If you’re a baritone saxophone player, then you know there’s nothing more inspiring than watching some of the best and greatest baritone sax players play their instruments with so much passion and virtuosity.
In this article, we’ll talk about 23 of the best baritone saxophone players of all time, provide a short bio about them, and highlight one of their top performances. If that’s what you came here for, then let’s get into it.
Table of Contents
Bob Gordon (1928-1955)
Bob Gordon was a gifted baritone saxophonist who wowed the world with his performances in his short time on earth. The fact that Bob Gordon turned out to be one of the most famous baritone saxophonists despite spending only 27 years on earth should tell you how good a musician he was.
The way Bob Gordon played the baritone saxophone was so amazing that it felt as though he were one with the musical instrument most times.
Bob Gordon was a natural musician who aimed at expressing himself through his musical instrument. He played on the West Coast and worked with many artists such as Billy May, Shorty Sherock, and many others.
Bob only played the baritone saxophone and is mostly known for playing the cool jazz genre.
Here is Bob Gordon performing the song, Babette.
Hamiet Bluiett (1940-2018)
Hamiet Bluiett is undoubtedly part of the finest baritone saxophone players to have ever walked the face of the earth. He had a unique way of generating sound from his saxophone that became associated with his performances. Thus, you could easily recognize Bluiett’s saxophone sound out of many.
Hamiet Bluiett drew his musical inspiration from Harry Carney, who he heard play live in Boston during his mid-twenties. I will talk about Harry Carney later in this article.
Like most of the musicians on this list, Hamiet Bluiett played with lots of other great saxophonists in the course of his career. In the early ’70s, he even toured Europe with Charles Mingus.
He was the founder and a member of the World Saxophone Quartet. Aside from the baritone saxophone, he could also play the bass saxophone and a host of clarinets. Hamiet Bluiett was a recording artist as well.
Check out Hamiet Bluiett’s performance of the song titled “If You Have To Ask….You Don’t Need To Know.”
Ronnie Ross (1933-1991)
Ronnie Ross was born in India but relocated to England as a teenager. Though Ronnie Ross is one of the best baritone saxophone players ever, he actually started out by playing the tenor saxophone in his 20s. During that time, he played with Ted Heath and Tony Kinsey.
However, later on in his career, he switched from playing the tenor saxophone to playing the baritone saxophone.
Ronnie was a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet group that toured across the United States and Europe. He played with lots of great musicians and was also involved in their album recordings.
In fact, Ronnie Ross played a part in one of The Beatles’ albums. However, he played the tenor saxophone in this album. Ross was so good with the saxophone that he taught David Bowie to play the saxophone as well.
Here is a performance of Ronnie Ross playing the baritone saxophone.
Roger Rosenburg is a musician as well as a composer. He has wowed the world with his performances on the baritone saxophone for many decades now. This great musician studied at The New England Conservatory of Music and Indiana University.
He is also known to have learned under the feet of other great players and composers.
Roger Rosenburg is a versatile musician who excels at different styles of music. Due to his ability as a musician and on the baritone saxophone, he has worked with and played with quite several great musicians.
Some of these musicians include Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Lee Konitz, and many more. He also played with the Bob Mintzer Big Band in 1987 in Berlin and Pittsburgh in 2014.
Currently, Roger Rosenburg lives in New York, where he plays on Broadway and on Orchestra. He also teaches music.
Watch this video to see one of Roger’s performances with the Bob Mintzer Big Band.
Ronnie Cuber (1941)
Ronnie Cuber, as affectionately called, was born Ronald Edward Cuber. He is one of the jazz baritone saxophone players widely known for Latin jazz and hard bop. Ronnie began his musical career as an arranger, bandleader, and composer in his teens.
Some of his notable works include collaborations with Slide Hampton in 1962 and with Maynard Ferguson from 1963 to 1965.
Though Ronnie Cuber is an exceptional baritone saxophonist, he has played supporting roles to musicians such as Paul Simon, Eric Clapton, and B. B. King. Ronnie Cuber has performed in musical works such as “Freeze Frame – By J. Geils Band” and “Drives – By Dr. Lonnie Smith.”
He is a member of the Mingus Big Band and Saturday Night Live band. Ronnie is an amazing musician, and you will definitely pick up lots of insights on jazz and music by listening to his recordings.
Here is a video of him performing the song “Seven Steps to Heaven.”
Lars Gullin – (1928-1976)
Lars Gullin was a Swedish musician who played the baritone saxophone. When it comes to playing musical instruments, Lars Gullin was a prodigy. Thus, he could play the accordion and clarinet at an early age. He later learned to play the alto saxophone and piano.
However, after a few years, Lars Gullin decided to pick up the baritone saxophone. Lars Gullin’s decision to switch to the baritone saxophone was inspired by two things — a performance of Gerry Mulligan he listened to, as well as a band he played with in 1949.
Lars Gullin played and recorded with lots of great musicians across his career. He played with musicians such as Rune Ofwerman, Nils-Bertil Dahlander, and Bengt Carlson.
Some of the musicians he did recordings with include Jame Moody and Clifford Brown. Due to Lars Gullin’s great ability as a musician, he won many awards.
Watch this video to see Lars Gullin in action.
Cecil Payne (1922-2007)
Cecil Payne is another musician who had a way with the baritone saxophone. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest bebop musicians. The biggest influence on Cecil Payne’s career was Lester Young.
Due to Cecil Payne’s great ability on the baritone saxophone, he performed with lots of standout jazz musicians. Some of these musicians include; Randy Weston and Dizzy Gillespie. He also played with the legendary Pepper Adams, which I will talk about later in this article.
Cecil Payne played a number of tours across Europe. Although he made a name for himself with the baritone saxophone, he could also play the alto sax.
Here is a video of Cecil Payne performing his song Koko.
Jack Washington (1910 – 1964)
Jack Washington was one of the first few musicians who performed exceptionally well when playing solo on the baritone saxophone.
At age 13, he began playing the soprano saxophone before permanently transitioning to playing the baritone saxophone. After high school, Jack Washington became a member of Bennie Moten’s Orchestra until 1935.
He joined the Count Basie Orchestra after leaving Bennie Moten’s Orchestra. After the Count Basie Orchestra broke up, he left the band in 1950.
Jack Washington was part of the team that recorded the Basie Reunion album in 1958. Unfortunately, though Jack Washington was a fantastic musician, he never had his own record.
Charles Davis (1933 – 2016)
Charles Davis was an American musician and composer who played the jazz saxophone. Aside from the baritone saxophone, Charles Davies could also play the tenor and alto saxophones.
He performed with musicians such as Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, Dinah Washington, and many more. However, he mostly played with Sun Ra and Archie Shepp. He also recorded songs with lots of great musicians.
Charles Davis was part of a group known as the cooperative Artistry in Music, which he joined in the 1970s. He led and was involved in a number of tours all over Europe.
Watch this video to see Charles Davis performing his song titled “Little Miss Jump Up.”
Leo Pellegrino (1991-)
Leo Pellegrino is the youngest on the list. However, his career so far has been nothing short of amazing. That is why he has been included in this list of influential baritone saxophonists.
This young baritone saxophonist plays as part of the band known as the Brass House. Before joining this band, he was part of the Lucky Chops brass band.
One of the amazing aspects of Leo Pellegrino’s performances is his ability to incorporate dance into his saxophone performances. This is quite impressive since it is not that easy to do while playing the baritone saxophone.
As part of his stagecraft, Leo Pellegrino has crafted an iconic and easily recognizable image for himself due to this way of dress and hairstyle.
Though Leo Pellegrino is at an early stage of this career, his impact so far means he might be on his way to becoming the greatest baritone saxophone player to have walked the surface of the earth.
Here is a video of Leo Pellegrino performing at the BBC Proms in 2017.
Peter Brötzmann (1941-)
Peter Brötzmann is a German musician who could also play the saxophone and clarinet. He taught himself to play these musical instruments.
Like all the musicians on this list, Peter Brötzmann has played with many great musicians. One of his first musical partnerships was with Peter Kowald.
He released his first recording in 1967. In the year 1987, he released another recording titled “Machine Gun.” Overall, Peter Brötzmann has appeared in lots of album recordings and has released more than fifty albums of his own.
Watch a live excerpt of Peter Brotzmann’s Performance at the Melbourne Jazz festival.
Serge Chaloff (1923 – 1957)
Serge Chaloff is one of the greatest bebop musicians to play the baritone saxophone. He is widely recognized as the first bebop baritonist as well. His style of playing the saxophone revolved around a mixture of light inaudible whispers and deep sonorous tones. All these resulted in incredible vibratos.
Serge Chaloff drew his inspiration and modeled his style of playing the baritone saxophone after Parker, a great musician. During Serge Chaloff’s career as a musician, he played with lots of other musicians. In 1944, he played in a band with musicians such as Al Cohn and Dizzy Gillespie.
However, it was in the year 1947 that Serge Chaloff gained international acclaim. This was after he joined a new band by the name “Four Brothers Band.” In this band, he played with musicians such as Herbie Steward, Stan Getz, and many more.
Watch Serge Chaloff performing in this video.
Gary Smulyan (1956-)
In some circles, Gary Smulyan is widely regarded as the best ever baritone saxophone player.
He is the head of a musical trio made up of Ray Drummond – a bassist, and Kenny Washington – a drummer. Due to the skill and ability of Gary Smulyan, he has played in lots of bands and orchestras.
He has also recorded for a number of musical and jazz records. Some of these include; Reservoir Records and Criss Cross Jazz.
He started out with the alto saxophone before turning to the baritone saxophone at a point. That notwithstanding, Gary Smulyan’s style of playing the baritone saxophone has helped him gain recognition due to the expressive and big tone that accompanies his tunes.
The biggest influence on Gary’s career is Pepper Adams. Thus, it is not surprising that after the death of Pepper Adams, Gary recorded an album titled “Homage” to celebrate the works of Pepper Adams. Gary Smulyan is undoubtedly one of the most influential baritone saxophone players of all time.
Here is a video of Gary Smulyan performing his song titled “In a Mellow Tone.”
Pepper Adams (1930-1986)
Pepper Adams was born Park Frederick Adams III. This legendary musician was a composer as well as a baritone saxophonist. The Selmer baritone sax is the instrument Pepper Adams played.
He started recordings in his 20s. Due to his pedigree, Pepper Adams worked with many musicians and instrumentalists. Pepper Adams pioneered the incorporation of baritone into hardbop. He did this with raw and piercing double-time melodic lines.
Pepper Adams was the idol to many of the great baritone saxophone players on this list. Notable among them are Nick Brignola and Gary Smulyan, who are legends themselves.
This should tell you how great Pepper Adams was. Pepper Adams started playing with Willie Wells before spending some time in the United States Army Band. Due to his involvement in the US Army, Pepper Adams had a brief tour duty in Korea.
Pepper played with Thad Jones at the Blue Bird in Detroit when he came back from Korea. He played with a host of musicians and bands as well. In 1977, Pepper Adams decided to go solo.
Watch this video to see Pepper Adams playing the baritone sax alongside Clark Terry whiles performing the song “Straight, No Chaser.”
Harry Carney (1910-1974)
Harry Carney had an accomplished career playing as a baritone saxophonist. Actually, Harry began playing the clarinet before moving to the alto saxophone and finally to the baritone saxophone. At 17, Harry Carney joined a band known as Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1927.
He was a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra for more than forty years. In that period, Harry Carney became great friends with Ellington.
From the year Harry Carney joined the Ellington Orchestra till the mid-1940s, he was their most dominant jazz baritone saxophonist. He is widely credited to have played a major role in the influence of baritone sax in jazz.
To see how good Harry Carney was, watch this video of him performing the song “Le Plus Belle Africaine.”
Unlike the other names on this list, Lisa Simpson is not an actual person. She is a character in the famous animation titled “Family Guy.” The character known as Lisa Simpson played the baritone saxophone in this animation and was very good at it.
In this animation, Lisa played the saxophone in lots of episodes, including the opening intro scene. One episode of note had Lisa playing her baritone saxophone in lots of scenes in episode 3 of the 9th season.
Here is a solo performance by a cartoon character Lisa Simpson.
Glenn Wilson has been performing actively as a musician for over 30 years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and a Masters’s Degree in Jazz Performance degree.
He has toured and recorded with musicians such as Lionel Hampton, Mel Lewis, and many others. Glenn Wilson has six solo albums to his name. Apart from his own albums, he has appeared as a sideman in several albums of others.
Currently, he is a member of the University of Illinois Jazz faculty, where he imparts his vast knowledge and experience to upcoming musicians.
Here is a video of Glenn Wilson and Friends performing at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival.
Claire Daly (1958-)
Claire Daly began playing the saxophone during her teen years. However, Claire truly fell in love with the saxophone after hearing a performance from a big band during her formative years. This lady is an exceptional baritone saxophone player.
Thus, it is not surprising that she has played with notable musicians like Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and many others. She has won several awards over her playing career as well. They include awards from the Jazz Journalists Association and the Downbeat Critic as well.
Claire Daly has been involved in unearthing hidden jazz gems and talents for a long time now. Claire Daly is an excellent baritone saxophonist with lots of experience.
Thus, listening to her will help you greatly if your aim is to master the baritone saxophone.
This is a video of Claire Daly playing a solo on the baritone Saxophone.
Lauren Sevian (1979-)
Lauren Sevian is one of the few female saxophonists widely known in saxophone circles. This is because, throughout her career, she has been the recipient of numerous awards.
One of these awards is the baritone saxophonist of the year award. Lauren Sevian is known to have attended a Musical School in Manhattan. After her graduation, she started touring alongside the Diva and Artie Shaw Orchestra.
This great female baritone saxophone player has multiple albums to her name. She is an amazing and versatile player who has performed in many countries around the world. Lauren Sevian is a co-founder of a women’s musical group known as Lioness.
Watch Lauren Sevian playing a baritone sax funky jazz in this video.
Joe Temperley (1929 – 2016)
Joe Temperley was a Scottish-born musician known for his ability on the baritone saxophone. According to history, the first instrument Joe Temperley started playing was the cornet.
However, at the age of 14, he began playing the saxophone. A few years later, he worked for a while for an Orchestra in Glasgow before moving to the United States to work with Woody Herman.
Joe Temperley performed and recorded with lots of famous musicians and bands. In October of 1974, he was drafted as a replacement for Harry Carney in the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Thus, he embarked on many tours and did many recordings with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
Joe served on the faculty of the Juilliard School for Jazz Studies. He was also part of the founding members of the Juilliard School for Jazz Studies. Aside from the baritone saxophone, Joe Temperley also excelled at playing the bass clarinet and the soprano saxophone.
Watch this video to see Joe Temperley performing “The very thought of you” at Feinstein.
Howard Johnson (1941-2021)
As a musician, Howard Johnson was very versatile. Due to this, he could play most musical instruments in addition to the baritone saxophone. Thus, though Howard Johnson is one of the best baritone saxophonists of all time, he is widely known for his prowess on the tuba.
According to history, Howard Johnson relocated to New York City in his 20s. Around this period, he began playing with Charles Mingus, Hank Crawford, and Archie Shepp. From the 60s to 80s, Howard Johnson played with Gil Evans as well.
You will learn a lot from Howard Johnson’s videos. Here is one of his videos.
Nick Brignola (1936 – 2002)
Nick Brignola was a baritone saxophonist known for his association with bebop and hard bop. One excellent quality about Nick Brignola is that he was majorly a self-taught musician.
Due to this, he played most of his instruments by using unconventional techniques. However, this greatly improved his playing fluidity. The baritone saxophone was Nick Brignola’s main musical instrument. However, he played other instruments as well.
In the mid-1960s, Nick Brignola toured with Ted Curson before going out on his own. It is this tour that propelled Nick into the international limelight. In the mid-1970s, both musicians reunited again and performed several gigs together. In the course of this reunion, they recorded their only album together in New York.
One of Nick’s most famous songs albums is “Baritone Madness.” Nick Brignola performed with several great musicians. Nick Brignola performs the song “Like Old Times” alongside Howard Johnson in the video below.
Gerry Mulligan (1927-1996)
Gerry Mulligan is one of the best leading jazz baritone saxophonists of all time. His style of playing the baritone saxophone was so distinct from the rest. Unlike many in the cool jazz era, Gerry Mulligan was known to play the baritone sax with an airy and light tone.
He also worked with the likes of Miles Davis, Claude Thornhill, and others as an arranger. Gerry also played a part in the recordings of the famous “Birth of Cool” album.
In the early 1950s, Gerry Mulligan was part of a cool jazz music quartet that is still recognized as one of the best music groups. Gerry Mulligan’s songs were so good that lots of his compositions have become jazz standards. Some of these compositions include; “Five Brothers” and “Walkin’ Shoes.”
Gerry Mulligan could play the piano as well. Apart from his tremendous musical instrument playing ability, Gerry was also a composer. He wrote music for orchestras.
Here is a video of Gerry Mulligan performing one of his songs titled “Round Midnight.”
There are lots of great and famous baritone saxophone players, some of whom are not even on this list. That notwithstanding, the musicians mentioned in this article deserve their place on this list. This is due to the extent of their impact and legacy in the music world.
They are worthy of being celebrated. Listening to their live performances and great recordings can help upcoming baritone saxophone players work on their style of play and sound.