Four “Under The Radar” Alto Saxophonists

tk blue - latin birdYou know what y’all? There are a lot of good saxophonists playing under the radar these days. As I set out to write this piece, I planned to scribble a few names down, pare it down to four and get it done. But a strange thing happened, as I scribbled the list just kept growing and growing. Long story short, there were so many that we’re splitting this first go around into alto and tenor saxophonists. Alto this week and tenor next.

So here in alpha order are four fine alto saxophonists who should get a wider hearing:

T.K. Blue

I first heard T.K. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe or Eugene Rhynie) several years ago when he was playing on a session by a drummer whose name I now forget. As I now recall, Mr. Blue was the only redeeming thing about that session. I’ve kept up with his work from that point on and he has continued to impress me both as a sideman and on his own releases. Like many alto saxophonists, Mr. Blue has been strongly influenced by Charlie Parker but his Caribbean roots add another layer to his sound that makes him unique. I strongly recommend his two most recent projects: Follow The North Star, a fascinating musical retelling of the story of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave and Latin Bird, which as you may have guessed is a Latin and Caribbean tinged romp through the music of Charlie Parker.

Sharel Cassity

This Oklahoma City native got her big break when she sat in at a New Year’s 2008 jam session in NYC. She followed Roy Hargrove and Antonio Hart’s solos on “Be-Bop”. She acquitted herself so well that Hargrove and Jimmy Heath, who was in attendance, both asked Ms. Cassity to join their big bands on the spot. In addition to stints with both of those bands, this graduate of The New School and Julliard has appeared with the Diva Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield and many others. Her greatest triumph though has been Relentless, her critically acclaimed 2009 disc. We expect to hear much more from Ms. Cassity in the future.

Tim Green

Like this writer, Tim Green was “raised in the church”; like me, he also was influenced by all kinds of music, secular and Christian.  The Baltimore native, who finished 2nd in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition, has played and recorded with a wide range of artists from Kirk Franklin to Kenny Burrell to Donnie McClurkin and Hubert Laws. His work on the alto  has been lauded by musicians of all stripes and Jazz Times has called Green ” a player to watch”. His most recent release Songs From This Season, has been heralded by the critics and will likely end up on a number of this year’s “Best Of” lists. Mr. Green is not likely to be under the radar for long, be the first on your block to ‘discover’ him.

Sherman Irby

A melodic alto player out of the Cannonball Adderley school, Mr. Irby has been around for the better part of 15 years; as a solo artist as well as a sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts and others. He released a couple of strong albums for Blue Note in the late ’90’s, Full Circle and Big Mama’s Biscuits but they got lost in the glut of “New Young Lions” releases of that era. Of late, Irby has been a member of Wynton’s Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and produced some very strong work on his own Black Warrior record label, of which two albums, Black Warrior from 2006 and 2011’s Live at the Otto Club, are standouts.

Be sure to use the links throughout this post to get more info about the artists whose music you enjoy and most importantly, support them by attending their concerts if they come to your area and buying their CDs or legally downloading their music.

Next week we’ll cover some tenor sax players.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

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