The Best Sax Players You've Likely Never Heard

Mar 11, 2006

The Bottom Line There are plenty of great musicians out there that choose to settle down in one area instead of touring. Find the ones near you!

There are lots of players out there who can play up a storm but, for whatever reason, choose to stay in a locality and make a living as opposed to the grind of touring. Some of these literally can be world-class in terms of talent and skill.

Here’s a list of my favorites. Of course, it’s heavily weighted to players in my own area, Chicago, but there are others. Saxophone players and fans would do well to seek out their recordings or hear them live.

I’m doing this epinion as the first in a series of epinions I will do over the next several months, listing my favorite players on the various saxophones. So, stay tuned.

Mark Colby I met Mark while at a jazz festival and later studied with him for several years. He can do it all on tenor and soprano sax, from fusion to straight ahead to anything else, as he is successful in the competitive jingle market here in town. He is also on faculty at DePaul and is in demand as a clinician for the Selmer company. His recent albums on Hallmark Records are all sublime, and all available at available.

Mark Colby - Speaking of Stan
Mark Colby – Tenor Reference
Mark Colby - Reunion with Vince Maggio

Eric Schneider Eric’s a top player in Chicago on tenor sax, alto sax and clarinet. I’ve known him since grade school, and his talent was apparent immediately once he took up the sax. He’s a solid straight ahead tenor player with great technique and a big sound. He played in the final Count Basie band led by the count and has played with Earl “Fatha” Hines, among others. He hasn’t recorded much, but he did some great work on Ron Surace’s quartet album released on Southport Records several years ago. Eric also co-leads a band with Greg Fishman that plays regularly at Andy’s, a top jazz spot in Chicago.

Ron Surace - Nearly Blue

Lin Halliday
Lin is the only deceased player on this list. A very talented tenor player who drank much of his career away, he enjoyed a renaissance near the end of his career, releasing several CDs on Delmark, another Chicago-based label. His wistful tone masked a fluid technique and his post-bop interpretations of mostly standards were satisfying. I reviewed one of his Southport albums, a super date with young lion (but hardly obscure) Eric Alexander

Lin Halliday/Eric Alexander - Stablemates

Steve Eisen
Steve is a versatile player who has played with lots of folks, including Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows, Styx and Aretha Franklin. He sounds great playing primarily fusion and latin styles on tenor sax and soprano sax and is an outstanding flautist as well. Also, woefully under-recorded, he’s featured currently on the Band of Joes CD, as well as on an obscure Streetdancer CD.

Streetdancer – Roughs
Band of Joes - A Sense of Fairness

Greg Fishman
Greg is a solid, primarily mainstream tenor player, currently gigging a lot as a duo with Paulinho Garcia on guitar, entitling themselves “Two for Brazil”. His fluid technique and lyrical ideas brighen whatever stage he finds himself on. He also appears frequently with his wife, pianist Judy Roberts, and in a band he co-leads with Eric Schneider. Greg has also developed a successful, vibrant practice as a saxophone and jazz instructor.
His CDs with Paulinho are wonderful, but I haven’t reviewed them yet. I will. They are available from

Bootsie Barnes Philadelphia-based Barnes has had a long career as the top tenor in Philadelphia. A big-sounding, straight-ahead player, his solid, direct ideas are showcased wonderfully on his CD, Bopping ‘Round the Center, available at

Bootsie Barnes - Boppin ‘Round the Center

Buck Hill A jazzman with a day job as a postal worker, Hill has enjoyed a long career (since the 40s) on his swinging, big-sounding tenor. Highlights include several recordings for Steeplechase records in the late 70’s and Muse in the early 90’s are well-regarded. He recorded a super live album at the Montpelier Center in 2000.

Buck Hill - Live Montpelier concert

Rich Corpolongo
One of the top alto saxophonists in the Chicago area, Rich’s singleminded dedication to his artistic integrity has resulted in some very interesting recordings on Delmark records featuring Rich on alto and clarinet, performing wonderfully composed originals in genres hard to label. Some call it free jazz, some call it avante-garde, some call it free bop. I call it great and I will review one or both CDs at some point. I enjoy them both. Rich has developed a great series of improvisation books and probably the best book available for sight-reading practice, 217 contemporary patterns. The CDs are readily available from major online vendors.

Thanks for reading. God bless!

Read all comments (1)