Building a Dream Big Band Part III: The Sax Section

As I mentioned in the previous “Building a Dream Big Band” posts, I am piecing together, section by section, my ideal big band. The band will be 21 pieces, with 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 5 saxes, guitar, bass, drums, piano, a male and female singer, and a bandleader. So far, I’ve listed my trumpet section, while I employed former KPLU Grooveyard host Troy Oppie to construct the trombone section. Both blogs are complete with videos of each musician performing live. So far, here is how the band looks:


Lead: Arturo Sandoval

2nd Chair: Wynton Marsalis

Third Chair: Freddie Hubbard

Fourth Chair: Miles Davis

Fifth Chair: Thad Jones


Lead: Bob Burgess

Second Chair: Frank Rosilino

Third Chair: Al Grey

Bass Trombone: Bill Hughes

Now its time to turn to the saxophones. You might find a few surprises in this section, and probably some horn players you would expect to see. I encourage your thoughts on how you might see your dream sax section differently, and let me know what you think of the video on each musician!

The Sax Section:

First Alto: Charlie Parker

Is an explanation necessary? There has yet to be an alto player in my mind that has even come close to touching Bird on any level. His solos and sound would be and are entertaining in any era. His death might be the greatest tragedy in jazz.

Watch Charlie Parker play Hot House:

Second Alto: Cannonball Adderley

I was this close to picking Coleman Hawkins for this chair, but Cannonball just edged him out. Besides being incredibly diverse, Cannonball’s specialty in this band is bringing what he might best be known for: a happy sound.

Watch Cannonball Adderley play Brother John:

First Tenor: Michael Brecker

How dare I seat Brecker above Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Branford Marsalis? Because this is my band, and because I cannot remember a time where I heard Brecker solo and didn’t have my mind completely blown. You might find that James Brown, James Taylor, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Carly Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Elton John and about 200 other musicians from all genres who contracted Brecker will agree with me.

Watch Michael Brecker play Some Skunk Funk:

Second Tenor: John Coltrane

Brecker has Coltrane to thank for so much. Most importantly, his imagination, and his ability to make improvisation exciting. The two tenors in this band provide an ultimate wall of sound.

Watch John Coltrane play Impressions:

Baritone Sax: Cecil Payne

Maybe the least famous musician of the group, but that’s the life of a baritone sax player. Cecil was always entertaining, and maybe the best baritone player of the late 40’s to the early 60’s.

Watch Cecil Payne play at Dizzy Gillespie’s 70th Birthday:

Again, let me know what you think of the band so far. All of the horns are in place, with the rhythm section, singers, and bandleader to go. The rhythm section is next!

6 Replies to “Building a Dream Big Band Part III: The Sax Section”

  1. Kevin – interesting idea. Thanks for the videos.

    Although these are some of the greatest jazz musicians in history (with a few exceptions IMHO), this band might sound pretty bad. I’ve played with many a big band, including Buddy Rich, Lioniel Hampton, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Mel Lewis, Bob Belden and many more and I’d opine that picking a big band for the purpose of having a big band goes way beyond the solo abilities of the players involved. This is a dream-team of soloists, for sure.

    The bones might be the only section that could probably play together and sound good. Poor Cecil Payne! I knew Cecil and, as a baritone player, studied his music. He would be buried in a section like that. Pepper Adams could keep up (and did).

    Of course, it’s just my opinion and you’d have to put years with all of them to even guess what it would sound like. Is Miles playing 4th trumpet in 1945, 55, 65, 85? What about Trane?

    Variety magazine, Downbeat, Playboy and others over the years have had poll-winning musicians for bands and it was pretty silly sometimes. Al Hirt and Miles and Herb Alpert in the trumpet section. Boots Randolph with Stan Getz, etc.

    The Rhythm section, as is always the case, will make more difference in how good this band sounds than any of the horn players. Let’s see who you pick

    Glenn Wilson

  2. Glenn – Thanks so much for your thoughts!

    Honesty is exactly what I am looking for, and I appreciate your opinion!

    Let me start by saying that I completely agree with your thoughts about soloist band versus strategically selected section players. As you can see with the trombone section, my man Troy Oppie, who picked that section, was on the exact same page as you. He was building the best unified section he possibly could for the best of the overall sound of the band. I’m sure it broke his heart to have to leave J.J. Johnson out of that section, but he had the greater interests of the band in mind.

    I must admit, my picks are completely selfish. If you’ve ever seen a professional baseball All-Star game, you will see the leagues best players all on one team at the same time. In many cases, the team is out of sync because they haven’t played together as a team before, or they all happen to share similar strengths, leaving glaring holes that their everyday teammates typically fill wide open. The fans, however, come out in droves and tune in with record numbers just to catch a glimpse of all of their favorites together at one time.

    I guess I would compare my selections to the All-Star game. I wanted to see all of my favorites on the same “field”, or stage at the same time. There might be a few “holes”, but I get the same joy, if not more, seeing these greats together at once.

    And I also agree with you that a certain time frame should be suggested for each musician. Freddie Hubbard, for example, would probably not make my band for his playing in the 90’s or 2000’s, but I would take him any time before that.

    I would love to hear who you, or any other readers, would like to see in a particular section of your dream big band. And as always, all is fair game!

    Thanks – Kevin

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