The saxophone is clearly a popular jazz instrument. However, its role in 'trad' style jazz is not often talked about. I suspect this is because it’s often difficult to hear what the sax is playing when it’s accompanied by the other traditional horns associated with this kind of music, the trumpet, trombone and clarinet, and thus difficult to draw any conclusions about what kind of musical 'line' the sax could or should be playing in this style of music.
For instance, what is the sax actually playing in this recording?
OK, so enough with the trickery. Here’s the opening of a track where there really is a saxophone in the mix – as it happens, played by one of the all-time greats of the instrument.
OK, here’s another challenging example for you. This time the challenge is heightened by the vintage of the recording (1929). Once again, we’ve got an all-time saxophone great combining with a trumpet, trombone and clarinet. Can you hear the sax?
A later (1942) recording of the same tune by a different group also features a four horn line up. Here you can probably hear that the sax (and possibly the clarinet too) are playing a similar line to the trumpet in parts of the melody, which has the effect of ‘thickening’ the melody. In this rendition, though, there is none of the ‘call’ and ‘response’ involving saxophone we could hear in Example 3.