminal 1

    Genres (Music)Hard bop, Bebop

    Benny Golson (born January 25, 1929) is an American bebop/hard bop jazz tenor saxophonist, composer, and arranger. He came to prominence with the big bands of Lionel Hampton and Dizzy Gillespie, more...  more
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    31
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    John Zorn

    50th Birthday Celebration, Volume 4

    Genres (Music)Dark ambient, Noise rock, Klezmer, Avant-garde jazz, Electronic music

    John Zorn (born September 2, 1953) is an American composer, arranger, record producer, saxophonist, and multi-instrumentalist with hundreds of album credits as performer, composer, and producer...  more
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    Lou Donaldson

    LD + 3, Blues Walk

    Genres (Music)Hard bop, Jazz blues, Bebop, Soul jazz

    Lou Donaldson (born November 1, 1926) is a jazz alto saxophonist. He is best known for his soulful, bluesy approach to playing the alto saxophone, although in his formative years he was, as many were...  more
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    Danny Markovitch

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    Archie Shepp

    Goin' Home, Looking at Bird

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Archie Shepp (born May 24, 1937) is an American jazz saxophonist....  more
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    5
    9

    Richard Elliot

    Summer Horns, Soul Embrace
    Richard Elliot (born January 16, 1960) is a Scottish-born American saxophonist. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Album at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards for Summer Horns....  more
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    Chris Potter

    Critical Mass, The Sirens

    Genres (Music)Classical music, Post-bop, Jazz

    Chris Potter (born January 1, 1971) is an American jazz saxophonist, composer, and multi-instrumentalist. His main instrument is tenor sax, but he also performs on soprano and alto saxes, bass...  more
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    Eric Alexander

    The First Milestone, Nightlife in Tokyo

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Eric Alexander (born August 4, 1968) is an American jazz saxophonist....  more
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    13
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    Scott Hamilton

    Late Night Christmas Eve, Swing Brothers

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Scott Hamilton (born September 12, 1954) is an American jazz tenor saxophonist associated with swing and mainstream jazz....  more
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    28
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    Wayne Shorter

    The Young Lions, 1+1

    Genres (Music)Crossover jazz, Third stream, Hard bop, Jazz fusion, Post-bop

    Wayne Shorter (born August 25, 1933) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer. Shorter came to wide prominence in the late 1950s as a member of, and eventually primary composer for Art Blakey's...  more
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    17
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    Steve Coleman

    Drop Kick, The Sonic Language of Myth

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Steve Coleman (born September 20, 1956) is an American saxophonist, composer, and bandleader. In 2014, he was named a MacArthur Fellow....  more
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    Bob Berg

    Reflecting Times, Short Stories

    Genres (Music)Hard bop, Post-bop

    Robert Berg (April 7, 1951 – December 5, 2002) was an American jazz saxophonist originally from Brooklyn, New York City....  more
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    Albert Alva

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    Joshua Redman

    Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard, Beyond

    Genres (Music)Jazz

    Joshua Redman (born February 1, 1969) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer. In 1991, he won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition....  more