The Legendary Tenor Saxophonists 1922-1940 is really a recorded history of the evolution of the tenor saxophone as it relates to jazz music. As Scott Yanow stated in the liner notes, "the tenor saxophone has been one of the symbols of jazz for so long that it is difficult to believe that it was once thought of primarily as a novelty instrument. In the early 1920s while the baritone and the bass saxes could be used in jazz to play bass lines when a tuba was not available, the alto occasionally stated melodies, and the soprano had a major soloist in Sidney Bechet, the tenor always seemed out of place and a bit of a frivolity."
How things have changed. It’s quite fascinating to listen to the 21 tracks contained on this CD, in chronological order by recording date, and observe the changes that the tenor saxophone experienced during this period, both in prominence and in approach. The first track, a Mamie Smith vocal number titled "I’m Gonna Get You" and recorded on December 20, 1922, is one of the earliest recorded solos of the man generally considered to be the father of the jazz tenor saxophone - Coleman Hawkins. You get to hear Hawkins on five addition tracks on this CD, and it becomes quite clear that this prestigious honor is very well deserved. I believe that it is impossible to listen to any tenor saxophonist playing today and not hear some of Coleman Hawkins in their playing.
Out of the Hawkins school came many other great tenorists - players like Prince Robinson, Bud Freeman and Dick Wilson - but Lester Young was the first to successfully expand on the Hawkins style and develop a fresh approach to the instrument. His first recording, 1938’s "Lady Be Good" with the Count Basie Orchestra heralded a new direction in jazz soloing on the tenor sax.
Soon after other great players made their own marks - Chu Berry, Herschel Evans, Budd Johnson, Charlie Barnet and Ben Webster, to name just a few. Each was different in their own way, and each made a significant and lasting contribution to the development of the instrument. But needless to say, these players did not develop in a vacuum. Any depiction of the evolution of the jazz saxophone is a depiction of the evolution of jazz in general. Along with these great tenor players you’ll also hear great alto players, trumpeters, pianists, bassists, drummers, vocalists and the like, all adding their own bit of spice to the stew that constitutes what we hear today as modern jazz.