Cannonball Adderly "Know What I Mean" or Lou Donaldson "Signifyin.'
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There are some good suggestions above. I agree with the Paul Desmond post. He was consistently the most beautifully lyrical, sweet player that I have ever heard (alto) and I am a serious collector and listener(35 years).There are many titles in his catalog to try, Pure Desmond, From The Hot Afternoon, Two of A Mind(with Jerry Mulligan)and others.Scott Hamilton is another guy who always seems to please. Titles to listen to are, Plays Ballads,Soft Lights Sweet Music(a Gerry Mulligan Scott Hamilton disc) and After Hours. Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster should always be given a serious listen, again many titles here There are some great artists and titles in this genre, I could go on and on.Enjoy the music,that's what it is all about.
Recommending some "laid back, mellow sax jazz" isn't difficult, but it does require a couple of comments. First, we need to distinguish the players like Kenny G, who essentially play what I call "aural wallpaper", from the great jazz saxophonists who can play virtually everything. Second, I have a personal point of view that the greatest of the jazz saxophonists are distinguished by what they do with ballads, irrespective of their ability to play fast.
Third, and last, there are very few recordings featuring solely or mostly ballads, although there a couple of exceptions that I will mention below. With these points in mind, here is a partial list that I hope you will find useful:
1. Lester Young -- the guy that essentially invented the "cool", lighter style of playing on the sax (Coleman Hawkins was the other father of the modern sax, developing a darker tone with more "muscle" and vibrato) -- listen to some of Lester's work backing Billie Holiday, or some of his small group work during the 1940's and early 1950's
2. Ben Webster -- Ben's late-career work during the 1950's features some extraordinary work on ballads
3. Charlie Parker -- people don't usually think of Bird as a great ballad player, but he was -- for an entire album of slower pieces, listen to "Charlie Parker with Strings"
4. Dexter Gordon -- known as LTD (Long Tall Dexter), Dexter was a great ballad player, whose slow, smoky tone was very much like his speaking voice
5. Zoot Sims -- maybe my favorite ballad player, Zoot had a wonderful, warm tone -- among his best recordings for ballads, check out the albums he did for Pablo during the mid-1950's, including "Warm Tenor", "Suddenly It's Spring", and "Quietly There"
6. Lee Konitz -- one of the few "original" stylists in the "cool" school, Konitz came to prominence in the late 1940's as a member of Lenny Tristano's group -- Konitz has released some good recordings during the 1990's
7. Stan Getz -- one of the true giants on the sax, Getz was a superb ballad player -- his more mellow, ballad numbers can be found throughout his many recordings, but if you need a place to start, I suggest his final release, "People Time", recorded with Kenny Barron at the Club Montmartre in Copenhagen
8. Art Pepper -- Pepper's work on ballads is rich, intense, and moving -- if I had to pick the work of only one sax player to take to the proverbial "desert island", it would be Art Pepper's -- for a good taste of his ballad work, check out his recording called "Shoes of the Fisherman", which was released under the name of Milcho Leviev, the nominal group leader (for contractual reasons)
9. Charles Lloyd -- Lloyd has released a number of excellent recordings since 1991, almost all of which feature slower, "mellow" numbers -- this guy just keeps cranking out beautiful music that is both emotionally and intellectually satisfying to me
10. Jan Garbarek -- a Norwegian saxophonist whose cool, chromatically-tinged sound makes me think of Norway's fjords -- I don't have a specific recommendation for his CD's, except to say I'd start with his 1970's - 1980's work for the ECM label
If you'd like some further suggestions for specific recordings, please feel free to drop me a private E-mail.
A note for 4Yanx: the LP release of Pepper's "Shoes of the Fisherman" has excellent audio quality, but it unfortunately does not include perhaps the best number from the CD release -- an extended, absolutely heart-wrenching ballad dedicated to Art's wife (his second, I think). Since you are also a Pepper fan, I strongly recommend that you also acquire the CD version of "Shoes", if only to hear the missing ballad.
In my post above, I meant to include a comment that I was not deliberately leaving out some of the best known sax players, such as John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Johnny Griffin, Joe Henderson, Joe Lovano, Phil Woods, etc. Each of these men can do some terrific things with mellower pieces, but they are not best known for their abilities with ballads. Coltrane, for example, has an entire CD of ballads which is certainly worth hearing.
The two alto sax players that I did leave out, and it's a major oversight on my part, are Johnny Hodges, who was nicknamed "the Lily Pons of the alto" for his sweet sound, and Benny Carter. Hodges did exemplary things with ballads, and he can be heard soloing on many of Duke Ellington's recordings, as well as in the small group recordings he did (mostly for Verve Records) during the 1950's (which have been re-mastered and issued as a limited edition box set on Mosaic Records).
Benny Carter established his reputation during the Swing era, but was able to adapt his style to bop and has had a long, distinguished career as an "elder statesman" of jazz. Benny is another great ballad player that richly deserves to be on anyone's "best of" list of jazz saxophonists. One of Benny's best recordings is "Benny Carter: Jazz Giant", recorded for Contemporary Records in 1957-58 (the recording engineer was Roy DuNann, who was responsible for many fine jazz recordings by such artists as Art Pepper, Frank Sinatra, etc.). This recording features Benny in the august company of Ben Webster, Jimmy Rowles, Barney Kessel, Leroy Vinnegar, and Shelly Manne, and to say it has some fine music is an understatement. And, for the vinyl-heads reading this post, you should know that Analogue Productions has a limited edition LP re-master of this recording which has superb sound to go with the great music.
the box set of Desmond's work with Jim Hall is great (as is the remastering job - the Mosaic vinyl and the easily available cd set are both excellent), and the impeccable guitar makes it a 2 for the price of one kind of thing: but "boss tenor" is one of the FIRST things to get if you want mellow. then all of the above.